TELEVISION / Turn on, drop off: Andy Gill tunes in to the Sixties

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The Independent Culture
As if there weren't already enough repeats littering the schedules at this time of year, Bank Holiday Monday was deemed by BBC2 to be One Day In The Sixties. What this meant was 13 hours of huge floppy collars, 'with-it' typefaces and wanton permissiveness - or rather, talk about wanton permissiveness, the Sixties generally being the decade that went in desperate search of fun, in order that its less fun members might indulge themselves in bouts of furious public hand-wringing.

There was plenty of pop music about, of course. The Sandie Shaw Supplement consisted of the barefoot chanteuse singing a selection of thematically-linked songs in the most desultory manner possible, interrupted by 'appropriate' snippets of archive film. Since this show's theme was travel, Sandie got to mime the wrong words to 'Route 66' whilst driving a Jag, commit GBH on an innocent 'Homeward Bound' whilst standing on a dismal station platform, and sing 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' whilst a bevy of prancing male dancers in mechanic's outfits swung car tyres and juggled tools. Quality TV in any language.

They also don't write 'em like Steptoe & Son and Till Death Us Do Part anymore, both of which were included in early incarnations. The fact that their down-at-heel settings and misanthropic bile still seem shocking is perhaps a measure of how far the sitcom horizon has receded since the Sixties. Apart from anything else they seemed so very loud, their lower-orders bumptiousness blaring like a klaxon of class-consciousness in those newly liberated times. If the vile Alf Garnett became a widely-loved anti-hero of the era, it was probably more to do with his diction - blimey, there's someone on the box that talks like us - than his antediluvian attitudes, as was widely feared by liberal media types.

Not all the era's comedy was that good, of course. The 1969 Silver Rose Of Montreux-winning edition of Marty Feldman's show It's Marty was not, alas, the laughter-orgy of fond memory. The brutal use of canned laughter was too intrusive by today's standards, and throughout, one-shot gags like the screaming mystery animal in the laundry basket which Marty takes to the vet were protracted well beyond their laugh-by date.