Yes, even when we’re quite grown up, have children and and grandchildren, and our parents have long been deceased.
My parents weren’t great television-watchers. There were numerous programmes I wasn’t allowed to watch, including The Man from UNCLE and Z Cars. My grandparents watched television even less; my grandmother would talk loudly, in a broad Leicester accent, meduck, through any programmes you attempted to watch in her presence. Occasionally, however, even my parents went out and my grandparents babysat me. “Oh, I always watch The Man From UNCLE,” I’d say breezily. “We always watch Z-Cars.” To be honest, I never figured out what was going on in The Man from UNCLE, only that my friends (who really were too young for such things) ALWAYS watched it and thought Illya Kuryakin was good looking. I wasn’t much better understanding Z-Cars, to be honest, although my grandmother understood the plotline of one episode rather too well and queried, with my mother, what I was really permitted to view. Now, my father was always sparring with my grandmother, so this was red rag to a bull. Next week he had to check Z-Cars out for himself and he gave it the OK, so Z-Cars and Softly, Softly (which followed when Z-Cars proper reached its sell-by date) became part of our weekly schedule at home.
So, a few months ago, I bought a DVD of Z-Cars episodes… and left it on the shelf under our telly, while One and Only Husband and I finished off our Dr Finlay’s Casebook DVDs – except that we kept finding more and more Dr Finlay DVDs on the internet. Dear Reader, we completed our last one on Frida – and OAOH now tells me he’s just bought another one. Back in our home in Leicester, Dr Finlay was also taboo, but for another reason. My mother was fed up to teeth with hearing about Scotland, where my father and his own mother had taken several holidays in Scotland, which they had enjoyed enormously, and discussed endlessly. For OAOH, however, Dr Finlay had loaded emotional value because, each week, it was the last warm lacuna of home before his father drove him back to boarding school. On seeing the first episode over a year ago, I was transfixed; Finlay, Cameron and Janet are such believable, distinct and sympathetically-drawn characters. The plots (nearly) always make sense and, for their era, are quite gritty, concerning communicable diseases, illegally-imported and diseased dogs, abortion, over-bearing fathers, the setting is truly idyllic – and Finlay and Cameron drunk enough whisky to fill a Scottish Loch.
So, after Dr Finlay on Friday afternoon, we eventually broke into Z-Cars on Friday evening. The episode we saw was the very first one, when the new crime patrol was being set up, following the death of a policeman, black-and-white (obviously) and poor quality (probably illegal!) However, I amazed myself by recognising Charlie Barlow, John Watt and Bert Lynch and remembering that, despite the setting really being Liverpool, the fictional location was somewhere called Newtown. It was very atmospheric, especially the clothes (all women in skirts, some in headscarves and curlers) and the tiny house where one of the policemen lived, with a coalfire in a ceramic grate, which the wife kept tending with a dusty shovel and poker. Very different from what’s on television now, I can still see that modern crime series learned a lot from Z-Cars: the cameraderie and rivalries amongst the police, for instance, and the occasional lighthearted subplots. However, some things pulled me up short: the way one of the characters (the one in the tiny house) treated his wife like a skivvy; the smoking; Bert Lynch thumping a suspect, unprovoked, to get something out of his pocket; Barlow harranging Lynch for not arresting the (same) suspect, on the basis that the suspect had a criminal record (even though he hadn’t committed a new offence at the time Lynch was interviewing him). And I still couldn’t work out the plot. My husband had to explain it twice.
I enjoyed every minute of it. But, Dear Reader, is it just the nostalgia I’m enjoying, or are these things really really good?