Magazine article The Spectator

Television Fond Farewell

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Fond Farewell

Article excerpt

Now and again a sitcom gag lodges in the public mind. In 1974, Ronnie Barker, in Porridge, was reminiscing about Top of the Pops and its all-girl dance troupe, Pan's People.

'There's one special one - Beautiful Babs, ' he says. Beat. 'Dunno what her name is.'

Her name was Babs Lord. She attracted the attention of a young actor called Robert Powell, then in a long-forgotten thriller called Doomwatch, so he met up with her in the celebrated and notorious BBC Club at Television Centre; after 36 years they are still married. She also became an explorer, described as the only housewife to have visited both the North and South Poles, which is an impressive feat, though a patronising title, since it sounds as if someone felt they needed tidying.

Babs - now looking like a well-preserved librarian - appeared on Tales of Television Centre (BBC4, Thursday), which is one of those shows the BBC does well, because it involves praising itself. The Beeb has always been good at that. All professions are, to some extent, self-obsessed and the outcome can be lethal. Imagine a similar show about chartered accountants. 'Bill was a real accountants' accountant! He could get completely pissed at lunchtime, come back to the office and do the VAT for an £8 million turnover company without one wrong figure! Those were the days. . .'

To be fair, Television Centre produced something more exciting than tax returns. It was opened in 1960, and was, we were told several times, the biggest dedicated television studios in the world. For some reason it is to be sold off next year, as part of the BBC's continuing obsession with buildings rather than programmes. The list of the shows filmed or broadcast live from there resembles a cultural history of Britain over the past half-century. Z-Cars often went out live, which seems inconceivable now. Doctor Who, Top of the Pops, Morecambe and Wise, Grandstand, Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son, The Good Life, The Two Ronnies. . . the list is almost literally endless.

Of course they spent less time on the programmes of which they might have felt less proud. That's Life, Adam Adamant, 'Allo, 'Allo, It Ain't Half Hot, Mum and the ineffable Jim'll Fix It, which I always thought should have been titled Jim'll Fix It Provided the BBC Can Get It for Nothing. On one occasion, Jim was being shown a collection of Victoria Crosses by the veteran who collected them. 'Now then, general, are any of these 'ere medals any more different from the rest than what the others are? …

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