The Saturday Movie Club: Jossy’s Giants
Sid Waddell, it’s fair to say, had a way with words. The late darts commentator had graduated from Cambridge and worked at Durham University before moving into television in the late 1960s, becoming the voice of televised darts during the following decade as well as creating The Indoor League, the television show which did so much to popularise the game. It’s difficult to believe that his most famous quotation, “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer… Eric Bristow’s only 27”, wasn’t spoken with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
When he wasn’t commentating or bringing new sports to our television screens, Waddell also wrote, and Jossy’s Giants remains amongst his most fondly remembered work, to the point that earlier this year – more than three decades after the show completed its short run on Children’s BBC – the corporation decided to release both of the show’s two series on DVD. The nostalgia business remains profitable in the twenty-first century, and it’s likely that the generation of children that are being raised by parents who watched the show in the first place may well be being sat down in front of the television and required to watch what mummy and daddy did in their youth.
Jossy’s Giants ran for only two series of five episodes each in 1987. The “comedy-drama” followed the fortunes of Glipstone Grasshoppers, a youth team that is adopted by Jossy Blair, a coach whose own professional career was curtailed by injury on his debut for Newcastle United. Jossy is by a considerable margin the most interesting character in the show. He runs a sports shop, although this is in a bad way due to Jossy’s apparent gambling addiction, and his criticism of the team is certainly honest – “I’ve seen nothing so daft since I got a clockwork duck fa’ Christmas” is a phrase which certainly sticks in the head – although the question of why these adults (and he’s not the only grown up with a considerable interest in this youth team) take such an interest in them remains unanswered.
Outside shooting for the show was recorded at the home of the now defunct Oldham Town FC (the ground used has since been demolished), and the cast of children who make up the team itself was selected from players from a local youth league. In other episodes beyond this first one, there are also cameo appearances from Bobby Charlton – who gives the team a tour of Newcastle United’s St James Park, even though he was nothing to do with the club at the time – and Bryan Robson, whose performance in that particular episode is so wooden that he makes Bobby Charlton look like Marlon Brando by comparison.
And it has dated. Of course it has. It’s difficult to believe that a gambling problem would be considered in any way appropriate as subject matter for a kids television programme these days, still less that it would be considered in the slightly offhand way in which it is here. And there is little question that a youth team seeking to hire coaching staff would undergo a more rigorous screening process that the Glipstone Grasshoppers did. For all of that, though (and as a matter of personal taste I don’t consider Jossy’s Giants to be superior to 1982’s Murphy’s Mob, which painted a far more coherent picture of the urban decay of the first half of that particular decade, even if its writers didn’t necessarily intend to), it’s a diverting way to spend half an hour.
The Jossy’s Giants DVD referred to above can be purchased from here.