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JR, Mr T, pastel-togged cops and rubber puppets: the 10 ultimate ’80s TV shows

February 22, 2013

She’s just a devil woman?: arguably both the hero and villain of Spitting Image, the presence of Maggie Thatcher was omnipresent in 1980s TV, whether as on-screen puppet or as more subtle sub-text

So here it is, you loyal readers of George’s Journal, the third and final entry in the elongated series of posts that offers up essential dectets of TV classics of decades past (click here for the ’60s and ’70s posts); themselves a sister trio of posts to those three offered by this very blog looking back on movie classics from each of the decades this corner of the Internet like to concern itself with most (ultimate film posts: ’60s, ’70s and ’80s).

And, of course, we’re concluding this blog series then with the decade in which so much that we associate with today’s modern world began, such as mobile phones, yuppies, leg-ins and the British obsession with property ownership. In its way, 1980s telly started much that we take for granted today on our goggleboxes too: the near domination of prime-time by soap operas and their ilk; the doctors-and-nurses-are-fallible, social issue-featuring medical dramas; the anarchic alt-sit-coms and, er, Neighbours. So slip off your Ray Bans, hang up on the wall that cream jacket over your pastel shirt and settle down with that piña colada as we travel back to those 10 years of diverse, divisive TV that were the ’80s. Cue Rick Astley…


CLICK on the TV show titles for video clips

(Warning: eighth clip contains strong language)


Dallas (1978-91)

The legend: Of the big cultural reveals of the early ’80s (Darth Vader as Luke’s father in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back; Mikhail Gorbachev as the new Soviet leader in ’85) for right or wrong the revelation of who shot JR Ewing in the November ’80-aired fourth episode of Dallas‘s fourth season proved the one that millions upon millions around the world were most captivated by. It was the summit of the popularity and influence of this – surely the biggest ever – prime-time soap opera, with its tales of Texan oil industry wheeler-dealers that made a star of Larry Hagman as the devilishly appealing break-out character JR himself. And its tri-split-screen opening titles over its grandiose-cum-funky opening theme are the stuff of pop culture lore.

The lowdown: A sort of cowboy version of ‘Reagan’s America’ (sort of), Dallas originated as a five-part mini-series melodrama broadcast by the US network CBS and grew to become a 13-season hit so monstrous it was arguably bigger than JR’s ego-enriching hats. A(n likely?) winner of four Emmy Awards and the #1 most watched show Stateside three times in four successive years (1981-84), it made stars not just of Hagman, but also Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (JR’s wife Sue Ellen) and Victoria Principal (Pamela Barnes-Ewing). Oh, and that JR-shooting reveal drew its episode Who Done It? the largest ever US TV audience (per household share) – until it was eclipsed three years later by the final episode of classic sitcom M*A*S*H (1972-83).

The line: “Don’t forgive and never forget; do unto others before they do unto you; and third and most importantly, keep your eye on your friends because your enemies will take care of themselves!” (JR)

The unlikely but true: Hollywood star Donna Reed replaced fan favourite Barbara Bel Geddes as JR and Bobby’s mother Miss Ellie for the eighth season; realising they’d goofed, the producers enticed Geddes back for the next season only for them having to pay Reed a $1 million out-of-court settlement for her dismissal.

The legacy: Although Coronation Street (1960-present) had certainly got there first in the UK, in the States and worldwide Dallas‘s enormous success legitimised the soap opera not only as a prime-time television show, but also as a bankable evening schedule monster, with the likes of spin-off Knots Landing (1979-93) and its Joan Collins-toting rival on ABC Dynasty (1981-89) following in its wake, as well as eventually EastEnders (1985-present), as over the pond the Beeb finally caved in and got in on the action.


Only Fools And Horses (1981-2003)

The legend: Utterly unavoidable for the past 30 years, Only Fools is surely the UK’s most enduringly popular sitcom, featuring the Peckham-based wheeler-dealer antics of Del Boy, Rodders, Grandad and (later) Uncle Albert, and spanning and reflecting the decade of economic inequality, yuppies and Harvey Wallbangers – and beyond.

The lowdown: Far from envisaged as a vehicle for fine comedy actor David Jason of Open All Hours (1976-85) fame (originally Jim Broadbent was favourite to play lead character Del), it was a sitcom follow-up to writer John Sullivan’s successful Citizen Smith (1977-80) that, until two years into its run, recorded mediocre ratings. With great foresight though, the Beeb stuck with it and arguably thanks to hugely popular Christmas specials from the mid-’80s onwards, it became one of Blighty’s most popular shows of the decade – if not the most popular. Its seventh series in 1991, which saw the birth of Del’s son, was its last, but seasonal specials continued the saga in ’91, ’92, ’93, ’96 (that year’s trilogy included the 24.4 million viewers-achieving Time On Our Hands), 2001, ’02 and ’03.

The lines: “This time next year we’ll be millionaires”/ “You plonker, Rodney!”/ “Lovely jubbly”

The unlikely but true: Owing to its first two series’ less than impressive viewing figures, the show was almost cancelled in 1983; creator Sullivan believed a major factor in it being commissioned in the first place was the success of its later great rival, ITV’s comedy drama Minder (1979-94), which featured very similar settings and themes.

The legacy: Not only did Only Fools make household names of David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst (Del’s brother Rodney), it also established the sitcom as a Christmas TV schedule giant – the Beeb’s later efforts Bread (1986-91), Birds Of A Feather (1989-98), Men Behaving Badly (1992-98), The Vicar Of Dibley (1994-2007) and The Royle Family (1998-present) have all tried to take on its mantle – and made such terms as ‘plonker’, ‘cushty’, ‘triffic’ and ‘(nice little) earner’ nationwide colloquialisms, as well as soften the images of the tri-wheeled Reliant Regent car and the yuppie, as Del ill-advisedly attempted to join their number in the late ’80s. Moreover, it generated the successful spin-off comedies The Green Green Grass (2005-09) and Rock And Chips (2010-11).


Family Ties (1982-89)

The legend: Arguably the most memorable of the slew of hugely popular, US family-oriented sitcoms of the ’80s, Family Ties was the middle class, Middle America show that made Michael J Fox a heart-throb throughout the land before – and during – his making the leap into the stratosphere thanks to Back To The Future (1985).

The lowdown: Although as accessible and easy-to-consume as a giant tub of Häagen-Dazs, Family Ties, alongside promoting family values, rather smartly showed up the conflict between the ideals presented by liberal Baby Boomer, ex-hippie parents Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney) and those of the changing Reaganite America in which they brought up their teenage son Alex (Fox) and daughters Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) and, eventually, their youngest offspring Andrew (Brian Bonsell). This was only exacerbated by Alex’s conservatism and ambitions to become a Republican politician, a role that quickly established Fox as the show’s break-out star and won him three consecutive Emmy Awards in 1986, ’87 and ’88.

The line: “Alex is reading me Robin Hood where he steals from the poor and gives to the rich” (Andrew)/ “That’s not Robin Hood, that’s Ronald Reagan” (Steven)

The unlikely but true: Fox was only cast as Alex after Matthew Broderick turned down the role; although Friends‘ (1994-2004) Courtney Cox memorably appeared as his girlfriend towards the end of the show, Alex’s first long-term girlfriend was played by Tracy Pollan – whom years later became the real-life Mrs Michael J Fox.

The legacy: Family Ties clearly proved a huge launchpad for Fox’s career; without its early success it’s unlikely he’d have been cast as Marty McFly in Back To The Future. Moreover, the show was created by Gary David Goldberg, whom was also behind the ’90s Fox-fronted, political sitcom hit Spin City (1996-2002), in  which Fox’s character Mike Flaherty left the show by moving to Washington DC where he encountered a senator named Alex P Keaton.


Boys From The Blackstuff (1982)

The legend: The definitive slice of anti-Thatcherite  TV, this was the short drama serial that imprinted Yosser Hughes’ desperate employment-seeking greeting on the national consciousness – and made it a catchphrase for an era.

The lowdown: Commissioned by BBC2 after Liverpudlian dramatist Alan Bleasdale’s Play For Today (1970-84) one-off The Blackstuff (about laid-off tarmac layers) had aired on the channel in 1978, his follow-up tragi-comic drama Boys From The Blackstuff aired in autumn ’82 in five parts, each of which followed the lows of one of the unemployed working class fellers, including mouthy, mentally-disintegrating Yosser Hughes (Bernard Hill) and Chrissie (Michael Angelis), the end of whose episode sees him shoot his family’s pet geese for food. As such, featuring a high quotient of quirky humour, it presented a gritty, undiluted view of the demise of Northern, male-driven, working class culture.

The lines: “Gizza job!”/ “I’m desperate, Dan” (Yosser)

The unlikely but true: Although eventually filmed and broadcast in ’82 at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s divisive economic policies, much of the drama was actually written three years earlier, straight after The Blackstuff was made – thus one could say (in a way) it dates from James Callaghan’s fag-end of ’60s and ’70s Labour dominance as much as Thatcher’s era.

The legacy: Thanks to Blackstuff‘s success, Bleasdale became a left-wing dramatist du jour in the ’80s, penning the controversial The Monocled Mutineer (1986) for the Beeb and G.B.H. (1991) for Channel 4. Inevitably, it also made Bernard Hill’s face a more than familiar one; he’d be seen most notably again as Captain Smith in Titanic (1997) and King Théoden in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-03), plus in the role of Chrissie’s wife Angie, Julie Walters landed herself a prominent role. Moreover, as the ’80s progressed, further Northern England-centred, employment issue-focused dramas and comedies found their way on our screens, including Auf Wiedersehn, Pet (original run: 1983-86 – see below), and, to a lesser extent, soap opera Brookside (1982-2003).


St. Elsewhere (1982-88)

The legend: The near decade-long spanning hospital melodrama that triumphed with viewers and at award ceremonies with its mixture of vivid ensemble characters, contemporary social issues and, at times, broad comedy, St. Elsewhere was as big a bastion of US TV in the ’80s as any other – if not more.

The lowdown: Created (among others) by Gwyneth Paltrow’s dad Bruce, the show was set in the fictitious Boston hospital St. Eligius (nicknamed ‘St. Elsewhere’ owing to its semi-rundown state in a depressed part of town) and was an immediate hit. Something of a sister piece to the groundbreaking police procedural drama Hill Street Blues (1981-87), which was made by the same production company, Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Enterprises, this show at its best blended soap opera with gritty drama, featuring the complicated and pressured work and home lives of the hospitals’ various employees and maturely tackling contemporary subjects such as race, feminism, rape, autism, single-parenting and in the shape of the first prime-time TV character to contract the scare du jour, AIDS. Overall, it won 13 Emmys for its acting, writing and direction – including a double win in ’86 for real-life spouses Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels (Mr Braddock in 1967’s The Graduate and the voice of K.I.T.T. in fellow ’80s TV classic Knight Rider).

The lines: “You moron!” (Dr Craig to Dr Ehrlich)/ “You’re a pig, Ehrlich!” (various)

The unlikely but true: The show’s final episode (‘The Last One’) concluded in infamous fashion with the autistic son of main character Dr Westphall (Ed Flanders) seemingly dreaming the entire six seasons’ (137 episodes’) events, as it suggests his father’s not a hospital doctor but a blue-collar construction worker and St. Eligius may only exist in the boy’s mind thanks to him imagining what might take place in a building called ‘St. Eligius’ inside a snow-globe he holds (see the Tommy Westphall universe theory).

The legacy: Undeniably, St. Elsewhere was a big influence in style and story on ’90s mega-hit medical drama E.R. (1994-2009), while its producers and writers went on to make a slew of later prime-time hits such as Moonlighting (1985-89), L.A. Law (1986-94), Northern Exposure (1990-95), Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-99), NYPD Blue (1993-2005) and Chicago Hope (1994-2000). Moreover, it launched – and, for several years, sustained – the careers of several small- and (later) big-screen stars including Ed Begley Jr, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Harmon, Helen Hunt, Howie Mandel, David Morse, Cindy Pickett, Nancy Stafford, Alfre Woodard and one Denzel Washington.


The Young Ones (1982 and ’84)

The legend: The ultimate exponent of ’80s ‘alternative comedy’, The Young Ones was a surrealist, non sequitur-driven sitcom that broke all the rules and poked fun at everything from house-sharing students to shady landlords and from University Challenge (1962-present) to the Queen Mother of Pop himself, Cliff Richard.

The lowdown: Growing out of Britain’s ‘alternative comedy’ movement centred at London’s The Comedy Store/ The Comic Strip clubs, the two series (12 episodes)-toting The Young Ones debuted on BBC2 only a week after the first Comic Strip Presents… film was broadcast on Channel 4’s opening night in autumn ’82, which featured many of the same performers. Utilising the talents of Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer (as the über-exaggerated student stereotypes Vyvyan, Rick and Neil, along with previously dramatic actor Christopher Ryan as Mike) and Alexei Sayle as members of landlord family the Balowskis, its almost throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks combo of highly improbable plotting, OTT comic-book violence, mock political satire, Muppet-like talking animals and florid fourth-wall-breaking was quite unlike anything telly in Britain (or anywhere else) had seen before, or maybe has since.

The line: “Vegetable rights and peace!” (Neil)

The unlikely but true: Stephen Fry can lay claim to appearing on University Challenge three times – he was on the quiz as an actual student, then years later in a celebrity edition and in the classic scene from The Young Ones‘ second series opener ‘Bambi’ (along with fellow former Cambridge Footlights alumni Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and show writer Ben Elton) as a member of Footlights College’s team opposite Vyvyan, Rick, Neil and Mike’s Scumbag College team.

The legacy: Although far from mainstream, The Young Ones was too widely consumed to be called cult (its stars teamed up with Cliff to record a version of Living Doll for an early Comic Relief appeal); as such, it played a big role in popularising ‘alternative comedy’ in the ’80s. Indeed, owing to its visual alternative-ism it was perfect import fodder for the then new and dynamic MTV cable music channel in the States. And its success paved the way not only for Mayall and Edmondson’s re-teaming in anarchic effort Bottom (1991-95) as well as the alt sitcom hit Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012), but also for Ben Elton’s burgeoning comedy writing career – just a year after the show’s first airing, the Elton-penned Blackadder (1983-89) would make its bow.


The A-Team (1983-87)

The legend: Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith. Lieutenant Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck. Captain H M ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock. Sergeant First Class Bosco ‘Bad Attitude (BA)’ Baracus. And, of course, the cool-as-hell metallic grey GMC Vandura van with its red stripe. The A-Team was the infantile, rompish yet awesome icon of’80s TV.

The lowdown: First screened on NBC straight after the Super Bowl in January ’83, it immediately hit #4 in the ratings and proved an enduring, much loved show throughout all five of its seasons. With its unlikely, disparate but legendary quartet of Vietnam-vets-on-the-run (George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and Mr T) and its tried-and-tested formulaic plots (including our heroes fashioning flame-throwers or the like out of three paperclips and a Pritt-Stick, and BA having to be rendered unconscious to take a flight in a plane/ helicopter/ autogryro/ hand-glider – delete as appropriate), it made the most hay of all the daft but terrific, killer theme tune-toting prime-time action adventure dramas of the era (1979-’85’s The Dukes Of Hazzard, 1980-’88’s Magnum, P.I., 1982-’86’s Knight Rider and 1984-’87’s Airwolf) with their very ’80s preoccupation with muchos military paraphernalia, cartoon violence and aiding the small-town America little guy.

The lines: “I love it when a plan comes together” (Hannibal)/ “Shut up, fool!”/ “I ain’t gettin’ on no airplane!” (BA)

The unlikely but true: Hollywood legend James Coburn was initially considered for the role of Hannibal before lesser name George Peppard was cast. According to Dirk Benedict, Peppard’s friend Robert Vaughn was added to the cast as an antagonist in the final season to help temper the ‘difficult’ Peppard’s on-set relationship with Mr T; both Coburn and Vaughn appeared in the classic Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), while Peppard almost did.

The legacy: Undeniably one of the easiest and fondest recalled TV efforts of the ’80s, The A-Team achieved huge popularity especially with the all-important youth demographic, spawning novelizations, Marvel comic adaptations and (of course, given this was the ’80s) the requisite action figures. At the show’s height, even a cola-flavoured popsicle of Mr T was available for avid fans. As for the break-out star himself, he instantly became a kids’ favourite, curious role model of the age and pop culture icon, famously appearing as Santa as Nancy Reagan sat on his knee at the White House in ’83, voicing himself in the Saturday morning cartoon Mister T (1983-86) and recording the once-heard-never-forgotten maternal endorsement ditty Treat Your Mother Right (Treat Her Right) (1984).


Spitting Image (1984-96)

The legend: ITV’s late-night-Sunday, chaotic, car crash-like satirical sideswipe of ’80s Britain (and the wider world) with its cast of grotesque rubber puppets 

The lowdown: Owing as much a debt to the moving-into-the-mainstream ‘alternative comedy’ movement as it did to ’60s UK TV satire giant That Was The Week That Was (1962-63), Spitting Image‘s calling card was its latex puppets made by Peter Fluck and Roger Law, but its focal point was the barbed, often fantastically twisted writing of a mainly left-leaning bunch of scribes, most notably Rob Grant and Doug Naylor who were brought onboard early on to save the show before leaving two years later to develop sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf (1988-present). Although its satire often came across as more slapdash than pointed owing to its largesse and outlandishness, the show’s stars – the puppets – made it unmissable. From a male suit-wearing, urinal-using Maggie Thatcher to a panicky, ‘nuke button’ obsessed Ronnie Reagan and from a Lester Piggot so unintelligible he needed subtitles to tabloid hacks who were actually pigs, the parodies of the great and good, the famous and the bad were unforgettable and often genius.

The lines: “I am neither in this sketch nor not in it, but somewhere in-between” (’90s Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown)/ “I didn’t touch her on the left leg, or the right leg, but somewhere in-between” (Ashdown on the revelation of his extramarital affair)

The unlikely but true: In the early ’90s the show poked fun at British Tory PM John Major by depicting him as entirely grey (read: insufferably boring) and embarking on a far-fetched affair with Cabinet colleague Virginia Bottomley. Years later, another member of his Cabinet, Edwina Currie, admitted she’d, in fact, had an affair with him while in Government – apparently, the writers had considered Currie for this story-line, but plumped for Bottomley instead.

The legacy: Once a ratings success, Spitting Image became a phenomenon, even securing a UK #1 with its pop at nonsensical-lyric-featuring novelty tunes The Chicken Song (1986) – much more barbed was its b-side, the apartheid protest effort I’ve Never Met A Nice South African. Also, the show’s OTT caricatures caught the imagination of the nation’s youth and the politicos featured would eventually admit to enjoying the exposure it brought them. Most significantly, though, its success gave ‘alternative comedy’ a further push into the mainstream – for instance, the Rik Mayall-starring political sitcom The New Statesman (1987-92) featured a very similar style – and it helped forge the careers of many of its voice artists, including Rory Bremner, Chris Barrie, Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield, Alistair McGowan, Jon Culshaw, Phil Cornwell, John Sessions, Hugh Dennis, Steve Punt and John Thomson.


Miami Vice (1984-89)

The legend: Maybe the most unmistakeably ’80s show on this list – it’s the one that adapted the cop show for the MTV generation, featuring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as the Floridian drug-busters Crockett and Tubbs, whose look almost influenced an entire decade’s menswear.

The lowdown: While every boy was watching The A-Team, practically every grown-up boy was watching Miami Vice, the ideal entertainment for the decade awash with gaudy visual flair; electronic-driven pop music; infantile, gung-ho male heroism and general style over substance. In a nutshell, Vice was all about style – and is recalled far more for that than its tales about hard-nosed cops in a drug-ravaged if sunny South Florida. (Possibly) born thanks to US broadcaster NBC’s big-wigs deciding in a brainstorming session they wanted an ‘MTV Cops’ show, it was helmed for the majority of its run by executive producer Michael Mann, whom honed its stylish cinematography, its use of chart stars’ latest singles as incidental music, its featuring of Ferrari sportscars and Scarab speedboats and, of course, its t-shirt-under-Armani-jacket costumes, the pastel tones of which were intended to reflect the art deco architecture of Miami’s South Beach. The effect was long portions (if not entire) episodes resembled music videos rather than traditional cop dramas, thanks too to composer Van Hammer’s US #1 hitting title theme and his frequently featured Crockett’s Theme (later to be used ad infinitum in ’90s Nat West bank ads).

The line: “How do you go from this tranquility to that violence?” (Girl)/ “I usually take the Ferrari” (Crockett)

The unlikely but true: So concerned with style were the production team that when filming scenes in genuine parts of the drug-addled, downtrodden South Beach, they painted rundown buildings’ walls to fit the show’s colour scheme.

The legacy: Frankly, it’s immeasurable. As noted, Vice inspired a men’s fashion trend that’ll forever be associated with the ’80s – for example, After Six formal wear introduced a Miami Vice jacket line, Kenneth Cole a Crockett and Tubbs shoe line and in ’86 a Stubble Device razor appeared promising punters Don Johnson-like ‘five o’clock shadow’. Moreover, its use of pop music and cinematic visuality changed TV drama and comedy forever – every trendy US show of the ’90s and beyond owes it a huge debt. And still the show’s influence lives on… check out the very stylistically similar Bad Boys movies (1995 and 2004) and the practically pastiching video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). Not to mention too, of course, Mann’s big-screen ‘adaptation’ (2006) and the show’s glamourising, popularising and thus revitalising of Miami – it’s been estimated the city has benefited $1 million per episode.


Neighbours (1985-present)

The legend: The Antipiodean weekday-early-evening monolith of a soap that addicted a generation and made stars of good-looking Aussie performers (and inexplicably the bloke who played Harold Bishop).

The lowdown: Back in the day, Oz had given Blighty Barry Humphries (and his alter-ego Dame Edna Everage), Clive James and Rolf Harris, but in the mid-’80s it gave us something we really could have done without. Yes, Neighbours hit UK screens in October ’86, 18 months after it had started in its homeland, and quickly became a daytime telly hit, regularly drawing a staggering 10-15 million plus audience at its peak. Created by soap opera king Reg Watson for Grundy Television, it hit its stride in its second season, from whence its tales of the young members of the Ramsay, Robinson and Clarke clans living in Ramsay Street (in Melbourne’s fictitious Erinsborough) transfixed viewers throughout Australia and even more in the UK, so much so that 20 million over here watched golden boy Scott and sexy dungaree-sporting mechanic Charlene tie the knot in November ’88. Neighbours is, of course, still on our screens (on Five over here; on Eleven in Australia), but while maintaining its popularity throughout the ’90s, it’s never managed to scale the dizzy, innocent, sun-kissed, frizzy perm-fuelled heights of its early years.

The lines: “Ah… ah, Madge…” (Harold)

The unlikely but true: The song that played at Scott and Charlene’s wedding, Angry Anderson’s Suddenly, was years later chosen by Kylie Minogue to play at her real-life wedding.

The legacy: The delight/ trouble (depending on your view) with Neighbours is what it spawned. Not content with opening the door for the similarly breezy but vacuous Australian soap Home And Away (1987-present) to invade UK screens from ’89 onwards, it also led to an influx of its best loved talent plying their trade over here. Those who didn’t carve out pop music careers (unlike Natalie Imbruglia, Delta Goodrem, Holly Valance, Stefan Dennis and, of course, to great Stock, Aitken and Waterman-driven success, Jason Donovan and the ‘Pop Pixie’ herself Kylie) tended to fill out pantomime protagonist roles in the soap’s off-season (our winter/ Australia’s summer), such as Ian Smith (Harold Bishop), Anne Charlestone (Madge Bishop), Kimberley Davies (Annalise Hartman) and Dan Paris (Drew Kirk). The show also played a significant role in popularising with Brits Aussie cultural clichés; in particular terms such as ‘arvo’ (afternoon), ‘wagging’ (playing truant from school) and ‘throwing a wobbly’ (tantrum), as well as the notion of holding a barbecue when the weather’s decent for one’s friends and, yes, neighbours.


Five more to check out…

The Krypton Factor (1977-95)

The Gordon Burns-fronted, it’s much-more-than-a-quiz gameshow, featuring rounds including an assault course, landing an airline simulator, spot-the-difference and, er, a quiz


Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983-86 and 2002-04)

Dick Clement and Ian Le Franais’ dramedy about Brit construction workers journeying to Germany in search of work, which made familiar faces of Jimmy Nail, Ian Healy and Timothy Spall


Threads (1984)

BBC2’s one-off ‘consequences of the Cold War boiling over’ drama that scared the living sh*t out of the entire nation


The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1985)

Channel 4’s bittersweet adaptation of Sue Townshend’s novel of an awkward, anti-Thatcherite, ordinary teenager growing up in Nottinghamshire that spoke to and enchanted millions of real-life ’80s teens


Howards’ Way (1985-90)

The Beeb’s unapologetically go-out-and-take-it Sunday-night semi-soap set amidst the power politics of a South Coast boating business community


… And five great shows about the ’80s

Our Friends In The North (1996)

Excellently observed, epic drama serial following the lives of a quartet from Newcastle, whose penultimate section takes in the ’80s


Friends And Crocodiles (2005)

Stephen Poliakoff’s smart if dreamy take on the everything-is-possible-in-business ethos of the mid- to late ’80s, starring Damian Lewis, Jodhi May and Robert Lindsay


Ashes To Ashes (2008-10)

Philip Glennister’s Gene Hunt returns and is teamed with Keeley Hawes’ Alex Drake in early ’80s Lahndon Tahn in the three-series-toting sequel to Life On Mars (2006-07)


This Is England ’86 and ’88 (2010 and ’11)

Shane Meadows’ follow up TV comedy-drama to his acclaimed 2004 film about the influence of the fascist skinhead trend in the poverty-stricken urban Britain of the early ’80s


Royal Wedding (2011)

Jodie Whittaker plays a young wife and mum in a tight-knit Welsh community whose world falls apart the day Charles marries Di in the summer of ’81



6 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink
    February 22, 2013 9:33 am

    Some say including the scribe of this most excellent blog that I never grew out of the 80’s! If nothing else the TV of the 80’s was as much a part of the make up of now mid 30’s men as any other influence in their pre teen lives for bad or for worse. Secretly we all want to swan around dressed as Don in his (fake, yes it was, I’ll come back to that later) Ferrari down the Miami Strip, as we have all caught ourselves saying I love it when a plan comes together, after getting something just right (come on you have done it once). Indeed the pop video style of television from Miami Vice et al still invades TV today just look at Top Gear with its music cut demonstrations of car slithering prowess and the Hamster’s continual clothing apeing style of the great Don himself! Personally I feel that 80’s TV and its influence is so entwined into the make up of large numbers of mid 30’s males that we really don’t realise it! We watched it, we played with its toys and we still reference it in our speech and one liners with other 80’s constructed males…. Having said that the output of America did produce the odd stand out anti 80’s condition sitcom, I’m thinking Roseanne here, which looking back was a memorable commentary on life in 80’s influenced America for those who hadn’t quite benefited from the politics of the time. Although I must admit that I am still an 80’s boy at heart, so much so you may remove the man from the decade but you can’t remove the boy from the 80’s. Right before I get back to watching back to back re-runs of Magnum PI, that Ferrari in Vice: for car junkies out there, only a few Daytonnas were convertibles. The shows producers wanted one so badly and couldn’t get one (read afford) that they created one, not by cutting the roof off of a hard top (couldn’t afford that) but a total fake body on running gear from possibly an American muscle car…. Ferrari got so hoping mad about it all that they threatened to take the show to court which is why the car is seen less and less during the shows run. Anyways enough of my Jibber Jabber, I have another shrimp to throw on the Barbi!

    • February 22, 2013 9:31 pm

      Ha! Thanks, Simon; fantastic comment. I believe they brought the Testarossa into Miami Vice effectively to replace the ‘fake’ Ferrari, didn’t they? (Although, I suspect you’ll better than me!). For what it’s worth, I too would prefer to watch Magnum, P.I. back-to-back than The Vice, but the latter is probably more definitively ’80s than the former, hence its place on the list. One must try to be objective (sort of) when writing these such posts.

      And, yes, you are the most ’80s person I know… 😉

      • Simon permalink
        February 24, 2013 11:01 am

        Hello George,

        You are correct on all three accounts:
        1. The Testorassa was bought into replace the fake Daytona.
        2. Magnum PI whilst made in the 80’s is concepted straight out of the 70’s being based on a group on ‘nam’ (you weren’t there man!) navy Vets, and the shows main character directly whilst Vice really was a slice of 80’s pop culture life through and through.
        3. Why thankyou sir, as the 80’s person I am, I’m off now to ride my BMX (fitted with knightrider strobe light and voice box on the handle bars) back to the future whilst listening to some ABC on that tape chewing Walkman…. 😉


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