One of the first shows I remember recording on our VCR with regularity was Poldark, a period drama based on books my mother had read. And a show that she watched devotedly many years early, when she was expecting a child in fact. The lead character was Ross Poldark, and was played by Robin Ellis. And that is right there, apparently, where I got my name from. Some people I meet in my adult life seem to think I was in The Bee Gees. Or had a band of merry men. Or I was Batman’s sidekick. But, no, none of those. I was named after Robin Ellis, from Poldark. That show we had to record. I say we, I believe it was down to my brother and I to, between us, make sure we pressed record at the right time when we got home from school. I would also take it upon myself to pause at the adverts, and try and make sure that the recording would have not one second of advertisements. Maybe I fancied myself as a film editor deep down. Mother was at work until after the show had started, and although a great woman and mother, it was just not worth fucking this up. I can swear now, I’m an adult. Just don’t tell her, okay?
But I was a fan of TV shows long before we had a VCR. I honestly don’t remember what that was like, to not own one. But it does not matter, and did not matter then. Because that was how it was. When you are a kid some shows stick with you, some you forget. Some are part of that period of your life. And you can reminisce when they rerun them. I don’t remember seeing Mork & Mindy for the first time, but I remember watching and I remember liking it. A lot. I was a very small child when the show was around. True, it only ran for four years, but it was on the TV for years and years in the eighties. As a child this would have contributed to what I thought TV was about. That TV was not all about kids’ shows I perhaps liked or adult shows I did not understand. It was shows like Mork & Mindy, and Cheers, that defined what sort of television I would like. Funny guys with big hair that wore their space suit backwards. And the same old face in a warm, friendly bar. Audiences laughing. I must have liked comedies. Then again, that is a genre suitable for children. I suspect my parents would have been concerned if I was watching horror movies and porn. I mean there was also He-Man, Button Moon, and all manner of kids shows. I think as I was growing out of toys and kids’ stuff, I was really into Transformers. Don’t quote me on that.
Little House On The Priarie was my mother’s show too. I never really, as far as I can recall, became a fan of the show. My mother forced us to watch it. Not at gunpoint, I was not tortured or anything. We did not live in that childhood. It was pretty sedate and safe. I mean it was a routine, something we kind of had to sit and watch, but it was never written down as part of the rules. The Rules of What We Must Watch as a Family. It was a fairly universal show too, and pleasant enough to watch. There was The Waltons too. I grew to like that though I think. Dallas and Dynasty, I did not.
So when I think of my first memories of the late, great Robin Williams, it will always be Mork. And that will never, ever change. This guy was as funny as you can get. Note to self: watch some Mork & Mindy very soon. So when Williams was making movies like Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poet’s Society it was almost a shock. I won’t have been any younger than ten when I first saw those movies. And I enjoyed them. And I have watched them several times since then. Appropriate adult movies, with Robin Williams. And you start to realize, back then, that particular actors and actresses can drift back and forth between television and the movies. Between comedy and drama. Robin Williams shouting “This will not look good on a résumé” in Good Morning, Vietnam was surreal to me at first. This funny man from space was now showing pure anger in a movie about set during a war. Quite a sarcastic line written down in front of you, but it was said in that moment in sheer frustration. That memory, and that movie, will somewhere in me continue to have that connotation, and take me back to that realization as a child. Diversity of genres. If only for a second. Similarly with Woody Harrelson, who was, and is, very different in the movies to the character he played in Cheers. Note to self: watch some Cheers very soon. And The People Vs Larry Flynt.
Another thing I had to come to terms with was the type of show I would have not been able to engage with at any level at early stages of boyhood. But sooner or later as you grow and develop, your tolerance and recognition and genuine enthusiasm for television and cinema follows suit. So when a show like Twin Peaks started airing in the UK, I may have been at that very transitional age. I recall my mother telling me and my brother to be quiet during the pilot, because we were mocking a particular scene. The way kids point at something serious, because they don’t understand it. But I wasn’t paying attention. Stupid kid.
The scene was when Laura Palmer’s mother, on the phone to the father, finds out the awful news, and her scream lingers. And I stopped laughing, and the scene pulled me in. And then the scene when the school announces it, and the principal loses his shit. I have cried to that scene as an adult. David Lynch, oh how you have always moved and confused me. My mother watching a show like Twin Peaks is weird enough. She does not do weird, or violent. I don’t know if my mother even watched the whole season. Until I ask her I am going to say no. I am going to take a swing at guessing that she saw the ads for this new show, and being a fan of detective shows she gave it a shot. Twin Peaks is no ordinary detective show though. I got into Twin Peaks rather quickly after that. It kind of grabbed hold of me, and hasn’t let go since. I wanted to watch them all again. And buy the VHS collection. Which incidentally was a great looking collection, each one had a different character and iconic object (heart pendant, donut, cup of coffee) on it, and the spines of the VHS boxes lined up to show the famous Welcome To Twin Peaks image. And of course I fell in love with Audrey Horne. And, in turn, Sherilyn Fenn. And in a different way, I loved David Lynch.
Which meant that I would haunted and awe-inspired equally by Wild At Heart too. The turn of the decade coincided with a new chapter in my life. I had put away toys and activity books. And not only was I going through the changes a boy goes through when he hits the apex of teenhood, I was also evolving (and it was like all of a sudden) into a fully-fledged movie buff. Sure you love movies and cinema when you are a kid, that’s without question. But you change. Like when you stop pretending you don’t like girls and start liking girls. So it appeared my Transformers and He-Man toys were gathering dust while I was immersing myself with Goodfellas, Edward Scissorhands and Dick Tracy. I actually bought a couple of the Dick Tracy figures from the movie – toys were called memorabilia now.