The Thrill of Victory Historic Alnwick Castle, seat of the Duke of Northumberland, and primary setting of location shooting for The Crookback, in early 1983. British television had been broadcasting regularly scheduled programming since before the Second World War, giving it the longest history of any national television broadcasting industry in the world. This longevity, when combined with the tremendous prestige accrued by the state-owned BBC, unsurprisingly fostered an atmosphere of elitism and conservatism within the highest echelons of that industry. Private broadcasters were only (and belatedly) introduced by legislative fiat, rather than by free enterprise as had been the United States, and even these were carefully regulated, though they were dependent on advertising revenue as was the case for most private broadcasters. The BBC, by contrast, was funded not only from allocations by the Exchequer, but also through the television licencing scheme, giving viewers (and critics) a personal stake in the quality, variety, and modernity of the service’s programming. ITV was less directly accountable to viewers, but counter-intuitively owed more to their loyalty; advertising revenues based on their viewership figures were more fickle than the licencing revenues, which were forwarded to the BBC no matter what. When it became clear that a fourth television service was finally and definitively going to begin broadcasting in the early 1980s (as a result of the Broadcasting Acts passed through Parliament in 1979 and 1980, fulfilling a campaign promise made by the governing Conservatives in the 1978 election), the question of how to fill the newly-vacant airspace – one-third-again what had been available previously – dominated the planning process for executives at ITV, who were due to be awarded the fourth service (to be branded ITV-2) in 1982. Game shows were quite popular in this era, and could be produced both cheaply and quickly, but a channel could not be built on game shows alone. Delivering on the consistent – and insistent – demand for regularly-broadcast league football games was rightly seen as an avenue with vastly more potential. The notion of there not being enough room for them on the schedule, an overriding concern in the 1970s, had evaporated. Thus, negotiations commenced between the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which operated both ITV channels, and the Football League, which governed the sport in the United Kingdom, for broadcast rights. Association football was, even by 1980, the most popular sport in the world – but television coverage of the beautiful game had been surprisingly sparse in its homeland up to that point. The quadrennial World Cup had been available starting in 1954, and broadcast live from 1966, but regularly scheduled top-flight league programming – already a reality for most sports in North America by this time – remained largely unavailable into the 1970s. League highlights were broadcast on the Match of the Day program each Saturday evening starting in 1965, but these merely served to whet the appetite for a feast which was years in the making. It was only the commencement of broadcasts by ITV-2 which finally brought an end to this famine – and, surprisingly, the more established and mainstream (and obligingly-renamed) ITV-1 found itself getting into the act as well, though only for marquee Football League matches. The first major league football match broadcast on ITV-1 was the 1982 Football League Cup Final, on March 13 (a Saturday). Aston Villa defeated Nottingham Forest to win that Cup; they also won the Football League Championship that same year. Each ITV-2 affiliate station carried matches played by prominent local teams, particularly where such teams were members of the First Division. Where this was not possible (due to the lack of First Division clubs in the region), Second Division matches were carried instead, giving the clubs belonging to that cohort some much-needed exposure with regional audiences, and allowing them to enlarge their fanbase. On occasion, special matches between a First Division club and a club belonging to a lower-flight division were carried, where such matches had great significance within the region, or to the specific First Division club in contention. In general, the following ITV-2 stations broadcast matches involving the following clubs: Tyne Tees: Sunderland, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough Yorkshire Television: Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Rotherham, Barnsley Granada Television: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Stoke City ATV: West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham Forest Anglia Television: Norwich City, Ipswich Town Thames Television: Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United Southern Television: Southampton, Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion Westward Television: Bristol Rovers, Bristol City, Plymouth Argyle, Bournemouth, Exeter City Border Television: Carlisle United  The various ITV-2 affiliates were not allowed to broadcast games on Sunday evening, which was when ITV-1 broadcast their flagship “Sunday Night Football” program, carrying a Football League match between two First Division teams. In addition, as part of an agreement with the Football League, neither ITV-1 nor ITV-2 could broadcast games on Saturday after 3 PM, as this was the traditional kickoff time, and the Football League worried that viewers would have rather stayed home to watch games than come out to the pitch. As a result, an increasing number of games (in order to be broadcast live) were scheduled for any time other than Saturday afternoon or evening – a seemingly inevitable consequence which the Football League had nevertheless somehow failed to foresee. The popularity of football was not without a dark side. The ugly spectre following the beautiful game wherever it went was hooliganism, especially football riots. Although these was hardly particular to English football fans, or indeed football fans in general, they were nevertheless strongly associated with them – football hooliganism had come to be known around the world as the English Disease, and it had grown so raucous by the onset of the 1980s that several English football clubs were banned from competing on the Continent – this was extended to a blanket ban covering all English clubs in 1981, as a result of the notorious Parc des Princes disaster at that year’s European Cup Final, when fans of Aston Villa FC charged a retaining wall separating the spectators from the field of play, crushing and killing over a dozen fans of rival club Real Madrid, which made international headlines. Although the ban only affected English teams (those from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were all exempt), England’s absence from the European football scene was emblematic of the growing gulf between the islands and the Continent – a strikingly literal insularity. The United Kingdom – and by extension, and emphatically not willingly, the Republic of Ireland – had been growing apart from Europe and closer to the Commonwealth nations, with whom they shared a common language, culture, and heritage. Continued advances in transportation and telecommunications technology continued to shorten the once-immense distances between the far-flung reaches of the former British Empire, even as cultural posturing and trade barriers widened the much narrower gap from the Continent. Although Aston Villa FC was the club at the epicentre of the Parc des Princes disaster, it should be emphasized that the supporters of the Villa were not especially more vociferous in their hooliganism than were the supporters of other teams – it was simply a matter of them being in the right place at the right time. The reason they were able to be in the right place at the right time was because of the club’s tremendous success in the early 1980s, a streak of multiple first-place finishes in the Football League and FA Cup victories which was finally ended (in one fell swoop) by the twin victory of Southampton FC in the 1983-84 season. Southampton finished one point ahead of Aston Villa in the final standings, knocking them out from the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup on the road to defeating Everton in the final, a victory which reached a live audience of millions. By 1984, league football on live television was a reality and a mainstay – it was already difficult to imagine life without it, despite it having been introduced within living memory for even the youngest viewers. Indeed, in the years to come, television would result in a dramatic shift in the core audience for league football. The popularity of football in Europe provided an excellent example of how British culture had lopsidedly influenced that of the Continent since the Industrial Revolution that had established the British Empire as the pre-eminent world power, after a great many centuries (dating back to Roman times, if not further still). The modern incarnation of the beautiful game had been invented in England in the late nineteenth century, spreading first to elsewhere in the UK, and then to Europe, and finally to the far-flung then-current (and even former, as South Americans could attest) colonial empires of the various European powers, taking hold pretty much everywhere it went… with (despite a number of false starts) one prominent, and perennial exception: the United States. Indeed, even as regularly-scheduled (association) football broadcasts brought the already astounding popularity of the game to new heights in the UK, soccer (as it was universally known stateside, so as to avoid confusion with the locally popular, and rugby-derived, gridiron football) was faltering stateside. Despite having shown such great promise during their peak years in the 1970s, the top-flight North American Soccer League (NASL) would ultimately fold before the end of the following decade; rapid overexpansion during uncertain economic times, and fatal efforts at one-upmanship amongst the league’s owners, all of whom were increasingly willing to pay big bucks for foreign superstars past their prime in a desperate attempt to attract audiences, were primarily responsible. Given soccer’s disproportionate popularity with immigrant groups, the focus on recruiting foreign players was unsurprising, but rampant inflation, along with the law of diminishing returns, would eventually render this policy unsustainable. Individual owners who could not afford to sustain seven-figure losses soon went bankrupt trying to keep up with the Joneses, and their teams folded; those large corporations with deep pockets (and there were several) who could sustain even substantial losses in the longer-term were still forced by their shareholders to divest with what were seen as “unprofitable divisions” in an era of widespread belt-tightening and corporate restructuring. By 1984, the NASL was officially defunct, ending soccer’s aspirations for representation within the major professional sports leagues for the second time in the 20th century. American soccer fans lamented what could have been, but the NASL did leave an enduring legacy in helping to establish soccer as one of the most popular league and intramural sports among American youth. Even as individual NASL owners were playing the short game, the league itself had been playing the long game – one which, perhaps, might yield future benefits… Until then, the failure of soccer to gain traction with the American populace – just as so many American sports had utterly failed to gain British converts in years past – was emblematic of the peculiar stalemate between the two dominant powers in the Anglosphere. Although British culture had disproportionate influence on that of the Continent, the familiar tug-of-war which had defined the interactions between British and American culture for close to a century continued into the 1980s. The 1960s saw British pop and rock music – itself heavily influenced by American rock-and-roll of the 1950s – topping the charts stateside, with the Beatles leading the charge. On the small screen, many of the most popular American series of the 1970s – Those Were the Days, Sanford and Son, and Three’s Company, among others – had been based on British mainstays. James Bond, whose dominance had begun under Sean Connery in the 1960s, continued until Michael Billington in the 1970s and 1980s. However, eventually, the Americans found their own ways to exert their own cultural influence over their one-time colonial masters, albeit in unexpected fashion… As previously noted, sporting events weren’t the only ways television programmers filled their newly-available timeslots on British television. Game shows were as popular with executives as they were with viewers, as they were in general cheap to produce while simultaneously providing the audience with sufficient spectacle and the opportunity to win cold, hard cash and fabulous prizes. However, the conception and production of game shows were a surprisingly delicate balance, one which required considerable patience and hard work to get right. It was far easier, executives reasoned, to simply import what was already a successful format from another source, especially such an apparently inexhaustible one. There were a great variety of game shows popular during the daytime hour in the USA. Many involved a “quirky” take on the traditional question-and-answer format. Match Game involved a fill-in-the-blanks test with a group of celebrity panelists. Hollywood Squares invited contestants to agree or disagree with celebrity assertions. The Dating Game sought to pair bachelors (or bachelorettes) with one of three contestants whose answers were most compatible with the desired responses to questions asked. Family Feud, a game show specifically tailored around the popular Match Game panelist Richard Dawson (formerly of Hogan’s Heroes), brought on two teams – each consisting of a family unit – and asked them to match a series of surveys. Few of these games involved a significant element of random chance, although some certainly existed. Many of these would see import to the UK, though often with at least token changes made for the benefit of a subtly different audience. Family Feud, for example, saw its name changed to Family Fortunes. However, this seemingly dramatic alteration was also a superficial one – the gameplay remained largely intact. The same was also true of the remake of Match Game – or rather, Blankety Blank, a title which emphasized the process of the gameplay as opposed to its objective. However unnecessary these changes might have seemed to outside observers, it continued a proud transatlantic tradition dating all the way back to the 18th century, with Samuel Webster and his revisionist “dictionary”. To be fair, a handful of British game shows, including some of the most popular, were not imported from the United States, but from other foreign countries, including Countdown (from France) and 3-2-1 (from Spain), thus allowing the Continent some influence over British culture after all… if only because there were so many game shows on British television in the 1980s that producers very likely ran out of suitable English-language game shows to adapt. The genre was so popular that not even the high-minded BBC could not ignore them entirely, and indeed would go on to commission several of their own. However, in this respect, the BBC were not quite so highbrow as their reputation suggested, particularly given Match of the Day, along with their popular televised “talent show” program, Opportunity Knocks, and Top of the Pops, a weekly rundown of the UK Singles Chart. On the whole, however, the BBC chose to combat the glut of newly-available populist offerings, even on their own networks, through “counter-programming” – after all, the state-owned broadcaster had a maintain to educate and inform as well as to entertain. Granted, their own broadcast schedule was not nearly so highbrow as they liked to pretend, nor as removed from topicality. Nevertheless, the BBC made it their endeavour to present light entertainment which was both respectable and timeless. One of the more ambitious efforts at “light entertainment” during this period was The Crookback, a “secret history” set during the tail-end of the Wars of the Roses, and written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, two alumni from Oxford University who cut their teeth working on productions put on by the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Both had done work for the BBC before, but The Crookback was their first traditional sitcom for the network. As the name implied, The Crookback told the story of Richard III, and was produced with an eye for a premiere on the 500th anniversary of his historical usurpation of the throne of England from his nephew, Edward V – and indeed, the first episode would air on June 26, 1983 on BBC-1. Atkinson himself starred as Richard III – though in the program itself, he was still Duke of Gloucester, given the complicated premise. The “secret history” posited that Edward V peacefully succeeded his father, Edward IV, as King in 1483, despite his minority. However, the Regency Council that had been formed to govern until such time as Edward was of age quickly factionalized into two groups: the “Yorkists”, led by Gloucester and his ally, the Duke of Buckingham; and the “Woodvilles”, led by the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Woodville, her brother, the Earl Rivers, and her son (and Edward IV’s stepson), the Marquess of Dorset. On the fringes of the English Court were the rump Lancastrians, dormant since 1471. Their claimant since then, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was in exile in Brittany; however, their spiritual leader, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, through whom Henry derived his claim, remained in England, though theoretically kept under the watchful eye of her “Yorkist” husband, Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley. In the show’s premiere episode, Edward IV (Peter Cook) was on his deathbed, beseeching his beloved younger brother to take good care of his children, Edward and Richard. However, none of Edward IV’s family particularly cared for his widow, the newly-Dowager Queen Elizabeth (Miriam Margolyes) – who was portrayed as an over-the-hill harlot and prima donna, accustomed to having won men (including her late husband) over purely on her looks and sex appeal, which have long since disappeared with age (and after having carried so many children). As the Dowager Queen was also the Queen Mother, she was often formally referred to as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – or, more familiarly, the “Queen Mum”, an explicit and humorous nod to the real-life person presently referred to as such. On a more crass show (in the Monty Python vein), she would have been played by a man – here, however, Margolyes handled the thankless role with aplomb. Queen Elizabeth was supported by her close relatives, parvenus all: her brother, the loud, boisterous, and obnoxious Earl Rivers (Brian Blessed), and her son, the moronic but brutish Marquess of Dorset (Mel Smith). Gloucester, though very intelligent and cunning, was totally lacking in charisma, and thus utterly unable to rally other aristocrats to his cause, save for the duplicitous (but bumbling) Duke of Buckingham (Griff Rhys Jones), who himself had a dynastic claim to the throne, and was thus presented as the bumbling upper-class twit, allowing the program to engage in typical class-conscious comedy. Meanwhile, Gloucester’s own wife, Anne Neville (Miranda Richardson), was a beautiful but shrewish woman who constantly belittled him, and was unfaithful; something oft noted sardonically by Gloucester himself (“my loving and ever-faithful wife”). Their son (if indeed he was their son), Edward of Middleham, had no respect for him. (Of the three child actors in the cast – those playing Edward V, Richard, Duke of York, and Edward of Middleham – the actor playing Middleham was by far the most prominent, though even he too had a minor role.) It seemed that the only remotely competent person in the English court was the only one with no power or influence whatsoever: Lady Margaret Beaufort (Elspet Gray), though even in her case, humour was often found in her proclamations that she was “biding [her] time” for the perfect moment to summon her son and brother-in-law from across the Channel, even when the latest court catastrophe taking place often right in front of her had seemingly furnished the perfect moment time and again. Nevertheless, her obvious scheming was always smoothly covered up by her husband, the Baron Stanley (Tim McInnerny), by cleverly obfuscating stupidity. All six episodes of the series, starting with the premiere and continuing through the finale, featured all three factions jockeying for position against each other, in highly contrived and farcical ways, though not also without some light satire of government bureaucracy. The perennial victims of these internecine plots and struggles were the common people of England, personified by the long-suffering Baldrick the Dung-Gatherer, played by Tony Robinson. His presence allowed the program to indulge in further class-based humour which defined British comedy. (Naturally, Baldrick and Buckingham played off each other at least once an episode.) Previously written narratives set in the period were the frequent targets of parody, up to and including the works of William Shakespeare. Many lines from his Richard III were borrowed for The Crookback, though often delivered in a different context than how they had appeared in the play. (On one memorable occasion, Richard himself broke the fourth wall after being on the receiving end of yet another Shakespearean quotation, saying “I swear I’ve heard that line before, but it might just have been an allusion.”) The final episode ended, as it ought to have done, with the “Yorkist” faction finally emerging victorious, killing the Earl Rivers (who, being played by Brian Blessed, naturally got a spectacularly hammy death scene) for good measure, though not without great cost: Richard’s closest ally Buckingham, his wife Anne, and his son Edward all died as well. Richard took this in stride, declaring that he would marry his niece, Elizabeth of York, prompting outrage – Baldrick encapsulated the visceral popular reaction by delivering his most famous line: “you’re a Plantagenet, not a bloody Hapsburg!”  – and leading Margaret Beaufort to finally decide that this was the perfect moment for her son, the Earl of Richmond (Robert Bathurst) to launch his invasion, so she duly summoned the “King Over the Water” (a deliberately anachronistic Jacobite reference). He arrived just in time to disrupt the coronation of King Richard III, who engaged him, eager to prove his mettle as King – possibly with the aid of liquid courage as, still drunk from his revelry, he fell from his horse in battle – and the chaos this created among his ranks led Stanley, watching from the hill overlooking Bosworth Field, to launch his assault, ultimately killing Richard III (whose last line was, of course, “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – Curtis and Atkinson knew better than to try topping Shakespeare). The newly-crowned Henry VII vowed to rewrite the history books as regarded the reigns of Edward V and Richard III, and his vision prevailed. The closing narration wryly noted that there were those who would seek to rehabilitate the reputation of Richard III (the Ricardians, a small but extremely vocal minority by the 1980s) , though perhaps they would be best to leave well enough alone… The Crookback was at the vanguard of a new generation of comedians and entertainers, but though the established generation was now forced to share space with them, it did not vanish entirely. Mike Yarwood, whose political impressions were the headlining feature of his massively popular comedy specials in the 1970s, continued to draw high viewership numbers into the 1980s. He was fortunate in having developed a killer impression of Prime Minister Willie Whitelaw, though his efforts at impersonating the current Leader of the Opposition, David Owen, were not quite so fruitful as they had been of previous Labour leaders, though this ultimately did neither his career nor his reputation much damage.  Yarwood’s longevity was such that he became more-or-less the undisputed elder statesman of British television comedy upon the death of Eric Morecambe in 1984, ending the iconic Morecambe & Wise partnership which had stood as his only significant rival to the title. The ambition of The Crookback – and the innovative, if unsuccessful, alternative comedy programs which had preceded it – stood in marked contrast to the complacency of Yarwood’s shows. Political satirists, in particular, spurned Yarwood for his consistent pattern of playing it safe – however, British audiences, used to a government which very much tended to play it safe, were seemingly quite happy to go with the flow… ---  Border Television served mainly the Scottish Borders, in addition to the English county of Cumbria, physically separated from the rest of the Northwest (save for a narrow bottleneck along the coast) by Yorkshire’s protrusion inland. This explains their being served by a different affiliate. The absence of any Scottish teams on Border Television is naturally explained by their playing for a different league than the (English) Football League. IOTL, the Scottish Football League did have live match broadcasts until 1986, three years after the (English) Football League.  Another deliberate anachronism: in the fifteenth century, the Hapsburgs were no more prone to incestuous marriages than most other dynasties – it was the Spanish dynasties that were big on the practice, and of course the Hapsburgs married into Spanish royalty at the end of the fifteenth century, inheriting the tradition, as it were. The reason the line is considered especially funny in-universe is that Baldrick’s lines up to this point have been mostly monosyllabic – a great “shocked” take from Atkinson at Robinson’s delivery hammers home the surprise that Baldrick can even pronounce the word “Plantagenet”, let alone that he knows what it means (or, being working-class, that he cares what it means – born with a wooden spoon in his mouth and all that).  The oldest and most prominent Ricardian organization (IOTL and ITTL), the Richard III Society, lacks the patronage of Prince Richard of Gloucester ITTL, because – well, note the difference from his OTL style Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He isn’t the Duke ITTL, because his elder brother Prince William survives, and it is he who succeeded his father (Prince Henry, son of George V) as Duke of Gloucester in 1974, and Prince William, despite sharing his predecessor’s title, does not share his name, and thus is not tickled by joining the organization devoted to his historical rehabilitation.  As opposed to the situation IOTL, in which he proved utterly (but understandably) unable to impersonate the female Prime Minister from 1979 onward. --- Happy Anniversary! Today marks four years since I first began posting That Wacky Redhead to this forum! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading along as much as I’ve enjoyed writing. There are still a few more updates to go before we reach September 20, 1986, so I hope that you’ll all continue to enjoy the home stretch with me! Thanks, as always, to e of pi for assisting with the editing. Thanks also to Thande for serving as the sounding board for my alt-Blackadder, and to nixonshead for serving as my Official Footy Consultant!