‘It was boredom at first sight/You could hardly call him bright/He’s no one’s Mr Right/So what do I see in him?…’

From 1987 to 1993, the pen of Jim Hitchmough created one of ITV’s longest running situation comedies. Despite having good viewing figures, it is largely forgotten. Making its screen début on the 05 July 1987, Watching centred around three main characters. The main one, Brenda Wilson (Emma Wray), throughout the series dated birdwatching and motorcycle nerd Malcolm Stoneway (Paul Bown). She often met up with Pamela Wilson (Liza Tarbuck) whose main activity was people watching – always beside the Space Invaders machine at The Grapes.

The series was set along the banks of the River Mersey, with Brenda on the down to earth Liverpudlian side, and Malcolm on the Wirral Peninsula with a domineering mother (Patsy Byrne). Though separated by a mile or so of estuary, they were in two different worlds, with Malcolm being on the affluent side of the peninsula, around Meols and Hoylake way. He would take Brenda on his birdwatching trips, sat in the sidecar of his Norton motorbike.

Brenda’s offbeat remarks, Malcolm’s mother and exchanges with the landlord at The Grapes (Al T. Kossy) made for most comic effect. Its mixture of pathos and observational comedy made for good television. I too was an avid viewer in my adolescence and loved Charles Hart’s theme tune.

Main Characters:

  • Brenda Wilson: Emma Wray;
  • Malcolm Stoneway: Paul Bown;
  • Pamela Wilson: Liza Tarbuck;
  • Marjorie Stoneway (Malcolm’s mother): Patsy Byrne;
  • Harold (landlord at The Grapes): Al T. Kossy.

Watching ran for 56 episodes on Fridays at 8.00pm (though the first series’ episodes were shown at 10.00pm on Sundays, with the final series at 7.00pm the same day), including four Christmas specials in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1993. The 1987 episode included a cameo appearance from Richard Madeley, where he was a DJ at a Christmas party (Erasure’s O La Amour played in the background). Each episode (apart from three) were single word titles ending with ‘ing’. The first one was entitled ‘Meeting’, with the final episode ‘Knotting’. The latter being the episode where Malcolm and Brenda finally tied the knot.

All 56 episodes were directed by Les Chatfield, with the first two series produced by David Liddiment (Les Chatfield would take over thereafter).

Signature Tune

The programme’s distinctive signature tune was sung by Emma Wray herself and is entitled ‘What Does He See in Me’. It was written by Charles Hart, whose other credits a rewrite of lyrics to The Phantom of the Opera.

Trivia

Watching spun off from a rejected sketch which Mr Hitchmough sent to Messrs Marshall and Renwick (yes, the protagonists of End of Part One, mentioned elsewhere on EotM60) for Not the Nine O’Clock News. It was written during a drama workshop at the Everyman Theatre.

DVD and VHS releases:

All seven series of Watching have been released by Network DVD from 2006 to 2009. The first two episodes were released on VHS in August 1993 on CastleVision.

Who Else Remembers Watching?

If you have fond memories of the programme, feel free to comment away. Did you have a mother like Malcolm’s? Were you based around the area whilst it was being filmed?

S.V., 15 September 2012.

5 thoughts on “Forgotten ITV Comedies #2: Watching

  1. This is a great article about my favourite show, Stuart! I’ll share it on my Facebook tribute page, “The Meols Mackerel’s Watching Page”. I never knew about Richard Madeley being in it, I’ll have to watch out for him, haha!
    My cousin-in-law went to a studio recording of one of the later episodes, she can’t remember which one unfortunately but she coughed audibly on one of the takes they use, so she remembers telling the rest of the family to “listen out for my cough” when it was aired 🙂
    Best regards, Ian S.

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    1. Hi Ian,

      Many thanks for your kind comments. It is just a shame that Watching never had the same amount of reruns as (for example) Keep It In The Family, let alone Only Fools and Horses.

      One thing we’re thankful is the fact the whole series is available on DVD. I only have the first series at home, though remember the programme from my adolescence.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  2. That theme song – both the opening and closing versions – has somehow haunted me ever since first hearing it when I was very young.

    We still talk fondly about Watching in the house – partly because they occasionally filmed on location in North Wales and Chester over the years.

    May not be one of ITV’s best remembered sitcoms – despite how exceptionally popular it was back then – but it was certainly one of Granada’s best. Sharply written and yet with just enough saccharine (well, maybe not the theme song)

    Being a 90s kid, I only got around to seeing the whole run when Granada Plus showed the series a few times. Series one also boasted a guest appearance from the one and only Colin Weston doing a mock Granada closedown. Legend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gareth,

      I think you have hit the nail on the head about Watching, especially in terms of Jim Hitchmough’s writing style. Like yourself I am haunted by the theme tunes (and I was eight years old when the first series began in July 1987).

      At the time I also liked Brenda’s kooky dress sense. It deserves a bit more love though thankfully, Network released all its episodes on DVD.

      As for Granada people appearing in Watching, there was one episode where Richard Madeley was a DJ. Back then he was on Granada Reports and, not long afterwards, took over from Chris Searle as the presenter of Runway.

      I could do with watching the episodes again. As for Colin Weston, he has a Thursday morning (10am to 11am) show on Salford City Radio. If you cannot pick it up on FM it is available to listen to online.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

      Like

  3. I have vague memories of this from being a child (born in 83)

    Yet, I never forgot it, even though I didn’t make a point of watching it at the time – it stuck in my mind

    Whenever I saw the first episode of Mr Bean in the exam scene I always thought……….Malcolm!

    I remembered 4 things before I decided to seek out the show – Malcolm, Brenda, Malcolms mum, and the motorbike and sidecar!

    After finding it on YouTube and then purchasing the boxset, the theme tune took me back………..as did the opening scenes for the early part of series 5 (on the beach, bike coming towards the camera, Brenda standing up in the sidecar)

    Brenda’s sarcasm also clearly stayed with me, and has to be said, of all the brilliant characters (there isn’t a bad one anywhere to be seen) – Brenda steals it! Absolutely brilliant

    It’s an absolute gem! Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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