Forty years ago this month, these unprepared isles were poised to be scorched by the most severe dry spell for over two centuries; yes, I’m old enough to recall the very long hot summer, the heat wave, the drought, the curbs on hosepipes and the ‘Save It’ logo; but I was also busily keeping my imagination occupied. June 1976 saw the arrival of a new television station, though nobody but me knows that because it was mine and mine alone. In contrast to the apocalyptic tone of the previous post, I beg your indulgence to dip into a little optimism characteristic of a time when children employed their minds as stimulation because there were no electronic gadgets to do so on their behalf.
I had toy soldiers and other such well-worn tools at my disposal as an eight-year-old and had, like most children, engaged in my own mini-movies with them for as far back as I could remember. For some reason in 1976, however, I decided to put every piece of play under one televisual umbrella; and thus was born what I called FTV, which stood for Fantastic TeleVision. I had chosen wisely when it came to names, for the programmes produced by FTV were…well, quite fantastic, if I do say so myself.
As soon as I hatched the idea, I began to make a listings magazine for the company, one that was naturally called FTV Times. A slim weekly with the most amount of effort usually lavished on its eye-catching front cover, FTV Times covered the output of the station with minimal information. Interestingly from today’s 24-hour television perspective, FTV’s schedule didn’t adhere to what were the scheduling norms of the time, with its mornings and afternoons clogged with the kind of programmes that, had I known back then, any TV channel with half-a-brain would have reserved for prime-time evening slots. I guess it reflects the easily-forgotten realities of having to go to bed at a fixed hour every night and usually being denied exposure to shows worth watching, such as (for example) ‘The Sweeney’.
Looking back, many of the programmes produced by FTV were rooted in the fantasy-based adventures little boys tend to favour. Had it been real, I suppose its schedule would have consisted of ITC-type output with a little bit of contemporary US cop shows thrown in for good measure, as well as a healthy dose of Gerry Anderson OTT excitement. Drama, uniformly action-packed, was paramount.
There was a series called ‘Airport’ that essentially consisted of a massive air crash every episode; there was one called ‘The Three Knights’, which was set in an Arthurian England and actually starred four men in armour, though the fourth was the villain of the piece; there was a series called ‘Destination’, so called (I suspect) because I liked the word. As far as I can remember, it followed the adventures of ‘the Highway Patrol’; there was ‘The Demolishers’, which may sound like some Channel 5 docusoap featuring chirpy cockney employees of a demolition firm, but was very much in the ‘Persuaders/Protectors’ vein. Again, merely a word I liked. ‘Robot Shark’ cashed in on the success of both ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and existed merely because I had a rubber shark. Many of these shows were opportunistic in a very Roger Corman fashion; whatever I had on hand, I turned it into a series.
They weren’t all studio (i.e. bedroom) based, either; the garden could be a handy location, especially for ‘The Forbidden Land’, in which a fugitive from some top-secret government lab attempted to evade capture on the run through a post-Armageddon landscape evidently inspired by the Forbidden Zone in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies. I admit I did have a problem with ‘female representation’, however; not having a sister meant there were no dolls in the house, so I had to make do with the odd ornament belonging to my mother when her back was turned. That might explain why every female character in an FTV drama dressed like she’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen adaptation. Everything was transmitted live as well, just as it had been in the early days of real television; from the end of 1977 onwards, I could at least make audio recordings of FTV programmes, though few have survived.
FTV’s output also extended to play that didn’t involve toys. If I had a kick-about with pals, that became FTV’s equivalent of ‘Match of the Day’; if we decided we were going to have a race either on foot or on bikes, that too was a sporting event covered by the cameras of FTV. There was also entertainment on offer – a Saturday evening game show called ‘Quiz Corner’ (same presenter/contestant every week: me and my brother); there was a sitcom which again consisted of me and my brother; and there was a regular music show hosted by the guitar-strumming Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’ because (you guessed it) I had a model of Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Also, for some bizarre reason, the main news was on at 2.00 in the afternoon.
Although a short attention span meant FTV Times wasn’t necessarily published (or drawn) every week (generally putting it together when I felt like it), the name of the company survived until I hit puberty and then it all suddenly seemed a bit infantile. It’s sad when you let go, but you have to in the end. Still, I can at least look back with a smile at that enterprising mini-me and wonder why he didn’t do as much with his adult life as he crammed into the life he lived before it. Having said that, perhaps the spirit of FTV lives on, merely in a different guise…
DAVE SWARBRICK (1941-2016)
According to the Daily Telegraph, which infamously published his premature obituary in 1999, Dave Swarbrick has spent the last seventeen years as a member of the living dead. Alas, the obituaries appearing in Saturday’s newspapers will not be embarrassing accidents. The demon fiddler really has met his maker now. The man known affectionately in the Folk circles he bestrode for half-a-century as ‘Swarb’ died for real yesterday after a remarkable career stretching all the way back to the earnest fingers-in-the-ear founding fathers of the British Folk scene, Ewan MacColl and Ian Campbell. He had already attained legendary status before his association with Fairport Convention began, cementing his reputation as a compellingly charismatic fiddle player alongside the rising star of British Folk in the 60s, Martin Carthy.
After meandering on the periphery of London’s Psychedelic underground as a kind of British Jefferson Airplane, Fairport Convention recruited Swarb as a session man to add an authentic Folk feel to their new line-up headed by Sandy Denny, who had cut her teeth on the same circuit as the fiddler whose expertise added such dynamic flair to the band’s sound that his presence became permanent. It was the invigorating combination of Swarb and Denny, along with guitarist and blossoming songwriter Richard Thompson, that guided Fairport towards the groundbreaking blend of Rock and Folk that reached its zenith with the seminal album, ‘Liege and Lief’ in 1969. Swarb wielded the electric violin like a gunfighter; it swoops and dives through the songs on that LP, duelling with Thompson’s guitar in the musical equivalent of a dogfight between a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt. It was a wholly unique sound perhaps destined to live fast and die young, for both Denny and Thompson departed not long after, though Swarb stayed put.
He remained in demand as a guest embellisher on the solo albums of his ex-bandmates as well as numerous other performers inspired by the classic Fairport line-up, but life on the road with Fairport took its toll on his health over the years. Swarbrick suffered from emphysema, but after a successful double lung transplant in 2004, he resumed his career and was working constantly up until his death at the age of 75. Dave Swarbrick really was one of those musicians who would play till they dropped, and in his case, he kept playing even after he dropped – seventeen years after. That takes some beating.
© The Editor