10. Square Eyes

Jim Shelley turns his square eyes to the skies

Tapehead no 10

Taping-time and the living is easy. Channels are jumping and the tapes are piled high.

Of course, from the comfort of the darkened chamber he calls home, Tapehead’s only glimpse of the outside world comes from the banks of TV screens and regular servicing from the capital’s despatch riders (not to mention the videos they deliver).

The best way to find out about the weather is to simply tape the BBC’s late night weather service, Weatherview where they get highly excited about heavy drizzle over Luxembourg or growing low fronts over Afghanistan.

“The Ukraine is well below freezing,” they say, breezily, as if we were all wondering, “with winds coming in from Siberia.” You don’t say.

Sad tentative links are a speciality on Weatherview (“we on the other hand have winds from the Atlantic”), as is reviewing the day’s cloud patterns with a passion – not the following day but the day that’s just ended. Essential. With the days of stick-on fluffy clouds long gone, satellite pictures show masses of terrifying clouds looming towards us, until you begin to wonder how we ever made it to midnight, especially when you see what the wind was really like.

Every night they have a map of Great Britain plastered with millions of heavy, black arrows raining down on us from all angles. It looks like something out of Dr. Strangelove or the Battle of Hastings. Armageddon.

The days when The Sky At Night used to be equally apocalyptic seem to be over. As ever, Sir Patrick More is up there exploring and explaining the alien lands of time, the dark cosmos of the unknown. This week, it’s Taunton – Taunton College, to be precise and its home-made Radio Astronomy receivers.

Sadly, the only cosmic knowledge to be gleaned from this episode was a sonic wave showing noise emanating from the moon that looked suspiciously like of Tapehead’s Etch-a-sketch works-in-progress. Meanwhile, Sir Patrick looks more and more like Boris Yeltsin. He even talks like a Soviet spy who learned his English from a pre-war BBC linguaphone cassette. In fact, the whole show is like one of Harry Enfield’s Mercury ads. Particularly marvellous are Sir Patrick’s (numerous) interviews, which he conducts at long range, shouting in Reithian staccato, standing so far away from the person he’s talking to that we can only presume it’s because he’s communicating extra-terrestrially.

Wild Palms is beyond another planet. It’s Lost Angeles. The third episode is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and features fine work by James Belushi (dressed as someone from The Onedin Line), Brad Dorif, and the man in the white suit whose performance seems to be based on Bosley from Charlie’s Angels. Any moment with Angie Dickinson on screen is worth recording.

Wild Palms is full of people who can’t tell the difference between TV and reality, saying things like “Where does a song go when you’re not singing it ?” Right on.

These are Tapehead’s brethren. The Next Degeneration. Tonight’s highlight: “I seem to see…cathedrals. That’s the main side-effect of the drug so far.”

Suffice to say, so far, Tapehead understands every word of Wild Palms. Even the rhino. Though it should be mentioned he has only seen this episode.

Like an angel, or Thomas Jerome Newton, Tapehead crashed back to earth and the harsh realities of life in the capital, watching a journey to the centre of the planet – a journey to a disturbed woman’s soul – in Carlton’s unlikely winner, Going Underground.

This week, Tapehead’s Tennessee Williams Heroine On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (on a tube train) Award goes to…Emlyn Hughes. No, sorry, that’s Nerys Hughes. She dominates this week’s story with a tour-de-force performance as Molly, a curious and curiously poignant minor melodrama worthy of Casualty or The Bill.

Saturday’s The Bill announced its subject matter nice and early, as usual. “What we lookin’at guv? A spot of mercy killing ?” Yes, coupled with Going Underground, it’s a euthanasia double bill – the kind of thing Tapehead lives for. Sensitively called Put-down, this episode is one of their best yet. Worth taping for Inspector Munroe’s impersonation of Brian Clough.

If ever Tapehead becomes incapable of operating the remote himself, you know what to do. Unplug him.

Collector’s Tape 12
• The Bill (Tue, 8.0-8.30pm, Carlton)
• The Sky At Night (Sat, 4.50-5, 10pm, BBC1)
• Wild Palms (Tue, 9.)-9.50pm BBC2)
• Going Underground (Thu, 11.15-11.40pm, Carlton)
• Weatherview (Nightly, BBC2, various times to fill the tape)