This Happened: Robby Benson


One of the movies I remember most from my childhood is ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ the tale of a country boy who dates a country girl, gets drunk at a Jamboree, ends up in bed with his boss & chucks himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I liked the lazy indifference of it. All that melodrama but life goes on.

And it turns out the star – Robby Benson – was in quite a few 1970s movies that all share a kind of earnest, drippy Catcher In The Rye via Fiddler On The Roof vibe. His films are glossy, schmaltzy, angsty, coming of agey – proto-Brat Pack without the high concept. He’s the missing link between the swinging teens of the 60s & the cynical teens of the 80s & beyond.

He retired from acting because of a heart condition and became a composer and teacher, which explains his unjust pop culture obscurity.

Here’s some of his 70s highlights.

Jeremy (1973)

A shy 15 yr old New York cello student has his heart broken by a 16 yr old ballet dancer who has to move back to Detroit. A slightly dodgy film beloved by middle-aged men for reasons we’ll ignore.


One on One (1977)

A basketball player wins a scholarship to a college and has to overcome bullying and reading issues to get the girl and defy the coach. (similar to All The Right Moves – an early Tom Cruise vehicle).


Ice Castles (1978)

A figure skater dates a hockey player and has to overcome cheating and blindness to win a championship… I can’t tell you how much I loved this film when I was a nipper – love and winning a competition – what more can a girl dream of (apart from ponies – obviously)?



BBC4 are showing all of Top of the Pops 1981 and as this is the year my memory properly works for the first time – it’s going to be a joy.

In honour of that – here are 2 of my girl crushes of the early 80s.

Cleo Rocos!

Cleo was a teenage wannabe actress when she was plucked from background obscurity to be the saucy butt of D.J. Kenny Everett’s zany jokes on The Kenny Everett Television Show which started in 81… She would pop up and out to pout at random moments with big hair, bright lip-gloss and I’ll leave the rest to the picture – I absolutely adored her.


Jay Aston! 

Jay was one of the four singers in pop group Bucks Fizz – the others being two blonde blokes and your big sister. They won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 to euphoria reminiscent of V-E Day and were virtually inescapable until 1984 when a serious tour bus crash left them unable to work for 6 months. By mid-1985 Jay had quit the band after having an affair with her manager’s husband and labeling the others bitchy. After that her career floats off and I have no idea what she did until she resurfaced in cheap Living TV reality shows in the Naughties.


From this we can conclude that tiny tot me loved glamour girls in trashy outfits from the pop world.


Mid-20th Century Realism

I was going to be cruel and entitle this blog plodding melodrama but that implies a lack of affection. I find the language of serious, realistic books on the dull side – but the world they conjure up is the only one I truly feel at home in.

It goes like this:

Pre-history. Ancients: Greek, Roman, Pagan, Biblical.

Dark Ages. Renaissance. Reformation. Elizabethans. Jacobeans.


Gothicks. Romantics. Regency. Georgians. Victorians. Edwardians.

Ist World War.

Roaring 20s. Depression 30s.

2nd World War.

50s Austerity. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mrs Thatcher. Brit Pop. Reality T.V. Social Media.

These are the great European landmarks I think by and in a quiet, and methodical way they were set in stone by the realist novels of the mid-20th Century… Three of my favourite examples being: Winston Graham, Howard Spring and R.F. Delderfield.

Graham (1908 – 2003) is famous for the Poldark saga set in Cornwall in the late 18th Century. The plots centre on love triangles, banking, mining, politics, and business rivalries. He also wrote suspense novels that explore sex and crime, and seem more old-fashioned than his historical works.

Spring (1889 – 1965) was a Welsh journalist who wrote about idealistic young socialists bumping up against establishment forces. He’s most famous for Fame Is The Spur, Shabby Tiger and My Son! My Son! (filmed as O Absalom).

Delderfield (1912 – 1972) also centred the rise of socialism in his works. His sprawling tales of school masters (To Serve Them All My Days), journalists turned spies (Diana), and nouveau local squires (A Horseman Riding By) typically take decades to unfold, most often starting before the 1st world war and ending after the 2nd.

There were angrier writers like Alan Sillitoe, more satirical writers like Kingsley Amis, darker writers like Patrick Hamilton, and deeper writers like Graham Greene, whose work will last longer… but the sheer humane normality of these three writers as they pieced together epic historical events with small lives lived as best they can creates our social history even as their books slip from our collective memory.

Stalked By Doctor Christian Jessen

UPDATE: The minute I published this the abuse seemed to stop unless he’s been cackling at me on his twitter feed while telling his fans to leave me alone… I wouldn’t know… I will never look… And it’s fine by me.

Doctor Christian presents a couple of medical programmes on Channel 4 (in the UK).

I don’t watch them.

I think he’s a bullet-head.

So he was harassing women on twitter for asking questions about breastfeeding. Not a subject I know anything about – or need to know anything about – but I tweeted to 2 women this:

I can’t stand him. He’s a misogynist narcissist.

I didn’t name him or @ him in – but because he was stalking these women (because he IS a misogynist narcissist) he came across it & he decided to set his followers on me.

About 10 of these little flying monkeys dutifully came flapping into my notifications – not a lot – he’s clearly not a popular man – but they tweet relentlessly. And I’m not one to slink off when under attack.

I replied to whatever bit of crap was in my notifications & some of them had @’d in Doctor Telly – so he saw them too.

This made the hypocrite decide I was playing the victim & harassing him.

I have never been on his profile page. I have never put his name into a search. I have never replied to a tweet that wasn’t in my notifications.

Since he started this I have called him:

a jerk

a creep

a stalker






no guts

a dreadful z-lister


a crap celebrity




a tosser

a worthless tossbag of the highest order

that kind of arsehole


not empathetic

& said that he’s breaking the recommended social media code of his profession & has orchestrated a pile-on.

I stand by it.

He came after me – I had no interest in engaging with him.

And he does this a lot:

I have no idea why he has the time for this – or why he’s so insecure he can’t let other people’s opinions go – but I wish he would bog off & leave us alone.


1980s TV Quest


Years ago I saw a UK TV play or TV series about a school in a future world or other planet where the sun doesn’t shine and young pupils have to stand in front of a sun lamp for a certain amount of time every day.

I think there was a female headmistress, and a male teacher – and there was some kind of sinister subtext… I think the planet was about to die and the Head wasn’t facing the truth – or something like that.

For some reason I think it was on the BBC and might have been a single play – and it must have been transmitted sometime between 1982 and 1992.

That’s all I can remember.

If anyone has a clue what it could be – please tell me!!!

I Love Gerald Harper


Gerald Harper starred in two huge UK t.v. hits of the 1960s and 1970s – Adam Adamant Lives (1966-67) about an Edwardian who gets frozen in 1902 and wakes up in 1966 and who fights crimes while coming to terms with the permissive society and Gazette (renamed Hadleigh – 1969-76) where he played a laid-back country squire/newspaper proprietor who solves thorny problems for himself and the community.

He also starred in a great Francis Durbridge thriller ‘A Game of Murder’ (1966) and as Detective Inspector Alan Milton in ‘A Man Called Harry Brent’ (1965). As well as guest turns on great shows like Thriller, The Avengers and Emergency Ward 10 – and in one-off plays for ITV and the BBC.


His great charm was in his energy and authority combined with the way his voice would become quiet and sympathetic in times of great stress or injustice. If aristocrats were anything like Gerald (and they’re not) the Empire would still be flourishing and I would be doffing my cap at all times. Technically he was no looker – he had a thin face and beady eyes – but he had a warmth and charisma that made him incredibly handsome (which should be a lesson to all actors – and modern casting directors – buff can be bland – personality wins every time).

Gerald is near forgotten by the under 50s – although occasionally he’ll turn up in the press with a much younger girlfriend… but in his day he was constantly featured in magazines, newspapers and on chat shows. He became a radio host on BBC 2 and would give champagne and chocolates away as prices in between playing classic tunes. Since the show ended he’s been touring in theatre productions including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Bill Kenwright.

He deserves to be remembered as one of our finest stars and while his hit shows have dated they’re still well-written romps through our recent(ish) past. *

*many of them are available on DVD.

Broadchurch Series 2!


UPDATE : we’re on episode 4 and it’s still managing to get absolutely every detail of human and professional behaviour wrong – which is kind of magnificent… Plus – I suspect if it was American I wouldn’t question its veracity – I’d simply suspend disbelief and go with the emotional torture of it all… This is our new world… Alan Plater* isn’t coming back… British Social Realism is dead. We may as well get used to it**. ***

I love it – but it’s dreadful – or at least it’s dreadful if you expect it to conform to some kind of shared reality – if we accept it’s set in a Wessex Twilight Zone – then it’s a work of genius.

The Stuff I Love

1. Olivia Colman – how can you not? She’s so real, and she cries!

2. David Tennant – he can overact and kill a scene but even then he’s still compelling.

3. The West Country Accents – the regions were wiped off the drama map sometime in the 1990s – it’s nice to see somewhere that isn’t London or ‘the North’ get a bit of local colour.

4. All the legal and professional stuff is wrong – witnesses hang out with lawyers, the police conduct interviews in fields… occasionally the wrongness will become part of the plot, or someone will mention it in a line of dialogue – but that’s a mistake – the show works best when it skips over the inaccuracies like they don’t exist.

5. Everything is wrong – grown men have secret meetings with adolescent boys to be ‘friends’, new mothers are out and about on the same day they give birth, police-officers unofficially conceal witnesses in cottages in order to unofficially investigate crimes they officially failed to solve, suspects lurk menacingly on hills, in fields, outside doors, all the main characters will turn up to the opening of a grave…

6. 3 Act Structure – this isn’t noticeable unless you’ve read one of the many, many books about the ‘Hollywood way of writing a script’. It’s got a stranglehold on the British drama market because without it they’d have to do ‘thinking’… and they would have to develop ‘taste’ – and ain’t nobody got time for that… The 3 Act Structure is a Hero’s Journey from his ordinary world through a huge conflict to the final resolution and along the way are standard scenes like ‘refusing the call to adventure’ or ‘a moment of defeat’ and Broadchurch has them all in exactly the right places. Which is hilarious.

7. MELODRAMA! – crying, screaming, shouting, waters breaking… it has the lot.

What I Don’t Like

1. Some of the acting isn’t up to the lousy dialogue (it’s not their fault – but it does take some of the fun out of it).

2. The Theme – series 1 laid on the ‘not all paedophiles are paedophiles’ preaching a bit thick – esp. as I wasn’t convinced the writer understood the issues properly… and I’ve no idea what series 2 is trying to say yet except ‘Maxine Carr was innocent… or wasn’t… or something…’

3. Series 1 had a  who-dun-it aspect that made tiny encounters significant… Series 2 has no definite direction except there’s a trial and another murder mystery that may or may not turn into a conventional who-dun-it… with incident piling on emotional agony to no known avail – the show risks becoming boring and too ludicrous to stick with.

* Alan Plater :

** yes – I know it died sometime in the mid-1990s – but it’s taken me a while to notice. I was too busy watching Big Brother on channel 4.

*** British Social Realism will now have an instant revival and I won’t notice until 2035.