In the mid-1980s the BBC ran a show featuring Radio One DJ Dave Lee Travis (DLT) sitting by a roaring fire, introducing videos. Sound boring? It was anything but, because the songs were 'golden oldies', hits before the advent of the video era, so the BBC commissioned videos to be made to fit the music. The resulting videos were clever, surreal, funny, and touchingly sad. Some were brilliant, a few were predictable but others had unexpected twists. The show ran for two series, which left viewers wanting more; the material that was unused would have kept fans happy for years. Lots of the specially-created videos were unforgettable, and still remembered upon hearing the featured songs on the radio two decades on. For example, Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, recorded a wonderfully-evocative version of the Christian hymn 'Morning Has Broken', and it was played to a backdrop of glorious images of nature waking up: dawn mists, the Sun rising, early birds singing, and sparkling dew-covered cobwebs.
It's not possible to report them all, so here are just a categorised few:
'Albatross' by Fleetwood Mac
Rather than film the bird itself, the BBC went with shots of a much bigger 'bird', Concorde in flight. The video also featured the Lincolnshire-based Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team - the Red Arrows, escorting Concorde during an aerial display.
'Scarlet O'Hara' by Jet Harris
This energetic instrumental by the former Shadows member is played to a mini-soap opera plot. A couple walk into an empty bar and sit down at a table. The bored barman eyes up the girl who studiously ignores him until he begins juggling with items off the bar. This annoys her boyfriend, who picks up some apples from the table centrepiece fruit bowl1 and begins juggling them. The barman then takes up three empty wine bottles and the boyfriend follows suit. The two men begin a routine tossing two wine bottles between them while keeping the others in the air. In the meantime, the ignored girlfriend tries to attract their attention but fails. In an amazingly well-choreographed scene, the woman steps between the flying wine bottles and the men continue to juggle the bottles around her. She looks from one to the other, then steps out of the pig-in-the-middle situation in disgust.
'Bend Me, Shape Me' by Amen Corner
The subject of body-building women has caused controversy. There will always be people who think bulging muscles better suit a male torso, but the woman the BBC engaged to perform in this video would possibly change their minds. Caroline Cheshire was sheer poetry in motion as she put her highly-toned body, clad in just a black-and-white zebra print bikini, through a mesmerising routine.
'Softly As I Leave You' by Matt Monro
This one's a real tear-jerker. An old lady is keeping watch by her ailing husband's bed, but she's dozed off for a few moments. He awakens and, knowing he's slipping away, reaches out to touch his wife one last time. Then he realises he doesn't want her to see him die, so he pulls back his hand, knocking over a glass of water by his bed as he does so. The old woman stirs and momentarily wonders where she is, then her eyes alight on her dead husband, and her face crumples. For a few moments she allows herself the indulgence of memory and we see the elderly pair walking hand-in-hand and kissing, before snapshots of the day of the funeral.
'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' by Dusty Springfield
This one does what it says on the tin. Portraying one woman, post break-up, face void of expression. She's packing wooden crates in an empty-of-furniture front room, except for a television which the removal men forgot. Picking up a pair of concert tickets, she reads them then tears them in half. Next thing she examines is a videotape; on a whim she inserts it into the VCR and turns the television on. There's her ex, playing with their pet dog. She laughs. There's her ex, popping a bottle of champagne. He pours her a glass, spilling some, and they're both laughing. The watcher cries. As Dusty reaches the crescendo of the song, you see the abandoned woman, with a new look of steely determination, approaching the television and raising a hammer. It rains down on the videotape she's just ejected, smashing it to smithereens.
'Stranger On The Shore' by Acker Bilk
A large dog romps along a beach after being abandoned. Another dog joins it for a while and they chase each other through the surf, but then its owners reapply its lead and depart, leaving the bigger dog alone again.
'Hot Love' by T Rex
This one was made by and for petrolheads before the word was even coined. A man builds a 'hot-rod' from scrap, and smugly takes it out for its first run. On the road he's overtaken by the green Morris Minor that two decades later belongs to Dot Cotton in EastEnders.
'Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' by Brian Hyland
The 'Itsy Bitsy' video featured a stunning-looking young lady wearing a white with yellow spots micro-kini - that is, two hankies tied for the top and two hankies tied for the bottom. She is exaggerating the actions of attempting to leave her yellow changing booth; every time she peers out - hanging on to the door for dear life - someone else comes along and she dives back in to hide. You see all sorts pass by on the beach, fat ladies in various beached whale outfits, men in Victorian bathing garb, even someone dressed in a shark costume. Each time she is extremely afraid of being seen. Finally she steps out and she's tiptoeing over the sand. Then she hears a noise so she turns heel and runs back to the booth. Nothing happens, so she peers out and then a dog walks past, nonchalantly sniffs at the booth, cocks its leg up and the camera pans up so you don't see it doing what dogs do. Off walks the dog and she peers out again. This time she makes a dash for the water (it's almost the end of the song) and hides under the waves. This is after we have seen a generous flash of bottom-cleavage, and while she is splashing about in the water we see a dream-version of her having a slowed-down donkey ride played out in the imaginations of some interested watchers. As the record winds down, you see her being offered a large towel then carried off by a hunky lifeguard; she looks over his shoulder and waves to the camera.
'Elusive Butterfly' by Val Doonican
A man and a woman perform similar actions at slightly different times, crossing the same street and visiting the same shops. Both circle potential matches in the personal ads, and mail replies at the same postbox, but they don't even see each other. Later we see her on the telephone, and she's twisting the phone wire around her finger. When we see him on his phone his eyes are bulging and he's sweating, nodding his head, grinning inanely and mopping his brow. Both circle the same date on their respective calendars and take great care preening themselves for a blind date. On the way to the restaurant, both collect a red carnation, and we see them walking towards each other. Unfortunately another man and woman are outside waiting and they are also wearing red carnations. The waiting woman spots our hero, grabs his arm and they head through the restaurant doors. The waiting man straightens his dicky bow and proffers his arm to his dream date, our heroine. Thankfully that's not the end of the story, as while they're eating at neighbouring tables, our hero catches the eye of our heroine at almost exactly the same moment as the newcomers clock each other, and both couples leave the restaurant with the right partner.
'Question' by The Moody Blues
This is a rather claustrophobic video with just one man, sitting at a desk in a darkened office. There's a computer on his desk which has a flashing character which annoys him, so he types in a question followed by several question marks. The screen displays an enormous question mark and then the printer churns out a black-and-white image of a pretty girl. The man smiles and types 'thank you' on the keyboard and clicks 'enter'.
'Moments In Love' - Art of Noise
One of the surreal ones, this had physical embodiments of gods watching an ice-skating couple dancing on the ice in slow motion, interspersed with motile tortoises.
'Hippy Hippy Shake' by Swinging Blue Jeans
A particularly unnerving video where a woman is wandering through an abandoned building but whichever way she turns she can't find the way out. Above her is another floor but there are no stairs, and then suddenly she's being chased by a nurse. Then we see a man wearing a mask over his mouth leaning in towards the camera, brandishing a pair of pliers. The terrified woman wakes up, breathes a sigh of relief, looks around, then widens her eyes as she realises she's strapped to a chair and a dentist is leaning over her.
'You Don't Have To Tell Me' by The Rocking Berries
The motif for this enactment is a bed-and-breakfast landlady's home. She is on the phone taking a call from her American fancy man, much to the chagrin of her long-suffering husband. The day of the cowboy's arrival sees the landlady dressed in a red blouse, suede skirt and matching boots, and a cowboy hat in his honour. Hubby watches in disbelief as his wife serves the visitor with a Desperate Dan-sized cow pie, so off he trudges to the garden to tend his beloved roses. There he finds his rival's tethered horse is eating them, and has plastered his prized garden gnome with fresh manure.
'Little Things' by Dave Berry
The premise for this enactment is the hilarious role-reversal featured between a couple who own a scrapyard. There's a weedy little man supping tea and nibbling biscuits while gazing lovestruck at his female partner, who is on top of a car wreck, wielding a lump hammer. In his mind's eye he is seeing her dressed as Thor in drag. He goes outside and offers her a mug of coffee and the packet of biscuits, which she grabs, rips open and crams into her awesome mouth, washing them down with huge gulps of coffee. After the tea break he goes back to the hut and watches her rip the insides of a car to shreds, as if he's watching poetry in motion. When he's brushing the yard he looks around for somewhere to dispose of the sweepings and she lifts up the front end of a car and points underneath it with her other hand. They laugh and go for a walk, arm-in-arm. When they return, some skinheads are mucking around in the scrapyard so she stands in front of her partner and rolls up her sleeves. We only see the little man's face but his expressions vary from 'ooh!' to 'eek!' and then she walks back to him, wiping her hands, job done.
'He Ain't Heavy' by The Hollies
People with varying special needs enjoy a day out thanks to their carers.
'Goin' Back' by Dusty Springfield
Hard to believe this story was under four minutes long, there's so much going on and with all the action in it, it actually feels more like 20 minutes. It begins with a young woman waking up in a park, where she has obviously spent the night. She looks round nervously while getting up and we can see she has dark circles under her eyes and an unhealthy pasty skin. As she walks off, the unattached half of a set of handcuffs dangles below her jacket cuff. She pauses as she passes a park bench, which has the previous day's local newspaper laid on it, its front page headline reading 'Prison Van Breakout' with a large photo of herself underneath. Looking round nervously, she turns and almost collides with a mother taking her little girl to school. The mother hurries on, but the little girl dawdles and looks back at the escapee. Worried she's been recognised, she drops her head and the little girl laughs. Despite her situation, she smiles at the little girl who then gets told off by her mother and they head off out of sight. By now the Sun is well up and squirrels are chasing one another up and down trees and across the grass.
Beginning to relax, breakout girl drinks in her surroundings and she takes a walk around the edge of the lake, chatting and sharing a joke with a fisherman. She watches two friends helping each other rollerskate along the path, and catches her breath in awe as a swan swoops by her as it glides in for a landing on the lake. Removing her jacket but ensuring it covers her manacled wrist, she heads off towards the grass and runs until her heart is almost bursting. She looks glad to be alive and her cheeks are flushed; exhausted, she flings herself to the ground and lies looking up at the sky with a huge grin on her face. Suddenly she turns her head, eyes wide with fear and her smile gone; she has heard sirens in the distance. Springing to her feet she heads for the lake, where she pushes a small rowing boat into the water and jumps aboard. Policemen line the lakeside and they're all looking towards the water with some conversing and pointing. The camera pans back to the boat but it is empty, although the oars are still in the same position, anchored on their rowlocks. As Dusty's emotional tune fades into the final few bars, we're left to wonder what happened to the girl who embarked on a last desperate bid for freedom.
'Terry' by Twinkle
This mediæval re-enactment video was about a two-timing girl who engineers a confrontation between her lover in the past - a knight on horseback, and her modern-day boyfriend - leather-clad Terry on a motorbike. The knight challenges Terry but he is so upset at seeing his girl dressed in a mediæval gown and headdress that he drives his bike off a cliff.
'Seven Little Girls' - The Avons
For this, seven pink-attired OAPs 'acting like' little girls were collected from their nursing home by an Elvis impersonator in his red Thunderbird. The girls all clamour in the back and start stuffing their faces with cream cakes during the journey to pick up Harry Potter-lookalike 'Fred'. The girls act like he's a movie star, much to the driver's disgust. He tries in vain to get one of the girls to sit up front with him, after he's combed his Fonzie-like hair. They all go to the cinema and pile in to see Indiana Jones, the driver sitting at the front by himself and the seven old girls taking it in turns to hug and kiss the disinterested Fred.
'Constantly' by Cliff Richard
It's the mid-sixties and in the non-colour opening scene, two children, a boy and a girl aged about ten, are playing outside a theatre. The girl is dancing and posing, the boy is pretending to take her picture with a make-believe camera. Suddenly they are surrounded by real reporters and photographers who clamber by the stage door as it opens and out steps a celebrity who poses for a few seconds and is then ushered into a waiting car. As the disappointed hacks head off for their offices with their non-exclusives, one of them accidentally knocks the little girl off her feet. She falls, bashes her head on the kerb and closes her eyes forever. In a flash the black-and-white young boy changes to a full-grown man in colour, bending beside the same theatre wall to light a cigarette. He draws on it and in his mind he can see the little girl's smiling face as he saw it through his hands as he was pretending to take her photo. He takes another drag then tosses the cigarette onto the pavement. Before he can walk away he's surrounded by cameramen who crowd around the opening stage door. He steps back in amazement as he catches sight of the new artiste starring at the theatre. It's his friend, but she's grown up and his memory of the little girl bursts like a balloon. She is escorted to her car, and it sets off; he runs to his car, pursuing the mystery woman. Through the back window of her car, the girl is looking back at him. It starts to rain and he switches on his windscreen wipers, but his vision is blurred. He sees the front car driving through some gates but when he gets there they are locked with a padlock, yet there wasn't time for this to have occurred. Unable to follow, he watches the car containing his memory drive off into the distance, with the girl still looking through the rear window at him.
'Nights in White Satin' by The Moody Blues
This video portrays a man sitting at a table by a log fire attempting to write a letter, but he keeps breaking down in tears. He visualises a woman on horseback and tries to touch the image, but it vanishes. We assume she is dead, and he is trying to hold on to her memory, but towards the end of the song we see the woman dismount near a church and enter the grounds. She walks up to a grave, places flowers on it, then turns away, weeping.
Cartoon and Animation
Some of the animated videos throughout the show were brilliant, but then there's the one at the bottom of the pile, where the budget probably ran out (and it showed). That dubious honour belongs to the video made for 'Rubber Ball', a catchy tune by Marty Wilde, which unfortunately was just a load of balls.
'Wild Thing' by The Trogs
This cartoon features a bushy-bearded2 caveman serenading an aloof dinosaur. He goes through all manner of made-up musical instruments, including bones drumming stretched animal skin, with no effect. Finally, he's playing a blue guitar all alone and up comes another dinosaur, fluttering her heavily-mascara-laden eyelashes and puckering up her scarlet red lips ready for a kiss.
'Hole In The Ground' by Bernard Cribbins
As novelty records go, there are a lot more annoying ones than 'Hole In The Ground' by Bernard Cribbins. This highly-regarded and much-loved versatile actor hit the nail on the head by expressing the fed-up feelings of the long-suffering general public. The BBC rewarded him with this cartoon homage to an infernal white-collar worker annoying the manual labourers just a little too much and getting his just desserts.
The Christmas special editions must have been great fun to create, one was just a recording of shoppers' reactions when 'Santa' in his sleigh drove down the High Street one Saturday afternoon in the middle of July!
'Mary's Boy Child' - Boney M
Beginning with a ballerina dancing and spreading white feathers and glitter, the real-life action then plays out the Nativity complete with Star of Bethlehem.
'Lonely Pup in a Christmas Shop' - Adam Faith
A cartoon dog in a pet shop window watching happy shoppers passing him by. He looks up at the night sky and cartoon stars form faces and start singing to him. Then along comes Santa on his sleigh, who gift-wraps a bone and drops it off for the lonely dog.