Square Eyes: Kids' TV of the 80s/90s

I have an unhealthy obsession with all things nostalgic (though I draw a line at mullets and jackets rolled up at the sleeves.) This, combined with a fondness for the TV of my childhood has driven me to create the Square Eyes blog. Simply an A-Z of the shows I watched, with my inimitable commentaries...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Switch off the TV set and do something less boring instead...

It's with some sadness that I reach the end of this blog. There are probably plenty of children's TV shows that I haven't covered, but I've reached the end of the alphabet and it's time to do something new. If you've been reading this blog over the past few months I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed the reminiscing - I apologise if I've awakened anyone's childhood traumas...! Please have a look at my other blogs, which are equally vitriolic and hopefully amusing - there will be more coming soon!

Your Mother Wouldn't Like It

Made by: Central Television
Shown on: ITV
Years shown: 1985-88

Well, the makers of this manic, slightly vulgar kids’ show were right about one thing: my mother didn’t like it. In fact, it was when she saw a sketch very similar to that of Mr Creosote in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, about a boy stuffing his face with fast-food, that she forbade me from watching it. Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It! was a more extreme version of Stop That Laughing at the Back, which it ran alongside for a while; it was a sketch-show where the humour and entire mentality was very anti-parents and anti-authority. Aren’t we clever and innovative?, they thought. And actually, they were right to some extent, because the show nabbed itself a BAFTA for Best Children’s Entertainment Programme. Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It was comprised of a sequence of often serialised sketches, including the escapades of Lonnie (Paul Stark) and Loaf (Ian Kirkby), the Sue Townsend-penned The Wimp (played by Simon Schatzenberger), and the real big-hitter, Palace Hill. Palace Hill was a Grange Hill spoof, with mock Prince Charles and Prince William characters in starring roles, complete with the big, sticking-out ears, of course. It was deeply unfunny, but managed to secure its own spin-off programme, which ran for a few series in the mid-eighties CITV wasteland.


You Should Be So Lucky!

Made by: ?
Shown on: BBC1
Years shown: circa 1986

Theme tune: "You should be so/You should be so/You should be so lucky!"

What were the inventors of this game show thinking? I can’t even begin to give a comparison. You Should Be So Lucky! was a quiz which involved a snakes and ladders board, an assortment of traditional fairground stalls (hook-a-duck, coconut shy), and a dreadful, white-toothed, faux-American host called Vince Purity (played by Colin Bennett.) He was assisted by four stage-school kids, who were equally deserving of a firing squad; the three girls and one boy dressed in twee Edwardian costumes, and sometimes went by the names April, May, June and…Alexander (the latter’s non-conformity was thought to be hilarious.) The competing children, most of whom were also stage-school material, would take part in a number of different games, which were arbitrarily judged by an audience clap-o-meter. There were also the dreaded 'talent turns', where the contestants partook in various variety show-style antics....ugh, my skin is crawling. I was mildly diverted by this when I was seven, but hopefully I’d be more discerning these days.


Friday, July 14, 2006

You and Me

Made by: ?

Shown on: BBC
Years shown: 1970s-1980s

Theme tune:
“You and me, me and you, lots and lots for us to do/Lots and lots for us to see…”

Far inferior to Words & Pictures, You and Me had done itself a disfavour after only two minutes into the show, thanks to the infuriating ‘hello’ sequence, where the presenters greeted absolutely everybody who could conceivably be watching: boys, girls, mums and dads (both unemployed of course, judging by the time of day), childminders, grannies, granddads, uncles, aunts, the neighbour’s cat, the man who sells dishcloths door to door - you get the picture. The programme was supposed to be educational, but I can mainly remember it for Cosmo and Dibs, the two puppet creatures who sat behind a wall in what looked like a rubbish dump or the communal area of a run-down inner-city council estate. They had the collective intelligence of an amoeba, but their learning process was supposed to enable us at home to extend our knowledge. Strangely, the only other strong memory is of an animated kangaroo, who would bound off at the end of the programme, with someone adding, “toodle-oo from the kangaroo!” I’m still waiting for the educational benefits to kick in. Even more bizarrely, Oasis ripped off the You and Me theme lyrics in their song She’s Electric, from the What’s the Story, Morning Glory album. Talk about desperate.


(Thanks to www.tvradiobits.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Words and Pictures

Made by: BBC
Shown on: BBC
Years shown: late '70s-early '80s

In its original and best format, Words & Pictures, a programme for pre-schoolers, was set in a public library, and presented by the slightly prim Vicki Ireland. She was the librarian, and was plagued by a floating cartoon-being named Charlie, who had an unquenchable thirst for learning letters, numbers and all kinds of other things that infants are supposed to learn. Every so often, a line of very well-behaved children would file into the library and do some activities, which would inevitably involve Charlie ending up covered in Bostik or glitter. There would be an animation of a well-known story, and then it would be time for the Magic Pencil, which mesmerised children up and down the country. The Magic Pencil had a light on the end of it, and would write without aid on a black background; it taught you how to write different letters, and reminded you that it was “top to bottom, up and over.” Afterwards, there would be another story, which heavily featured the letter you had just learnt, which would appear highlighted. I could have watched an entire show devoted entirely to the Magic Pencil.



Made by: ?

Shown on: ITV

Years shown: 1989-95

This long-running children’s comedy-drama was based on a book by Allan Ahlberg, and concerned an ordinary schoolboy called Eric Banks, who had an extraordinary gift and encumbrance. Without warning, Eric (played by the aptly-named Edward Fidoe) would start itching and would shortly after turn into a dog, abandoning his clothes wherever it happened. There was no apparent reason for this. His parents (John Bowler and Elizabeth Mickery) had no idea about their son’s double life, and the only person who was in the know was his best friend, Roy Ackerman (Thomas Aldwinckle.) Together, they had to keep the secret from everyone, becoming increasingly inventive in their lying; although they often raised the suspicions of their teacher Mrs Jessop (Liza Goddard.) Otherwise, they were normal kids, and had their own garden hide-out, where they communicated by Morse code and could tell when there were any adults approaching.

The dog who played Eric in his canine form was actually female, and had already found fame as the dog who could apparently say ‘sausages’. When Roy and his family moved away, Eric was only alone briefly, before making friends with the new girl at school, Rachel Hobbs (Sarah Smart), with whom he shared his secret. And just as suddenly as his ‘ability’ came on, it disappeared when he was about 15, and began to have more than just a friendship with Rachel. Puppy love - it’ll never last, of course. Woof! was, like all of Ahlberg’s works, charming and very in tune with children’s interests and thinking; Edward Fidoe was a sympathetic and cheeky lead, and even Liza Give Us a Clue Goddard was quite realistic as the kindly teacher.


(Thanks to www.andrewnorriss.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Wombles

Made by: Filmfair

Shown on: BBC

Years shown: 1973-75 (original series), plus repeats

Theme tune: “Underground, over-ground, wombling free/The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we/Making good use of the things that we find/Things that the everyday folk leave behind.”

With scripts by Elizabeth Beresford, and narration by Bernard Cribbins, The Wombles is quite rightly won of the most beloved of British television programmes. They were a group of furry creatures who lived on Wimbledon Common, and collected and recycled litter that the park-users discarded. Fortunately for the government, their popularity coincided with a national Keep Britain Tidy campaign.

The patriarch of the operation was Great Uncle Bulgaria, who had named each of the young ones after an obscure place on his world map: Tobermory (in the Scottish isles), Orinoco (an Amazonian river), Wellington (a city in New Zealand), Bungo (Bungo-Suido is a strait in Japan), and Tomsk (in the former USSR.) Madame Cholet (named after a town in France) was the resident mother-figure, and doled out the chores to everyone, while she got on with the housework. Tobermory was the handyman, Tomsk was the greedy food-obsessive, Wellington was the clever one and wore glasses to prove it, Bungo was an idiot, and Orinoco was an even bigger idiot. Lots of children could identify with Orinoco because he always tried to bunk off his work, and was a eternal scruff-bucket.

The Wombles were sweet without being sickly, there was enough in it for adults to be kept amused for its duration, and the theme was great - except that I thought that the lyrics implied that the Wombles were from Wimbledon and they were common, not that they were from Wimbledon Common. In 1974, The Wombles’ were hijacked by writer and producer Mike Batt, and went on to have a number of hit records, the most recent in December 2000. Remember-member-member what a Womble Womble Womble you are….


(Thanks to www.scuzz.com for the borrowed pic)


Made by: ?
Shown on: BBC
Years shown: 1986-7
Theme tune:
“Ha ha, this-a-way/Ha ha, that-a-way/Ha ha this-a-way/My oh my!”

The names Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee usually strike horror into the hearts of all patriotic Brits. The famous, short-statured magician should never have been let anywhere near children’s television, but the fact remains that he was, and this was what he came up with (Debbie was responsible for that oh so striking theme song.)

Each episode was 'introduced' by Daniels from his dressing room at Paul's Playhouse (possibly the only place that would give him work these days); he'd do a few tricks and tell the viewers a story about Wizbit.

Wizbit was a yellow, conical shaped magician who came from WOW (World of Wizards, or world of anything else you can think of that begins with ‘w’), but now lived in Puzzleopolous. He was friends with a giant rabbit called Woollie, and lived near Squidgy Bog, a purple jive-talking bog who I used to be quite wary of. Wizbit’s enemy was Professor Doom, who lived in a giant fist in the sky (?!) with his cat, Jinx; and if he wasn’t braving his wrath, he was being challenged to solve riddles by the stingy, jobsworth gate-keeper at Puzzle Gate. Puzzleopolous was not somewhere to be recommended as a holiday resort: aside from the uninviting bog, the locals were seriously weird; there were supposed comedians, Spoof and Bluff (who looked like Marcel Marceau and Oliver Hardy), melancholy clown Pierre-oh, Grocer Green, and Madame Martinka, the town’s resident Mystic Meg. Run for the hills.



Made by: BBC?
Shown on: BBC1
Years shown: 1984

Scottish presenter, Kate Copstick, starred as Wiz, a silver robot/alien in this odd and educationally-slanted programme. She lived in an entirely black studio, and was given puzzles to complete by her computer, which you were supposed to care about enough to join in with at home. There was also a dire rap, called ‘Do the Biz with Wiz’. I remember thinking Wiz was a bit dull, but what put me off it for good was that, when watching it, I accidentally switched the TV volume to maximum, which scared me silly, and I forever associated Wiz with this nasty incident of my childhood.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Willo the Wisp

Made by: Nicholas Spargo
Shown on: BBC
Years shown: 1980-82

Drugs are bad, kids. And they’re expensive. But a viable alternative is a marathon viewing of Willo the Wisp, an absurd and incomprehensible cartoon about the characters who inhabit Doily Woods. It was narrated by Willo, a spirit-like entity who looked remarkably like Kenneth Williams, possibly because he provided the voices for the characters. The central twosome were Arthur, a big, orange caterpillar, and his friend, Mavis Cruet, a kindly fairy in a tutu, who was just too fat to fulfil her great wish of flying. But if anyone was having any fun, you could guarantee that it wouldn’t last long, because Evil Edna was never far away. Evil Edna was a witch in the form of a TV set; the screen showed her face, and she could zap people with her antennae. The subsidiary characters were Carwash, the posh, monocle-wearing cat, whose wisdom surpassed the combined intelligence of everyone else; and The Moog, a strange, sausage-shaped dog who was affectionate but utterly stupid.

The episodes had to be seen to be believed - pretty much anything could happen, including Evil Edna falling in love with a TV news presenter who she tunes into. That was strange enough, but then, in an attempt to escape, the presenter leapt out of the TV set and revealed himself to be only as big as he appeared on screen. These days, the BBC makes programmes that children can understand, which, in my opinion, is a crying shame.


(Thanks to www.sausagenet.com for the borrowed pic)

The Wide-Awake Club

Made by: TVAM

Shown on: ITV

Years shown: 1985-89

Theme tune: "We're wide awake/It's good to know you're ready and you're wide awake/So on your marks and get set, go/It's Saturday, no school today, so what you gonna do?/There's no excuse to stay in bed we're waiting here for you/Oh, Wide Awake...your start/Here it is...our show/Join now, stay tuned, okay, let's go!/We're Wide Awake!"

The BBC may have had the edge with the post 9am slot, but ITV ruled the airwaves between 7.30 and nine, with this fantastic live entertainment show, presented with verve and enthusiasm, for children with the inability to lie-in. It probably saved a lot of children being strangled by their sleep-deprived parents.

The original presenting line-up saw legendary Tommy Boyd as the natural master of ceremonies; he had presented Magpie with a shocking perm, was a qualified dolphin-trainer and football referee, and mums all over the country thought he was dishy. He was always cool in a crisis, and kept a firm grip on the interviews when his celebrity subjects were getting out of hand. Then there was Arabella Warner, a slightly ‘senior’, blonde woman (very unfair, I’m sure - but she seemed old when I was eight), with big earrings; and James Baker, who just struck me as dull and not intended for children’s TV. Quite the opposite was Timmy Mallett (see WAC-a-Day), who no-one knew what to make of: and, later on in the show’s history, there was the youthful Michaela Strachan, fresh from being the ‘Her’ half of the dreadful late-night music show Hitman and Her, with Pete Waterman. James always seemed to have his arm around Michaela, in a slightly sleazy way.

There were so many features on this fast-paced show, that it’s hard to know where to start. Talent on the Telly was an opportunity for kids to come on and do an unusual party trick, such as turning their eyelids inside out, or putting a tarantula on their tongue. More often though, it was someone impersonating Frank Bruno, or doing a lame magic trick.

Still on the subject of ‘talent’, there was Singing in the Shower (later Bopping in the Bathroom), where children would stand in a fake bathroom setting, with water effects descending on them, while they sang along to Five Star or Mel and Kim.

The Bed-Making Competition was a slot where children would compete against each other to accomplish a tricky task - such as, but hardly ever, making a bed like nurses in a hospital do.

There were a couple of regular guest experts who would come on (which often signalled a good time to go and get your breakfast): Dr Pete doled out medical advice, and Philpott (probably not the name he was christened), who gave you the day’s weather predictions.

Then there was the deeply unfunny Sound Asleep Club, presented by a duo, one of whom was - incredibly enough - a youthful Canadian called Mike Myers. We all have to start somewhere, and at least nobody in his native land saw this.

Tommy took centre stage for Wac Snax, where he donned a chef’s outfit as the French-accented Didier Dodo. This was a jazzed-up cooking section, with recipes sent in by viewers but, famously, Boyd sometimes had to turn his creations down on the grounds that he was a vegetarian. That was his story, anyway.

Food was also the primary ingredient of Silly Senses, where Timmy would blindfold a child and make them taste, touch and smell various things, and then they had to guess what it was. Usually peeled grapes, tinned spaghetti or onions. Michaela and Arabella got revenge on behalf of the tormented children when they forced Timmy to bite into a clove of garlic.

A couple of slots involved viewers calling in on the phone, one of which was the curiously-named Bonk ‘n’ Boob, a quiz where George, the scoreboard, was a blatant rip-off of Dennis the Menace. Hard to picture, I know. There was also Club Call, where kids would send in the name and location of their club or society (either something genuine, like the 24th Richmond Scout Troop, or something entirely made up, such as the Winky Murder Club), and it would be pinned on a map of Great Britain.

Some sections were entirely kid-free, and were to some degree an attempt to provide a bit of educational stimulation. The WAC Newsreel was like Newsround; Fables, Parables & Miracles explained various myths and legends; and Ghosts, Monsters & Legends was a spooky story told at the wrong end of the day, but the story about the TVAM studio ghost was actually quite frightening. Just when you thought they’d finished bombarding you with information, there was Heroes & Heroines, Villains & Villainesses, and then Hero of the Day, where a viewer would nominate someone or something for having done something heroic - such as an onion preventing a goldfish going down the plughole, or a fence providing a hiding place from a swarm of bees.

Where are the celebrities?, I hear you ask. Well, they were there in force, and the Wide-Awake Club guests really captured the naffness of the eighties: see exhibits such as Nick Kamen, Kim Wilde, Spagna, Mental As Anything, Daley Thompson, Owen Paul, Swing Out Sister and Fine Young Cannibals. They were all subjected to Questions on the Cards, where Tommy would offer them a sheaf of cards, and they had to answer the questions on the cards they selected.

Mustn’t forget the cartoons, of course, which was usually the Go-Bots, a cartoon which was actually ripped off Transformers, if you can believe that. The worst thing about it was that it inspired Timmy to yell, “Go-Bots go botty!” whenever they were about to come on.

An all-time low was hit, however, with the Christmas Song competition, where children were asked to write a festive-themed song and put it to music, the best one being released as a single. The winner also had the dubious privilege of meeting the Duchess of York at the Royal Variety Performance, or something. All the short-listed songs, and the eventual winner, were performed by those spawns of Satan themselves, The Mini-Pops, in their roll-neck jumpers and patterned scarves, surrounded by fake snow and a sleigh. Talk about ruining the spirit of Christmas.


(Thanks to www.cjetech.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Why Don't You...?

Made by: BBC?
Shown on: BBC
Years shown: 1973-94

Theme tune: “Why don’t you, why don’t you/Why don’t you, why don’t/Switch off the TV set, and do something less boring instead?/Why don’t you?!”

The theme lyrics said it all, really - it was the mark that of a very bad summer holidays if you were tuning into Why Don’t You? in the mornings. Groups of drama school rejects from around the country, with names such as The Brummie Gang, and The Liverpool Posse, would present this no-adults programme about ideas to keep you from stealing hub caps in your long vacation. There would be ‘makes’ from various pieces of junk that you could find by rummaging in a skip, jokes from random kids off the streets, and some of the most revolting recipes known to man - I particularly recall an annoying whippersnapper, called Brett, making something called ‘Wacky Tacky Pizza’, which was enough to have you confined to your bed for the remainder of the school break. One of Why Don’t You?’s claims to fame - or perhaps its only one - is that it first gave screen time to a twelve year old Anthony McPartlin.


(Thanks to www.tvradiobits.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's Up, Doc?

WHAT'S UP, DOC? Made by: ? Shown on: ITV Years shown: 1992-94

Unsurprisingly, this was a vehicle for Warner Bros cartoons (in the same way that the later Diggit showed Disney cartoons), and was presented by rejects from various other shows - Pat Sharp (the mullet still intact) from Funhouse, Yvette Fielding from Blue Peter, and Andy Crane, most recently from Motormouth. It was very mediocre stuff, although Fielding did her best to hold it together, but it was made a lot worse by the presence of Bro and Bro, two puppet wolves, who supposedly ate children. Oh, if only they ate the head of ITV programming first.


We are the Champions

Made by: BBC?
Shown on: BBC1
Years shown: 1973-95

Over half the kids at school hate sports day. It’s invariably cold, likely to be raining, you have to wear the kind of brief clothes you wouldn’t even wear on a tropical holiday, and you are compelled to partake in a variety of gruelling sporting events, most of which you are no good at and have no interest in. Oh, and the teachers all wear track-suits and swig from mugs of warming tea.

So why was We Are The Champions so popular, then? All it was, was a televised sports day, hosted by BBC athletics commentator, Ron Pickering. Basically, teams of children would compete in outdoor relay races, usually involving beanbags, cargo nets, eggs, tennis balls, or all of the above. But the bit that everyone loved, and wished they could take part in, was the swimming pool finale. “Away you go!” Ron would shout, and the kids would plunge into the pool and grapple with numerous floats and inflatables, collect rubber rings, and try to doggy-paddle to victory. Actually, nobody cared who won - they were just waiting for the bit at the end, where everyone (the teams, the supporters; everyone except Ron Pickering, really) bombed into the water, and proceeded to do everything those signs at public swimming baths always expressly tell you not to do.

When Ron Pickering suddenly died, the role of PE teacher was taken over by Gary Lineker, who was obviously waiting for a more serious, meaty sports role with the BBC.


(Thanks to www.tvradiobits.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Wacky Races

Made by: CBS/Hanna Barbera

Shown on: BBC?

Years shown: 1968 onwards

In my opinion, Wacky Races was the finest creation of this incredibly prolific animation partnership, due to its fantastic inventiveness, and despite the fact that every episode had pretty much the same plot-line. The cartoon was inspired by Blake Edwards’ film, The Great Race (1965), which saw a band of unconventional characters, including Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, competing in a 1920s car race.

The same characters took part in the Wacky Races every episode - a bit like a rally or Formula 1 circuit - and there was a radar on the screen every so often, supposedly showing the progress of the competitors (to see them going backwards was not unusual.) The whole thing was superbly narrated in rhyming couplets by Dave Wilcox.

So who were those drivers?

  • Peter Perfect: The vain Mr Perfect had the most implausibly square jaw, drove the Turbo Terrific, and was sweet on Penelope Pitstop, whom he loved second only to himself.
  • Sergeant Blast & Private Meekly: This military duo drove the Army Surplus Special, which could act as a tank, steamroller, or any other heavy-duty vehicle.
  • Lazy Luke & Blubber Bear: Luke was an idle redneck who was so lazy that his Arkansas Chuggabug was just his veranda on wheels, complete with a stove for an engine. His co-driver was Blubber Bear, and the slightly odd thing was that Blubber had the only seat (a rocking chair), so Luke sat on his lap. That kind of thing is probably legal in Arkansas.
  • The Ant Hill Mob: This was a gang of Chicago mobsters led by Clyde, who were all midgets and who rode in the Bullet-Proof Bomb. They were nice guys really, and were particularly concerned that Penelope Pitstop came to no harm.
  • Red Max: Modelled on the Red Baron, Red Max rarely achieved success in the Wacky Races, partly because his Crimson Haybailer was one of the worst cars on the circuit - even worse than the Arkansas Chuggabug.
  • The Gruesome Twosome: Big Gruesome looked like Frankenstein’s monster, and L’il Gruesome was a miniature Dracula, and together they drove the Creepy Coupe. It had gothic candles for headlights, and could be fuelled by ghost, snake or dragon power.
  • Professor Pat Pending: This mad professor drove the drearily-named Convert-a-Car, which should have won every week because it could transform into pretty much anything, but Pending always managed to botch it up somehow.
  • Penelope Pitstop: The southern belle of the race circuit dressed entirely in pink and drove the pristine Compact Pussycat. Her maxim was “neatness counts”, and her car had various modifications to allow her to re-apply her make-up without veering off into a ditch. Penelope always managed to get into jeopardy, frequently enough to warrant her own spin-off cartoon too, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969).
  • The Slag Brothers: Slag of course means something different in the US, referring to scree and ash, rather than these boys’ private lives. Rock and Gravel Slag were two dopey-looking cavemen who drove the Bouldermobile, for which, presumably, they had to invent the wheel.
  • Dick Dastardly & Muttley: The fabulous villain of the piece, Dick Dastardly had a curly moustache, pointy facial features, and the catch-phrase “drat and double drat!”, whenever one of his fiendish schemes fell apart (i.e. always.) He was accompanied by Muttley, his canine sidekick (the dog in The Great Race was called Motley), with a trademark snicker - he couldn’t care less whether Dastardly won, and actually gained most amusement from it all backfiring. Dick Dastardly would go to any lengths of cheating in order to win, and he would often sabotage Penelope Pitstop’s chances, knowing that ninety per cent of the other drivers would screech to a halt to help her. The following year, Dick and man’s best friend got their own gig, in Dastardly & Muttley and their Flying Machines.


(Thanks to www.comedy-zone.net for the borrowed pic)

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Made by: ?
Shown on: ITV
Years shown: 1985-91

Theme tune: “It’s WAC-a-Day, no school today, so what ya going to do?/Forget your chores, throw on some clothes (?), here’s what we’ve got for you/Oh, WAC-a-Day/What’s that?/Wait and see who’s on/Join now, stay tuned/Okay, let’s go!/It’s WAC-a-Day!”

WAC stood for Wide Awake Club, of which this show was a daytime spin-off, geared at lethargic children in their pyjamas, bored out of their brains in the school holidays. It was presented by none other than Timmy Mallett, along with his cockatoo, Magic, who always looked as though the whole thing was too much for him, and that he might drop off his perch at any moment. Timmy should need no introduction: he was an ageless maniac who was born to present children’s TV, and he personified the word ‘wacky’. He had a vast collection of ridiculous pairs of specs, he usually wore those luminous Bermuda shorts made fashionable by the mid eighties, and he often wore two baseball caps at the same time (twin peaks - it was a joke, see?) There would be cartoons like Go-Bots and Galaxy High School, countless rounds of Mallett’s Mallet (“It’s-a-word-assocation-game-where-you-mustn’t-pause-and-you-mustn’t-hesitate-repeat-a-word-or-say-a-word-I-don’t-like-or-you’ll-get-a-bash-on-the-head-like-this-or-like-this-look-at-each-other-and-go-bleeurgh-look-at-the-audience-at-home-and-go-bleeurgh”) where the loser got a sticking plaster to place on any part of the anatomy and wave to the folks at home with, and there was even an expedition to Kenya, where Timmy taught us all to say ‘Jambo’, and painted a lot of actually very good landscapes.

Because it was the school hols, there was a Holiday Postcards slot, and there were other ‘features’ like Wactors and Wactresses, The Manic Minute, and the WAC-saw Puzzle. Fingers In Your Ears Time gave kids the opportunity to show off their usually-limited singing talents, and Drop Your Toast was an attempt to make some unsuspecting child do exactly that by mentioning them live on national television.

Yes, Timmy Mallett was an assault on the senses in all possible ways, and you couldn’t help feeling sorry that he couldn’t get a real job where he didn’t have to leap about the place like a child with Attention Deficiency Disorder - but the fact is that there is absolutely no substitute for him. Since he retired to Timmy Towers, nobody on children’s television has matched him for sheer enthusiasm and passion for entertaining. Mind you, enough is enough.


Ulysses 31

Made by: BRB International
Shown on: BBC1
Years shown: 1981, plus repeats

This is one of those weird cartoons that most people don’t talk about, because they can’t be sure that they didn’t imagine the whole thing. Ulysses 31 was set in the 31st century, and was loosely based on The Odyssey. Ulysses himself was a Barry Gibb look-alike (but ginger), who was orbiting the planet Troy with his son, Telemachus, and had to return to Earth before his wife, Penelope, married someone else. But Telemachus was kidnapped by worshippers of the Cyclops, and when Ulysses attacked and destroyed them, the gods were angered, and cast Ulysses’ ship into the far reaches of space, deleting the databanks on board, so he became utterly lost. The gods also put his crew in a permanent state of suspended animation; they were in a coma, and hung lifelessly in mid air on the ship. When Ulysses rescued Telemachus, he also saved an alien girl called Yumi, and her brother, Numinar, but Numinar is also placed under the coma curse, and his sister can only visit him and hope that he will recover. So the series was basically the long saga of Ulysses trying to find Hades in order to release his cursed crew members, and there was also a little red robot, No-No (short for ‘no, no, please don’t put the robot in the series’), belonging to Telemachus, who had helped saved his master, but was mainly there as the court jester. Ulysses 31 was a giant among kids’ cartoons, and it certainly had me gripped when I was six; I was intrigued and fearful of the comatosed ship’s crew, and used to have nightmares about it happening to me. It was one of those odd cartoons that could never have originated from the UK, and indeed didn’t, but life after school was richer because of it - and little did we know, we were actually watching an interpretation of classical mythology out of school hours.


(Thanks to www.alvarezperea.com for the borrowed pic)


Made by: Gordon Murray Puppets
Shown on: ITV
Years shown: 1967, plus endless repeats

The second of the Camberwick Green trilogy saw the villagers moving to the nearby town of Trumpton, obviously eager for the bright lights. Still narrated by Brian Cant, and with all the old characters present, there was also Miss Lovelace and her dogs; Bill Stickanick, the billboard-pasting man; the Mayor; the town clerk Mr Troop; Mrs Cabbit and Mr Platt, and the most famous team of fire-fighters on TV, led by Captain Flack - they were, of course, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Pugh and Pugh were identical twin brothers, by the way. Each episode would briefly focus on the town hall clock, which kept the time for Trumpton, and they would end with the fire brigade band holding a concert in the park. Bet they wished they’d stayed in Camberwick Green. Gordon Murray went to a fair bit of expense with these series, because although television was still in black and white when he started, he shot them in colour, with a mind to the future. In fact, when he finished work on Chigley, his final series of this ilk, he burned all the characters and sets so that no-one could re-use them, meaning that only his original Technicolor repeats could be shown. Cunning.
(Thanks to www.telegoons.org for the borrowed pic)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Trap Door

Made by: Queensway Productions

Shown on: ITV

Years shown: 1986

Theme tune:
“Don’t you open that trap door/You’re a fool if you dare/Stay away from that trapdoor/Cos there’s something down there…!”

“Somewhere in the dark and nasty regions where nobody goes stands an ancient castle. Deep within this dank and uninviting place lives Berk, overworked servant to The Thing upstairs- But that’s nothing compared to the horrors that lurk beneath The Trapdoor, for there is something down there in the dark, waiting to come out…”

So began each episode of Trap Door, one of the featured cartoons on Number 73, which has been repeated sporadically for over ten years. Narrated by Willie Rushton, this was a clay animation about Berk, a blue blob of a character, who lived with his hyper-active pet Drutt (of undetermined species), and his pal, Boni, a skull who was always full of doom and gloom. Berk was the put-upon manservant of the unseen Thing Upstairs, which always needed feeding, and was particularly partial to a certain vegetable called Thort. There were a few other weirdo characters around too, including Bubo, an irritating yellow thing with a hole in its head, and the friendly monster, Rog.


(Thanks to www.durham21.co.uk for the borrowed pic)


Made by: Filmation

Shown on: ITV

Years shown: 1984

Most people will remember the toys better than they will the cartoon series: they were heavily advertised, expensive, and if you twisted part of them the wrong way - which was easily done - an arm or leg fell off, never to be repaired again. There was a feature-length film made of these ‘Robots in Disguise’, with such credible artists as Orson Welles and Eric Idle on vocal duties, but the TV series was made with slightly less care and cash. Basically, the Transformers were robots, waging a war between good and evil, who could masquerade as ordinary, every day vehicles. The chief goodie was the grandly-named Optimus Prime, who lived in a dormant volcano, and his principal adversary was Megatron, leader of the Decepticons (name was a bit of a give-away, really), who lived in an elaborate desert complex, and was assisted by Ravage and Soundwave. Soundwave had to be the most useless of Transformers, as his alternative guise was as a tape-recorder, which obviously made him completely immobile, and reliant on someone wanting to play the latest Michael Jackson single. There was also Ironhide, some kind of people-carrier, and various other helicopters, juggernauts and milk-floats; but this was very definitely a boys’ cartoon, unless you were a girl into cars, guns, robots and sparse plot-lines. Boys didn’t care - they were too busy smashing their Transformers into each other and breaking various vital components. Strangely, Hollywood director Michael Bay thinks that the Transformers are due a revival (surely he's in a small minority?), and they're due to make their live action film debut in 2007.


(Thanks to www.classickidstv.co.uk for the borrowed pic)

Tottie or The Story of a Doll's House

Made by: Smallfilms

Shown on: BBC

Years shown: 1984-6

Based on books by Rumer Godden, this weighty and sometimes sombre stop-motion animation focused on the toy dolls belonging to sisters Emily and Charlotte Dane. The girls had an ornate doll’s house, whose inhabitants were happy and carefree: there was Mr Plantaganet, his cheerful and dreamy wife, Birdie, and their sweet little son, Apple. Also living with them was Tottie, a wooden, painted doll, who was thoughtful and sensible and, despite being the daughter-figure, really kept the house together. In spite of the contented existence that the dolls had, there was always a feeling of foreboding, because the dolls were never in control of their own destiny - they had to wish very hard and hope that good things would happen. Sadly, they didn’t. The Dane girls were given an antique porcelain doll called Marchpane, who they place in the house with the Plantaganets, and she was an evil cuckoo in the nest from day one. She openly schemed to become foremost in Emily and Charlotte’s affections, loathed Birdie’s open and trusting nature, detested Mr Plantaganet’s feebleness, and did her very best to lead Apple astray and turn him against his mother. Having gained the measure of her house-mates, Marchpane used the dolls’ house lights, which contain real paraffin, to start a fire, and trap Apple. She guessed that Birdie would try to save her little boy, and knew that Birdie was made of cellulose and would burn very quickly and easily - and that was exactly what happens. Birdie saved Apple, but became a martyr in doing so, meaning that Tottie becomes perhaps the first programme aimed at small children to contain a murder. Tottie was a beautifully filmed, thoughtfully made series, but it was terribly, terribly upsetting, and made you realise just how helpless dolls would be if they were really alive, and how reliant on a ‘higher power’, in this case the fickleness of two little girls. There is something very Ibsen-esque about Tottie (Henrik Ibsen wrote a play called The Dolls’ House, of course), and its vision of fate and predestination; and Marchpane is like Hedda Gabler - vain, controlling and destructive. Heavy stuff. You should never have watched this without a) your mother present or b) valium handy.


(Thanks to www.smallfilms.co.uk for the borrowed pic)