On the move: how Bob Hoskins helped adults to learn to read

The sad news that Bob Hoskins had died prompted many memories of his part in great films like Who framed Roger Rabbit and Mona Lisa. But my mind went back to 1975, when he starred in a British TV series called On the Move, which helped adults learn to read.

Bob Hoskins On the Move BBC 1976

Bob Hoskins as Alf Hunt in BBC’s On the Move. Photo: BBC website

It was an unlikely Sunday evening BBC TV hit. Hoskins played a removal man called Alf Hunt, sympathetically portraying Alf’s frustration and embarrassment about how his reading and writing difficulties affected his everyday life. The series attracted 17 million viewers as Alf’s made progress after getting help to improve his literacy skills.

We watched it every week, from the catchy opening titles featuring the Dooleys’ hit, to the very end. At the age of 12 in 1975, I was lucky to have strong reading and writing skills, but knowing friends who struggled helped me identify with Alf. The hit also showed the power of television in an age when we had just three television channels: BBC One, BBC Two and ITV.

Who would have thought such a worthy role could have launched a Hollywood career?


BBC’s George Entwistle: £450,00 reward for failure

“Thanks for resigning, George. Will £450,00 be enough?” Photo: BBC

On Saturday, George Entwistle’s resignation as the BBC’s director-general looked like the act of a decent and principled man. It doesn’t look such a principled act now we know that Entwistle will be paid £450,000 for resigning. (A year’s salary.) A classic case of being rewarded for failure.

True, it’s a lot more modest than Rebekah Brooks’ £7m payoff from News International after the phone hacking scandal. But the licence fee payers are paying for it. It’s more than he was entitled to (six months.) And it’s another gift for the BBC’s enemies at News International and the Daily Mail, who will use it as ammunition in their campaign against the compulsory BBC licence fee.

Millions of licence fee payers face tough times. They will be outraged at the way they’re being punished for George Entwistle’s incompetence. Mr Decent has turned into Mr Shameless.

It suggests that Chris Patten and George Entwistle either didn’t consider how bad this would look, or didn’t care.

Will the BBC survive Newsnight and Savile?

Endgame: John Humphrys ends his editor-in-chief’s career

Last night, the BBC’s director general George Entwistle resigned after just 55 days in the job after horribly mishandling Newsnight’s disastrous false allegation of child abuse against Lord McAlpine. As I predicted on Ertblog yesterday, Entwistle’s encounter with John Humphrys on Today represented his exit interview.

The BBC is now in an even greater crisis than at the height of the storm over Newsnight’s scrapped exposé of Jimmy Savile. That was an error of omission. By contrast, the McAlpine libel was a grievous error of commission. That failure seems inexplicable coming straight after the Savile scandal, which would have prompted any half competent leader to insistent on the utmost vigilance in vetting future Newsnight reporting.

So is the BBC’s future in doubt? No – provided the new director general gets a grip on the corporation’s bloated and ineffectual management. (You couldn’t call them leaders.) What were they all doing? Why didn’t the PR team alert him to the tweet and Guardian story about Newsnight? Why did the lawyers approve the report libelling Lord McAlpine? It’s hard to imagine John Birt’s BBC scoring such an own goal. As the former Panorama reporter John Ware comments in The Observer, John Birt reinforced the Reithian values of rigour, fairness and accuracy during his time as director general – qualities disastrously absent during the latest Newsnight own goal.

And it is surely time to end the fiction that one person can be both the BBC’s chief executive and its editor-in-chief. As the FT’s John Gapper says, that ‘puts immense – perhaps unmanageable – weight on a single individual’.The BBC produced over 400,000 hours of TV and radio programming last year, plus a huge amount of online content. While no one person can personally review all that material, it makes much more sense for the director of news to be the editor-in-chief than the DG, who is in effect the BBC’s chief executive. (The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh disagrees.)

Finally, the BBC Trust remains as ineffectual as the BBC governors they replaced. The Trust does a poor job both as the corporation’s governing body and as the BBC’s cheerleader and defender. Chris Patten’s uncertain performance as the Trust’s chairman during the Savile crisis reflects this ambiguity. Maybe it is time to accept that Ofcom would do a better job as a true regulator.

Why Britain needs the BBC

In this moment of crisis, we must hold the BBC to higher standards while treasuring the corporation as one of Britain’s greatest creations. Witnessing John Humphrys interrogating George Entwistle was to experience the eternal glory of the BBC. As John Ware says in The Observer,’on any objective view, the BBC is overwhelmingly a force for good and understanding’. It’s hard to imagine the Sunday Times humiliating Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking. (The Times and Sunday Times were very quiet about that scandal until late in the day.) Panorama’s report on the BBC, Newsnight and Jimmy Savile similarly reflected very well on the BBC’s culture and philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s commercial and political enemies have relished the corporation’s current crisis. Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail have long wanted to emasculate the Beeb. They must be resisted. Today’s Sun on Sunday headline about Entwistle’s resignation (‘Bye bye Chump’) was a useful reminder of the crassness of the Murdoch press. Britain is a better place for the closure of the News of the World. By contrast, the loss of the BBC would be a tragedy. It must not happen.

Don’t Panic! Remembering Clive Dunn

‘Don’t Panic!’ cried Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army. It summed up one of the greatest characters in post war British comedy, played by Clive Dunn, who has died at 92.

The joke, of course, was that Jones was the first to panic in the face of danger – real or imagined. He personified a generation who served in the last days of Victoria’s imperial army, survived the Great War trenches and ended their military days as a desperate last line of defence in 1940 as the Home Guard.

It came as a shock as a fan of Dad’s Army in the early 1970s to find out that Clive Dunn wasn’t an elderly man but a 50 something actor not much older than my father. (He played on the elderly image in the unlikely 1971 hit Grandad.) He outlived almost all the other Dad’s Army actors.

I remember going to London in 1975 to see Dad’s Army on stage at the Shaftesbury Theatre. We stayed in a basic hotel near Mount Pleasant Royal Mail sorting office. According to Wikipedia, the show was twice disrupted by bomb scares: rather appropriate given the wartime subject of this comic classic.

In praise of ITV’s A Kind of Loving, 30 years on

Above: Vic Brown (Clive Wood) and Donna Pennyman (Susan Penhaligon) in A Kind of Loving

Spring 1982 was an unforgettable time. Britain was at war with Argentina. I was sitting my A levels. And ITV made Sunday night viewing unmissable with a magnificent adaption of Stan Barstow’s Vic Brown trilogy.

A Kind of Loving was a famous example of kitchen sink drama from the early 1960s. It told the story of Vic Brown, a working class lad who endured a shot-gun marriage after getting his girlfriend pregnant. ITV’s 1982 classic followed his progress in often-painful detail. Barstow oversaw the television version of his play, and ensured that Vic was not seen as an unvarnished hero. Instead, we saw the pain of his wife, Ingrid (brilliantly portrayed by Joanne Whalley) as Vic lashed out at her and her domineering mother. After Ingrid lost her baby, Vic moved south to work with an old workmate in Essex. One of the most poignant aspects of the series was witnessing Ingrid’s pain as Vic distanced himself from her as he relished his new independent life – and his growing relationship with Donna, an actress appearing at the local theatre.

Vic and Ingrid split, and we see the emptiness of his life without a true partner. In time, Vic and Donna meet again, and Vic builds a relationship with her and her son – his son. (Strange to think that I was the exactly the same age as the son in the final episode set in 1973.)

Watching ITV’s 1982 classic shows how TV has changed in the last 30 years. It took 10 episodes to tell Vic’s story – unthinkable now. It was broadcast months after another Granada classic: Brideshead Revisited.

I missed the last episode as my friend Anthony came round. Curiously, I didn’t record the missed finale in my 1982 diary. I was delighted when I discovered the series on DVD – but missed the finale again as the third disc was damaged. I finally watched the last episode on a flight to San Francisco this week, treasuring memories of 1982 and three of my favourite books. Highly recommended.

Now, when will someone release on DVD 1978’s ITV series Fallen Hero about a Welsh rugby player who switches codes to league?

James Burke: Connections revisited

I caught a glimpse of James Burke on Mark Lawson’s BBC 2 show about Seventies TV tonight. It was pure nostalgia.

Burke was a fixture on the BBC during that dramatic decade and the late 1960s. He came to fame as a Tomorrow’s World presenter and commentator on the moon landings.

But for me his greatest hour was as the creator and presenter of Connections, a 10 part BBC series showing how technological developments are interlinked. I found it enthralling. It was a highlight of my Sundays along with the less intellectually stimulating The Big Match. (Although the contemporary success of Nottingham Forest was a surprise.)

I remember my mother’s cousin being as enthralled by the Connections book as I was when he stayed with us for my grandmother’s funeral in 1981. Another era. It’s hard to imagine a major TV channel devoting a 10-episode series to technology and science in 2012.

Not such a smart TV: no BBC iPlayer on Samsung

I bought a new TV today for our kitchen. The old one stopped working after digital switchover this week, so I replaced it with an internet-connected one that enables us to watch BBC iPlayer on TV. John Lewis in High Wycombe said the Samsung UE22ES5400 LED 22 inch TV would do just this.


I was impressed by how easy it was to set up. But I couldn’t find the iPlayer. The web based iPlayer said the BBC didn’t support my device (above).

I didn’t think that mattered. After all, Samsung’s BBC iPlayer app features prominently on the company’s website – but that was also missing:


At this point, I called John Lewis. Its friendly technical help person couldn’t help. He said I could return the TV – or call Samsung. I didn’t think there was much chance Samsung would answer the phone late on a Saturday afternoon. But to its credit, I did get through to someone who explained after some research that the iPlayer app wasn’t yet available for the 5400 TV as it was a new model but would be in early May.

So I won’t be taking the TV back to John Lewis just yet.

PS: why are TV names so obscure and impossible to remember? Samsung could learn a lot from Apple. iPhone is so much more compelling and easier to remember than UE22ES5400.

Why I won’t miss BBC’s Ceefax

The BBC’s Ceefax service teletext service has disappeared from our TVs after our area completed digital switchover. I can’t say I’ll miss it.

I’ve not looked at Ceefax since I went online over 15 years ago. I recognise that it was once a worthwhile innovation, giving information about news, sport and travel developments on screen at a time when we had just a handful of TV channels. But it was a frustrating system to use. The difference categories had a series of scrolling pages, and I always seem to miss the page with Cardiff City’s result – meaning I had to wait for half a dozen pages to appear before ‘my’ result reappeared.

The BBC also split Ceefax pages between BBC1 and BBC2 – I could never remember which appeared where. And in an era before hyperlinks, you had to note the page number of the story you wanted. ITV and Channel 4 had their own teletext services.

It all makes the world wide web seem even more miraculous!

Remembering the Seventies

The 1970s have had a bad press. Those 10 years have been written off as a grim decade of terrorist carnage, strikes and inflation. That’s before the critics move on to popular culture: the years that taste forgot, with flares, garish colours, Gary Glitter and the Austin Allegro.

Tonight’s BBC series The 70s is sure to prompt a debate about whether the decade has been wrongly maligned. As presenter and historian Dominic Sandbrook explains on BBC News‘ online magazine, the decade has been overshadowed by the Sixties, a period whose vibrant reputation doesn’t match the reality of that iconic era for most people in Britain.

Back in 1970, the mood was optimistic. Cadbury’s ran a television advert about the ‘supersonic seventies’ – sadly missing from YouTube – which reflected an era of technological advancement. Concorde was a symbol of that excitement, along with the moon landings that continued until 1972. (People of a certain age will remember space dust sweets, which made your tongue tingle.) Family holidays featured Benidorm rather than Bognor or Barry Island.

Yet the mood changed quickly. The evening news chronicled a descent into chaos and violence, from picket line battles at Grunwick and Saltley to bomb and bullet-scarred Northern Ireland. (Forty years on, I can still picture the BBC’s Northern Ireland reporter WD Flackes, who was on our screen every night to record the latest horrors.) British political leaders of all parties seemed to have no idea how to tackle the country’s troubles. I vividly remember my father Bob Skinner proclaiming the country was going to the dogs on reading of the latest destructive strike. (Aptly, we were on holiday in Benidorm at the time, on our first ever package holiday.)

Overseas, the Seventies saw Watergate, the Munich Olympics massacre, the end of the Vietnam war and carnage in the Middle East. Not to mention the continuing cold war.

Yet it’s too easy to write off the Seventies as a time of hopelessness. Growing up in Cardiff, I enjoyed a happy, secure childhood. My parents, like so many, had more spare cash than in the Sixties, and we got our first colour television and automatic washing machine. (A contrast to the primitive machines we had before – I even remember one with a mangle on top!) And the glorious summer of 1976 and the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977 lightened the mood during the growing economic crisis.

The decade saw positive developments in society. The Labour government outlawed race and sex discrimination, and passed an equal pay act. The moves were symbolic – it would take years for attitudes to change – but important. Britain was changing for the better in many ways.

The BBC has already examined the Seventies. Its millennium year series We Love the Seventies was a nostalgic look back at life in that maligned decade. Author Andy Beckett brilliantly told the story of those years in When the lights went out.

Finally, a decade in which Wales dominated European rugby in scintillating style has to be honoured!