Reeling in the Rockford years

WELL this took me back…

“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you…”

Watching television in the day is not something I do usually. But it was lunchtime, it was grey outside and I had a bowl of soup and chunks of bread to eat. I switched on to see if there was anything recorded to watch, but there wasn’t. Instead The Rockford Files was just beginning. So I had a tray lunch in front of an episode of this 1970s favourite.

Rockford was a private detective who didn’t much like trouble, although trouble seemed to like him. He preferred fishing to fighting. He looked smart in a sports jacket and slacks sort of way, but his life wasn’t what you would call comfortable. He lived in a mobile home that might once have been new.

In 122 episodes from 1974 to 1980, James Garner played the ex-con turned detective. Garner died last year but he lives on in daytime Rockford reruns, attaining that immortality peculiar to actors in TV series that never quite go out of fashion.

He found earlier TV fame in Maverick in the 1950s, and lent his amiable presence to many films, including Support Your Local Sheriff. But for those of us who grew up in the 1970s, it is Rockford that stays in the mind.

The episode I watched yesterday had a fairly barmy storyline about the FBI, gun-smuggling and a plot to send faulty weapons to the Communists. Rockford was caught up in the middle and had to prove his innocence, while saving a damsel or two. One of these women was middle-aged and rather fearsome, rather than young and comely, but Rockford helped her anyway, and even developed a soft spot too.

This lady ran the typing pool in what might have been an FBI office or not. I think perhaps I was looking soup-wards at a crucial moment. What took me back were the typewriters, big mechanical machines accompanied by all that noisy clatter of the keyboards, and the ringing bell as the carriage was returned.

Imagine a whole office full of people bashing away at typewriters like that… well, I don’t have to as my first two newspapers were just like that. The loud chatter of typewriters, smoke in the air, cigarette stubs in the ashtrays and, in one of the offices, a switchboard lady who had to connect your calls. There was something industrial about working on a typewriter, as if producing words was a properly robust activity.

It all seems a long time ago now, but I loved typewriters at the time. I had a huge Hermes machine, bulbous and solid with green keys. That heavyweight beauty got me through university, and kept me company for a few years after that.

Now I write on a silent laptop with no more than a muffled click. It’s a marvellous thing, but there was something very physical about hitting those old typewriter keys, almost as if you were battering the words into life.

The Rockford episode I watched was notable for other reasons. Everything was brown or beige for a start: the clothes, the furnishing and the office walls, probably the plot too. Also striking was the use of one of those 1970s typefaces for scene-setting titles. The action froze and the words ran across the bottom of the screen, so futuristic then and so laughable now. It was one of those faces made to suggest a computer when computers were sci-fi rare. My best guess, after looking at a few online, is that it was one called Gemini.

I’ll try not to watch Rockford again as there are jobs to be done and a job to be found. Still it was good to go back for a visit.

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