John Walker's Electronic House

by on Jan.19, 2005, under The Rest

Tonight I finished watching series two of Press Gang.

It was thanks to the splendid Rev. Stuart Campbell that I learned it was available on DVD, and by his enthusiastic commentary while watching them that I was filled with the burning need to revisit this hugely favourite part of my childhood. And also a large part due to’s putting the DVDs in their sale.

For once, and I was fairly confident that this would be the case, it was a programme that survived the flimsy protection of nostalgia. It’s actually pretty good. There’s certainly some ropey acting in places, and Dexter Fletcher’s American accent requires some forgiveness, but it still holds itself together as a series. (And there’s to be none of this retrospective anti-Fletcher attitude about Press Gang. Sure, he’s unbearable now, but he wasn’t back then and it’s not fair to hate the younger version). What are most impressive are Steven Moffat’s scripts, with some extremely sharp gag-writing. I’ve only seen one episode of his current show, Coupling, which was very cleverly constructed, if low on laughs. But I’m now more tempted than I’ve been previously (ie. not in the least) to watch it. The man can write good jokes.

I hate this current fad for pretending things are good because they’re from the past. People haven’t decided that Pol Pot was really cute and funny because they remember him from off the telly in their childhood, so why do they do it for Bagpuss? Button Moon was absolutely awful in 1980. It’s just that you were three, and therefore like all three year olds, you were incredibly stupid. That’s why when you watch Button Moon today, on your £5.99 from HMV DVD that you got from your friend because you bought the t-shirt in the summer and the two of you talked for ages about how great it was and how you liked the song and whether it was the one with Mooncat or if that was something else and do you remember the advert with the ducks, it is absolutely awful. And you remain incredibly stupid.

So fearing I was somehow taking part in this LOOK AT MY RAINBOW PENCIL CASE I’M SO RETRO-IRONIC hideousy, I showed some episodes to a couple of friends a few years younger than me, and hence too young to have seen it before. They both (see, more than one sample – proper science) recognised that while my enthusiasm may be fuelled by memories, the programme was independently of a high quality. Which was a relief. It’s actually impressively driven in places, and while Serious Issues of the Day episodes like the glue-sniffing story now seem dated, the child abuse two-parter remains moving and horrific in its honesty, and still immensly powerful in its appeal to young people in such circumstances to seek help. This was a programme on at 3.45 on Children’s ITV. It seems impossible now.

I’m very surprised by the strength of the evocative memories that re-emerged when watching. And not just rediscovering my pre-pubescent/very-pubescent love for Lynda Day during its run from 1989 to 1994 (which isn’t as troubling to still feel now as at first thought – Julia Swahahala was 21 when she started filming). It’s more the power of my memory of Lynda and Spike’s relationship. Watching the break-up episode in series 2 it was like seeing memories of a break-up experienced by myself. I’m left somewhat confused about whether something similar happened to me in my teenage years, or if I cared so much about these two characters that my memory thought to store the pain felt when watching.

Which leads me to conclude that I’m very glad I’m not a teenager any more. Despite it being the last time I appeared to have any success with girls, the speed at which relationships worked was too terrifyingly fast, catalysed by the turbo-charged hormones that apparently had complete control. The ability to meet someone, discover an attraction between you, start going out, fall in love, have a bad argument, realise something is wrong, and get dumped, during the morning break, is something I think I can live without.

Press Gang, however, is not. Series 3, please come out soon.

13 Comments for this entry

  • KM

    Ah the embarrassing teenage years. Heh…

  • chrissy

    but bagpuss *genuinely* rocks. and what about roobarb and custard:

    “custard had an idea. roobarb saw it go past, so he followed it into the shed”.

    just because people talk about / watch things from when they were younger, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily slaves to nostalgia, nor does it automatically make them “incredibly stupid”.

  • John

    Yes, that would rather be the point of what I was saying. Roobarb and Custard was/is great. However, Bagpuss was awful.

  • chrissy

    what about the “I hate this current fad…” paragraph? sounds more like “it’s incredibly stupid with the exception of press gang” to me…

    (go bagpuss)

  • -

    Coupling is incredibly worth it. Just thinking about the way the episodes are constructed (seemingly random jaunts into the past which then tie neatly together as the show reaches an unfailingly funny climax) brings a tear of comedy to my eye. Of comedy.

  • MHW

    There is an ‘l’ in ‘hideously’.

    I don’t think Coupling deserves the bad press some BEMLites give it. It’s not a “must see”, and rather too dependent on Richard Coyle’s ability to give life to the dialogue (Gina Bellman has a tendency to weaken each scene she’s in). Some of the episodes are well-constructed, mind.

  • John

    The one I saw was very well structured. Three people remembering an evening’s events, each differently. The set up of jokes in the first version not receiving their punchlines until the third version was done very well, and didn’t over-explain itself. So I’m not pessimistic.

    And Bagpuss remains miserable and rubbish.

  • Vicky

    I had the fortune to unearth a recorded-off-the-telly video of some Wuzzles episodes when my parents moved house over the summer. They have definitely not lost their sparkle.

    There are so many jokes in there I just wouldn’t have got when I was a kiddy, but would have meant Mum could watch along with me quite easily. I’ll agree with you, some things are perceived to be good just because of the nostalgia value, but there is the odd gem hidden amongst the crap ;)

  • chrissy

    it’s okay walker, if we’re doing “bagpuss or coupling” i will happily take bagpuss and leave it at that…

  • John

    I had a toy Bumblelion. My sister had Butterbear, who was rubbish. And the bear. I am a comedian.

  • Andy Krouwel

    Other items.

    Bob Godfrey cartoons (Rhubarb, Henry’s Cat)
    G-Force: Guardians of Space

    The Water Margin
    The Muppet Show

    Terrible, utter life-wasting rubbish:
    Sesame Street
    Battle of the Planets

    How bout them Clangers, eh?
    Don’t know. I never watched them.

  • MHW

    The Water Margin was one of Japan’s two superb contributions to British telly nostalgia.

    Battle of the Planets got badly mangled in adaptation/translation by the censors’ dictates, so its rubbishness is understandable.

    But Bagpuss was ace.

    And you smell.

  • Neil

    too many words. someone sum up that last 30 years for me…