Saturday, 24 July 2021

BBC Themed Nights - with Jon Riley & Gerard Barry

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

Recently, I was recommended to reach out to Jon Riley & Gerard Barry, two Industry stalwarts who contributed in notable capacities to a number of fondly-recalled BBC themed evenings, including, Weird Night [1994], the first [Craig Charles-hosted] Star Trek Night [1996], Kung Fu Night [1997], Monster Night [1998], and Politically Incorrect Night [1998]. 

Regardless of the particular era typeface utilised in its tried-and-tested, boxed-in, triptych logo, I personally find it hard to think of the initials 'BBC' without also thinking of the word, 'Documentary'. Even when producing dramatic pieces, the corporation's completist content remains very much an unconscious, yet salient, time capsule; a fortuitous method of literally travelling backwards through uncountable hours spent wandering through the listings, and reassess the lost subtleties of our all-too-fleeting daily grinds. Arguably, this sense of preserving/archiving/encapsulating reality helped give our favourite Hallowe'en Hoax such a powerful impact.

The BBC themed nights were always of particular interest to me, growing up; with the Patrick Stewart-hosted, Red Dwarf Night in 1998, being a memorable stand-out. Usually, the evenings were hosted by a well-known personality synonymous with that particular evening's overarching subject [virtually, if not actual experts themselves], who would begin by introducing the line-up; including any combination of an exploratory documentary, one-off quiz show, vox pops, mini docs, a feature film, and/or a special episode from a related TV show.

As someone once said, the voice of the BBC is the voice of the nation speaking to itself, and I remain curious as to why these unique events seem to have faded somewhat into obscurity. Granted, it is far easier to pick and choose specific, nay niche, content in the modern, liquid crystal era, but the communal experience of immersing ourselves into the sweeping scope of any given particular topic, fielding questions and notions from all sorts of angles, is one I think should be celebrated and sustained.

This particular era of the Beeb's voice was an important one, both in its high standards, considerate approach, and wide-reaching fulness of opinions. In anticipation of this interview, on rewatching a number of the Star Trek documentaries, I found myself presented with a number of takes on the series; some of which didn't entirely stand the test of time, some of which aligned with what I was already aware, and some which ably challenged my established take on things, now decades into my Trekdom. Even when certain lines of questioning felt somewhat outmoded, this seemed to add only to a more rounded sense of retrospection.

All in, these were important productions, and worthy of note. I'm sure, at the time, they were considered throwaway, as they tended only to air just the once. Nevertheless, I, for one, miss the opportunity of excitedly, expectedly, and more often than not exhaustedly, tuning-in for an elucidating all-nighter. I only hope that Auntie might take it upon herself to reevaluate the current line-ups, and see about delivering broader, more nuanced takes such as these in the future.

As all us cool types know, Ghostwatch aired as a 'special drama' at the tail-end of Series 4 of BBC 1's Screen One drama strand. This may have seemed like a Themed Night to many millions of us on transmission, but the programme itself was very much a standalone endeavour, destined never to be repeated.

... Or, was it?

The answer to this tantalising titbit can be found in this exclusive interview recorded using Zoom, so I didn't have to spend years transcribing. Hope you enjoy! With massive thanks again to Jon and Gerard for a fascinating insight into an era of the BBC now largely consigned to the ages. And YouTube.


Until next time, Pipes-phobes, try not to have sleepless nights.

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