Network Releasing bring fans of classic television another treat with the factual series Whicker’s World released this week. ATV Today takes a look at what you can expect on Whicker’s World 1 – Whicker. The first ITV series from Alan in 1968.
Alan Whicker fronted his documentary series Whickers Wold from 1959 to 1988 with the majority of his programmes produced for Independent Television, and that’s where the release starts – in 1968, as Alan switches to ITV from the BBC. The series, produced by Yorkshire Television, continues the high standard of production set by the beeb during his previous decade with the corporation.
Alan, with his instantly recognisable tones, took viewers to interesting places to meet informative people. The popularity of the show was clearly a mix of interesting topics, the extensive location footage and of course Alan’s warm, approachable style. He could weave words poetically, creatively bringing the facts across in a way which was never boring. The interviews and vox pops saw him chatting to everyone from the local cleaner to the Lord of the manor. These early episodes, across the four discs, are a time capsule of places and people, many long gone, providing an insight into a Whicker’s World that in most cases no longer exists.
The first edition, produced in monochrome, entitled ‘Let’s Have an Airport’ sees Alan look at ‘the age of air travel’ beginning at the ‘shining temple’ to flight that was Leeds-Bradford airport. However while the Yorkshire airport looks the business, Alan discovers its lacking in trade, has an uneven runway and is, according to Alan, badly placed; a far cry from Lancashire where Manchester airport is a continually growing and thriving gateway to the world.
Alan also looks at plans for an international airport in Goole and the exciting possibilities it would bring. The programme is a fascinating delve into the workings of two different corporations and how they tackle – very differently – the provisions for air travel. If you’re a plane spotter who likes old airports and aircraft this, as well as the debate, is a great period piece showcasing how Britain took to the air in 1968.
“To my mind an important airport, on these useless acres, would be the second best thing that’s happened to Yorkshire after the inauguration of Yorkshire Television of course.”
The next edition, ‘The Trainers’, sees Alan ponder the world of horse riding, and YTV are thus far keeping it all very much Yorkshire based, as his first location is Middleham, where eleven trainers are, in 1968, based. The cameras capture training methods which are ‘happy, even haphazard’ with methods that have changed little over the past century.
At York racecourse Alan bumps into Aimi MacDonald and Lionel Blair, celebrity horse owners, who aren’t having much luck on the track – yet. But as Alan discovers unless you’re the jockey or a bookie then the money isn’t as lucrative as the public may believe.
“On race day the trainer plays modestly to his audience, publicly courted for his wisdom and secret knowledge. And let’s face it, he is as close as you can ever get to the horse’s mouth.”
‘The Glorious Twelfth’ is the third programme on disc one, and the first in colour – although monochrome episodes do return randomly. Alan begins the show walking on the Yorkshire Moors, as he prepares for tomorrow – the glorious twelfth – the day that heralds the start of seventeen weeks of sport shooting. Bad news for the grouse.
While animal lovers may cry in horror, Alan informs us the moor grouse are already fated, most infected by a parasite so will soon die anyway. There is little time to reflect on the demise of the feathered creatures as Alan swiftly heads to James Purdey & Sons a gun maker; as all who take part in such shooting ventures know its just as important to have your gun made-to-measure as your clothes.
On ‘the glorious twelfth’ guests, and Alan, gather at Bolton Hall, Richmondshire. Alan informs us that on this day across the three million acres of Britain’s grass moors that eight thousand guns are about to blast. For the next four months red grouse will be their target. Alan talks to the shooters to find out why they enjoy the sport. ‘Chasing something which is wild’ is one of the answers.
We return to monochrome for ‘Water Water’ as edition four begins with various shots of water in various Yorkshire locations as Alan goes on a quest to discover what is the allure of riversides, canals and lakes for the British people to spend their time at – or on. This episode contains some of those everyday people vox pops Alan became much remembered for, talking to anyone and everyone about their love of the wet stuff. A quick look at angling leads onto those who love to boat.
Alan heads to Linton, north of York, to see the development of eight acres of land, by the river Ouse, into a site of ‘waterside glamour’ as building work begins on a continental marina at a former generator station. Alan ponders the grim looking buildings and seemingly finds it difficult to image it could ever be home to an indoor swimming pool or luxury. (As a side note this venture proved to be a success, the marina is still open today.) Then he’s off to Whitby to see the daily workings of the 17th century founded Whitehall Shipyard. This now a historic piece of film of a business now sadly long departed and the yard replaced with every council’s idea of progress – a housing estate.
The final shots are of Alan in a speedboat zooming around Whitby harbour, as he notes…
“Yes everyone’s going back to the water, which produces a sort of serenity, or at least that’s what I used to think”
Another early colour edition as Alan investigates ‘The Aristocracy Business’. Toffs, the well do to, lords and ladies. Alan delves into the world of the aristocrats. He starts in the North Riding of Yorkshire where he tells us there are more ‘proper peers’ with ‘proper country estates’ than anywhere else in the country.
Alan spends time with a couple of the lords of the manor, following them on their daily routines. The 3rd Baron Gisborough likes to keep up to date with what’s going on with the everyday folk, including a wander around Gisborough town centre. Alan notes the baron shows a ‘fatherly concern’ towards his tenants. While another, the late 6th Lord Feversham (1945-2009), gives viewers his thoughts on inherting a title. Baron Howard of Henderskelfe (1920-1984) gives us a look inside Castle Howard, and ponders at the costs of maintaining such a large building. The 11th Viscount Downe (1935–2002) shows viewers around Wykeham Abbey including his scientific lab located in the east wing.
While there has been homes of grandeur, and handed-down wealth, Alan moves onto the failings of the estates as more and more Lords and Ladies end up selling off the silver, or doing away with the butler. Gisborough Hall in the documentary is derelict, with the 3rd Baron living in the converted stables. (The hall is now a hotel). Very few, despite their cash flow difficulties, consider selling off their inherited land.
“The young son of a noble family, once sat down to write a story. Once upon a time, he wrote, there was a very poor family, the father was poor. The mother was poor and all the children were poor. The butler was poor and the cook was poor and all the footmen were poor. And the nanny was poor, and the chauffer was poor, both chauffer’s were poor. It was a very poor family indeed.”
The final instalment on disc one is entitled ‘The Most Beautiful Hotel In The World’. Produced in black and white Alan heads to ‘an improbable palace’, which was described as a ‘fairytale fortress’. Footage of the The Royal Picardy Hotel, Le Touquet in its 1930s heyday is mixed with a tragic sight of a ruined empty shell.
Alan visits the site of the former 1000 room The Royal Picardy Hotel which closed in 1951. The disused building, with broken windows, shattered candelabras and bits of broken furniture scattered across once grand rooms are caught on film by Yorkshire Television just hours before the building, built in 1929, was to be demolished.
Looking at the huge former hotel Alan asks why on earth did they build such a massive hospitality complex in Le Touquet. The answer, it seems, came from above – the arrival of air travel and the resort becoming a must-visit for the well-to-do holiday makers of the 1920s and 30s, indeed it was the flavour du jour of the privileged classes. The documentary mixes archive footage of guest having a grand time some thirty years earlier with current, contrasting, shots and interviews with one former staff member as well as former guests. The documentary ends with the demolition of the hotel, as Alan notes ‘created by 1200 men, being destroyed by three’.
“There’s an irony, this rich rubble, these churned acres of bricks and concrete and plaster which once sheltered the very rich – are going as foundation for a holiday camp.”
The second disc starts with a monochrome episode ‘The Road from Rose Linda’s‘. Alan and his interviewee Percy Shaw (1890 – 1976), the man behind the cats-eye road reflectors, discuss life; with Alan pondering that he doubts he’ll live to 80 as he works far too hard. Alan takes Percy back to the pub – The Old Dolphin Inn, in the village of Queensbury, near Bradford – where the story of his life saving idea would begin back in 1934.
We also head to his factory in Boothtown, Halifax and Percy talks about how the product came to life. At the point of the programme being made we’re told over 20 million cats-eyes have been produced, a chat with some of the staff at the works discovers a great affection for Percy. Alan also spends time with Percy to see how he now lives having become successful, and well off, thanks to his invention.
The colour production of ‘A Right Royal Fiesta‘ takes Alan to Ecuador, and a glamours palace in Quito, where he is paraded by some soldiers from the Ecuador Army. Alan takes us on a tour of ‘a shangra-li of a mountain capital’ Quito during December and the Christmas festivities – we see celebrations and those friendly and unfriendly drunks. Next its a look at the volcanoes and then onto the Equatorial Monument created by Charles de La Condamine in 1734.
The programmes then takes a look at the people of Ecuador, Alan discovers that many, despite the beautiful surroundings, live in poverty. He ponders that while ‘the church’ continue to have a lot of sway and say with everyday people – they’re not so keen to help the poverty stricken. Alan then ponders the difficulty of finding the perfect Christmas present, he suggests that this year for the man and woman who has everything ‘a shrunken human head’ may just be the answer. Alan explains how these miniatures are made with some highlights showing the process – thankfully all isn’t as it seems. Alan also touches on love potions, food, the Christmas Parade and the bull fight gathering, a place all humans are welcome to spill their own blood.
In the final edition of the series, produced in colour, Alan heads to Argentina for ‘After Us – What the Penguins?’ to meet the rural landowning Perkins family. The ‘traditional ways’ of dealing with cows and horses will certainly not sit well with animal lovers and it should be advised that some of the scenes are quite brutal. However this is something Whicker’s World never shied away from, leaving it up to the viewers to make up their own mind about the subject matter. The head of the Perkins family is also a successful motor racing driver, we see him take on the track.
We take a look around the city, twenty road lanes with no white lines, makes car driving in the city centre a risk in itself, as Alan soon discovers when passing a recent car crash. Alan then takes a shopping trip with Mrs Perkins, and ponders the fashions of the rich. In part two Alan looks into the workings of the country, including corruption. A mix of scenes at a well-to-do casino in Mardel Plata is contrasted with the country’s slums, filled with wooden hut housing. The production then takes in the world the British created in Argentina, from the buildings to sports and even the red post box.
“You cross endless miles of nothing to reach Argentina.”
At the time these programmes first aired on ITV Alan was looking at the changing world around him, the changing ways of living and the changing values of society. Today the shows are an interesting look back at that time, where some things have changed drastically while others continue to remain relevant to our society today.
Our view is its definitely worth venturing back into Whicker’s World again.