Saturday, 31 January 2015

77 Motor Mouse and Autocat and It's The Wolf

First  watched  : 1972

These  were  two  Hanna-Barbera  cartoons  unbundled  from  a  Banana  Splits  - type  package  called  Cattanooga  Cats,   to  fill  the  slot  vacated  by  Harlem  Globetrotters  on  a  Tuesday.

 Motor  Mouse  and  Autocat  was  basically  Tom  and  Jerry  on  wheels  and  has  left  zero  impression  on  me.  Even  watching  a  couple  of  episodes  on  You  Tube   has   failed   to  ring  any  bells.

It's  The  Wolf   was  more  memorable  if  little  more  original. It  concerned  the  efforts  of  a  scrawny  wolf  called  Mildew  ( very  camply  voiced  by  Paul  Lynde  )  to  capture  the  bumptious  Lambsy  with  his  annoying  catchphrase  "It's  the  Wool- uff  !  ". Lambsy's  protector  Bristle  Hound  liked  living  on  the  edge , usually  letting  Mildew  travel  some  distance  with  his  bounty  before  hauling  him  back  with  his  shepherd's  crook  and  tossing  him  into  the  distance. It  was  fun  and  apparently  the  most  popular  of  the  four  segments  of  Cattanooga  Cats   but  hasn't  yet  attracted  a  re-make  although  Mildew  re-appeared  on  Laff-A-Lympics  a  few  years  down  the  line.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

76 Deputy Dawg

First  watched : 1972

Deputy   Dawg   was  an  old  five  minute  cartoon  series   brought  out  of  retirement  - it  hadn't  been  shown  since  1968  at  least  - to  plug  a  gap  on  Friday  afternoons  in  January  1972. It  concerned  a  favourite  Hollywood  stereotype, the  pompous  but  slow-witted  Southern  backwoods  lawman, now  in  the  shape  of  a  portly  dog. The  series  though  was  generally  affectionate  towards  the  South  with  Dawg  allowed  his  fair  share  of  triumphs  against  his  mischievous  foes  Muskie  Muskrat  and  Vincent  van  Gopher  and  they  would  often  end  up  fishing  together.

I  can't  remember  too  much  more  about  it.  

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

75 Sesame Street

First  watched : 1972

By  the  time  I  saw  Sesame  Street  I  was  past  it  educationally. I  was  an  advanced  reader  so  the  educational  content  was  pitched  too  low  and  just  bored  me. However  there  was  also  a  lot  of  smart  comedy  in  the  programme  which  was  worth  sitting  through  the  remedial  stuff, particularly  the  sketches  with  Ernie  and  Bert  above, the  one  enthusiastic  and  mischievous, the  other  dour  and  grumpy. Their  prickly  relationship  was  comedy gold.

Sesame  Street  had  a  struggle  to  even  get  shown  in  the  UK ; the  BBC , listening  to  an  educational  lobby  who  decried  its  methodology  and  protective  of  its  own  reputation  as  an  educational  broadcaster,  turned  it  down  and  ITV  only  decided  to  show  it  after  commissioning  trials  and  a  special  report; even  then  some  ITV  companies  didn't  broadcast  it  until  the  eighties.

It  ran  on  ITV  until  1987 when  it  shifted  to  Channel  4. In  2001  it  was  replaced  by  The  Hoobs  and  since  then  has  only  been  seen  on  satellite  channels. It  has  however   spawned  numerous  spin-off  shows - most  famously  The  Muppet  Show -  and  some  of  those  are  still  shown  on  Channel  5.

Sesame  Street  is  also  remembered  for  spawning  The  Muppet  Show  later  in  the  decade.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

74 Opportunity Knocks

First  watched  : December  1971  or  January  1972

I  can  be  more  precise  about  when  I  first  watched  this  because  it  was  one  Monday  night  when  I  had  already  been  put  to  bed  but  my  mother  called  me  down  to  watch  this  little  lad  ( Neil  Reid  above ) perform  on  Opportunity  Knocks. The  exact  reason  why  is  less  easy  to  determine. Perhaps  I  had  evinced  some  ambition  to  perform  or  she  just  felt  he  might  be  a  good  role  model  at  a  time  when  I  was  in   a  lot  of  conflict  with  my  sister  fuelled  by  "Why  can't  you  be  more  like  your  sister ?"  criticism  at  school. Neil  was  actually   a  poor  fit  for  this; he  was  nearly  twice  as  old  as  me  and   an  experienced  performer  in  the  Scottish  clubs  when  he  first  appeared  on  the  show  on  13th  December  1971  and  won  for  six  weeks  in  a  row.

 I  began  watching  it  regularly  some  time  in  1973  when  bedtime  had  been  pushed  back  to  8pm   as  I  remember   Peters  and  Lee  winning  it. Others  I  remember  on  the  show  include   the  singing  miners  Millican  and  Nesbitt, still  one  of  the  most  unlikely  acts  ever  to  make  the  charts,  Candlewick  Green  and  the  ghastly  Lena  Zavaroni  whose  tragic  end  tends  to  suppress  mention  of  how  awful  she  was.

I  don't  remember  anyone  past  Pam  Ayres  in  1975; perhaps  none  of  the  subsequent   winners  were  able  to  capitalise on  it  . Nor  do  I  remember  the  right  wing  rants  by  oily  Candaian  host  Hughie  Green  that  caused  , or  at  least  gave  an  excuse  for,  the  cancellation  of  the  show  in  1978. It's  said  that  Hughie  was  preparing  a  broadcast  in  which  he  would   propose  himself  a  la  Geoffrey  Palmer  in  Reginald  Perrin  as  the  head  of  an  alternative  government.

Poor  Hughie  never  got  back  on  TV  on  a  regular  basis ,  a  fact  he  predictably  blamed  on  left  wing  blacklisting,  and  wasted  much  of  his  fortune  on  foolhardy  lawsuits  despite  already  having  experienced  bankruptcy  in  the  fifties  from  a  failed  attempt  to  sue  the  BBC. His  one  small  victory  was  a  credit  as  "Programme  Consultant"  when  the  BBC  revived  the  show  under  Bob  Monkhouse  in  1987  (  I  never  bothered  to watch  that ).  He  died  of  lung  cancer  in  1997  and  would  be  largely  forgotten  now  were  it  not  for  the  revelation  that  he  was  Paula  Yates's  dad  and  therefore  caught  up  in  the  ongoing   real - life  soap  opera  surrounding  the  late  presenter  and her  family.

As  numerous  nostalgia  shows  and  newspaper  articles  have  pointed  out  in  recent  years, Neil's  time  in  the  spotlight  was  very  brief  and  he  soon  found  himself  marooned  in  Blackpool  doing  cabaret. In  his  mid-thirties  he  quit , re-trained  in  finance  and  is  now  a  management  consultant  though  still  based  in  Blackpool  where  he  sometimes  performs  at  the  independent  Oasis  church.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

73 The Adventures of Dr Dolittle

First  watched :  1971

This  is  one  I'd  forgotten  and  a  mite  uncomfortable  to  write  about  since  it  means  giving  some  credit  to  one  of  my  least  favourite  teachers , Mrs  Chapman , who  read   out   one  of  Hugh  Lofting's  books  about  the  good  Doctor  in  class  and  I  was  entranced. I  had  the  "benefit"  of  the  good  lady  twice , in  Infant  1  and  Infant  3  (  for  a  reason  it's  unfair  to  people  who  are  still  alive  to  disclose )   and  I  can't  recall  in  which  of  them  she  read  the  story  but  it  was  definitely  before  this  was  first  broadcast  on  Thursday  25th  September  1971.

I  was  greatly  excited  of  course  but  it  was  a  generally  disappointing  series,  made  by  the  DePatie  Freleng  team  behind  The  Pink  Panther  Show  rather  than  Hanna-Barbera. It  placed  Dr  Dolittle  on  a  ship  with  his  apprentice  Tommy  Stubbins, the  two-headed  llama  Pushmi-Pullyu   and  various  other  animals  including  a  rock  group  comprised  of  grasshoppers  who  once  per  episode  would  break up  the  flow  by  performing  a  psychedelic  rock  song. Dolittle's  ship  toured  the  world  on  humanitarian  missions  but  was  pursued  by  a  crew  of  pirates  led  by  Sam  Scurvy  who  had  vaguely-conceived  plans  to  rule  the  world  once  Dolittle  told  him  the  secret  of  conversing  with  the  animals. By  summoning  animal  aid  Dolittle  always  managed  to  evade  his  clutches.

The  series  didn't  really  please  anyone  - Lofting  himself  was  well  past  caring  - and  hasn't  been  repeated  much.  A  second  animated  show  The  Voyages  of  Dr  Dolittle  was  made  in  the  eighties  by  20th  Century  Fox  but  I've  never  seen  that.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

72 Play Away

First  watched  : Uncertain

Play  Away   is  the  programme  I  always  associate  with  our  getting   a set   that  received  BBC  Two. Whether  we  got  it  in  time  to  watch  the  first  episode  on  20  November  1971  or  mithered  Mum  in  the  knowledge  it  was  on , I  can't  quite  remember  but   it  was  certainly  the  first  programme   I  ever  watched  on  the  third  channel.

Play  Away  was  a  spin-off  from  Play  School , explicitly  targeted  at  slightly  older  children  and  broadcast  mid-afternoon  on  a  Saturday  while  Grandstand  ran  on  the  other  channel.  It  was  filmed  in  the  same  studio  as  Play  School   and  Brian  Cant  remained  head  boy  but  he  wasn't  the  star. For  his  regular  co-presenter  he  took  Play  School's   most  recent  recruit , Toni  Arthur , , a  former  folk  singer  who  was  a  little  too  edgy  for  the  infants'  show. On  Play  Away  she  was   a  force  of  nature  in  her  hippy  outfits , posh, voluptuous ,  intelligent ,ferociously  jolly  and  up  for  anything.  Her  style  was  a  perfect  fit  for  the  ramshackle , anarchic  mixture  of  music  and  comedy  and  even  more  than  Brian  she  held  it  together. Though  both  were  happily  married  at  the  time  there  was  a  definite  frisson  between  them  on  screen.

Most  of  the  regular  Play  School  presenters  came  in  for  at  least  one  show  including  the  equally  gorgeous  Chloe  Ashcroft  and  Floella  Benjamin  but  the  show  also  unearthed  new  talent  of  its  own  including  Anita  Dobson  , Tony  Robinson   ( who  must  fear  that  one  of  his  trenches  will  eventually  unearth  that  tank  top )  and  most  famously,  Jeremy  Irons  whose  Shakespearean  delivery  made  even  the  corniest  jokes  hilarious..         

Play  Away  worked  because  everyone  - even  the  notoriously  po-faced  Irons - was  clearly  having  the  time  of  their  lives  dressing  up  and  making  a  prat  of  themselves. The  unfeigned  fun  was  infectious; it  was  impossible  to  watch  it  without  a  smile  on  your  face. It  was  also  generous  and  inclusive; the  house  band  with  Brian's  best  buddy  Jonathan  Cohen  on  piano  and  the  fearsomely  sideburned  drummer  Alan  Rushton  were  out  front  and  trusted  to  deliver   some  of  the  gags  themselves.

At  the  turn  of  the  decade  it   started  to  wither.  ITV's  Tiswas  ,which  owed  it  a  huge  debt,   had  cut  the  ground  from  under  its  feet  and  when  Toni  was  lured  away  in  1982  to  have  a  crack  at  serious  drama  the  writing  was  on  the  wall. Most  of  the  footage  on  You Tube   features  her  unfortunate  replacement  Janine  Sharp  and  it's  clear  the  magic  has  evaporated.* The  show  was  pulled  at  the  beginning  of  1984  and  Brian  Cant's  long  stint  on  Play  School  ended  not  long  afterwards.

Though  appearing  only  irregularly  on  TV  since,  Brian's  never  been  short  of  work  and  remains  a  passionately  loved  figure, the  more  so  as  other  celebrities  from  his  era  go  down  in  scandal. Despite  suffering  from  Parkinson's  Disease  since  1999  he  has  kept  working  and  his  and  Cohen's  nostalgia-fest  theatre  production  Still  Playing  Away   in  2005  was a  big  success. He's  also  had  a  happy  family  life  yet  you  always  sense   a  great  deal  of  sadness  when  he's  interviewed , as  if  nothing   really  matched  up  to  the  days  when  he  was  every  child's  surrogate  uncle.

Toni  continued  in  TV  for  a  while  including  a  stint  presenting  on  TV-am   but  disappeared  from  the  screen  in  the  mid-eighties. She  moved  into  teaching  presentation  skills  to  business  people , theatre  production  and  founding  her  own  drama  school. In  the  nineties  she  and  her former  singing  partner  David  Arthur  divorced  ( though  they  remain  friends ) . She  married  a  university  tutor  20  years  ago  and  moved  to  Suffolk. In  2003  she  directed  "A  Very  Naughty  Boy"  based  on  the  life  of  Graham  Chapman  at  the  Edinburgh  Fringe  Festival. It  won  First  Prize  and  she  was  lionised  by  the  likes  of  Eddie  Izzard  and  Phil  Jupitus  who  told  her how  much  they'd  enjoyed  Play  Away  as  kids.  Still  a  hippy  in  her  seventies,  she  lives  quietly  in  Suffolk  helping  out  local  schools  with  reading  and  story-telling.  

*  Sadly  most  of  the  series  from  the  Toni  Arthur  era  has  been  wiped, no  doubt  to  Irons's  relief.

Friday, 23 January 2015

71 Tom Brown's Schooldays

First  watched  :  November 1971

This  was  the  first  of  the  Sunday  teatime  classic  adaptations  I  can  recall .  It  started  on  14th  November  1971  and  ran  for  5  weeks.  I'm  not  sure  I  watched  it  right  through  but  I  remember  it  because  the  bullying  scenes  really  shook  me  up.  I  was  already  intimidated  by  older  boys  so  this  tapped  right  into  that  fear. The  scene   I  remember  most  is  the  one  where  Tom  is  "roasted"  by  being  held  in  front  of  the  fire  for  refusing  to  hand  over  his  ticket  in  a  sweepstake. With  having  a  younger  sister  it  wouldn't  have  been  long  since  we  took  our  fireguards  down  if  indeed  we  had  at  this  point   so  the  scene  was  truly  terrifying.

While  you  might  expect  the  cast  to  be  full  of  future  stars  it  wasn't. Anthony  Murphy  who  played  Tom  never  appeared  in  anything  else  according  to  IMDB  and  Simon  Fisher  Turner  who  played  his  mate  is  better  known  as  a  composer. The  star  was  probably  Richard  Morant as  Flashman ;  his  career  peaked  early  in  Poldark  and  he  was  just  a  jobbing  actor  thereafter. Future  Dr  Who  girl  Louise  Jameson  had  a  small  role  in  the  first  episode.

70 Sylvester

First  watched  :  Uncertain

Sylvester  was  Looney  Tunes' answer  to  Tom  and  Jerry ; he  was  originally  to  be  called  Thomas  but  the  suits  got  cold  feet  about  potential  legal  trouble. The  main  difference  between  Sylvester  and  Tom  was  that  the  former  could  vocalise  his  frustrations  and  his  antagonists  Tweety  Bird  and  Speedy  Gonzales  could  taunt  him. He  later  appeared  with  Porky  Pig  in  some  cartoons  where  he  was  more  of  a  Scooby  Doo  cowardly  characte  but  I'm  not  sure  I  saw  any  of  those.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

69 Pippi Longstocking

First  watched  : Uncertain

Over  to  ITV  again  for  this  Swedish-West  German  adaptation  of  the  bestselling  series  of  childrens'  books  by  author  Astrid  Lindgren. Pippi  is  around  8  years  old  and  lives  with  a  pet  monkey  and  horse  in  a  large  suburban  house,  occasionally  visited  by  her  seafaring  ( and  presumably  widowed  ) father  who  she  has  previously  accompanied  around  the  world. She  is  therefore  a  free  spirit, uneducated  and  rough  mannered  - possibly  autistic - but  kindhearted, practicable  and  playful.  Her  trademarks  are  superhuman  strength,  usually   demonstrated  by  lifting  up  her  horse,  and  an  inimitable  hairstyle  of  ginger  plaits  at  right  angles  to  her  head.  The  series  of  half  hour  episodes  was  made  in  1969  and  ITV  bought  it  after  it  had  been  dubbed  in  America. Lindgren  despised  the  1949  film  adaptation  and  kept  her  hand  on  the  wheel  with  this  series  by  writing  the  scripts.

Star  Inger  Nilsson  didn't  continue  acting  as  an  adult  but  has  remained  something  of  a  celebrity  in  Sweden  despite  having  a  day  job  as  a  secretary  in  Stockholm  which  suggests they  have  a  somewhat  healthier  attitude  to  fame  than  we  do,  Since  2000  she  has  sometimes  been  tempted  out  to  do  small  roles  on  stage  or  screen  and  now  looks  like  Val  Lehman ( Bea  Smith  in  Prisoner  Cell  Block  H ).

This  is  one  that  I  ended  up  watching  because  my  sister  liked  it  and  perhaps  deliberately  didn't  engage  with  it  too  much.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

68 Harlem Globetrotters

First  watched  : Uncertain

In  September  1971  another  slice  of  cartoonised  New  York  culture  hit  our  screens  with  Harlem  Globetrotters , making  the  real  life  side  the  only  basketball  team  that  most  people  over  40  in  this  country,  where  it  remains   a  minority  sport,  could  reliably name.  Except  as  I  understand  it - being  a  non-afficianado -  at  least  in  the  seventies  the  Globetrotters  were  not   really  a  team  at  all  but  an  exhibition  side  who  toured  the  world  promoting  the  sport  with  showboating  and  comedy  routines  in  non-competitive  matches , a  bit  like that  daft  Asian  bloke  who  plays  in  the  doubles  at  Wimbledon. There's  nothing  too  wrong  with  that  ; you  could  make  a  case  that  in  football  when  Manchester  City  or  Chelsea   really  turn  up   against  the  lower  half  Premiership  teams  the  games  are  hardly  more  of  a  contest .  The  BBC  had  broadcast  a  couple  of  the  Globetrotters'  games  in  the  UK  before  buying  the  cartoon.

The  series  featured  likenesses  of  five  famous  ( in  the  U.S. )  players  though  for  comic  effect  their  manager-cum-driver  was  replaced  by  an  elderly  Caucasian  lady  and  they  also  had  a  dog  Dribbles  whose  only  real  function  was  to  draw  attention  to  the  similarity  of  the  format  to  Scooby  Doo  Where  Are  You ?*  The  guys  would  be  on  tour  somewhere  and  blunder  into a  situation  where  criminal  activity  was  going  on. After  some  fairly  feeble  comic  scrapes  the  situation  could  only  be  resolved  by  - you  guessed  it  - a  basketball  game  where  the  HG's  would  emerge  triumphant  despite  the  match  being  rigged  against  them.  This  handily  allowed  the  same  frames  of  basketballs   being  rolled  along  shoulders  or  spun  on  fingertips  to  be  used  in  every  episode. None  of  them  had  much  individual  personality; after  all  when  you're  depicting  real , and  presumably  quite wealthy,  people  you  can't  portray  one  of  them  as  consistently  stupid  for  example. The  most  surprising  thing   is  that  they  managed  to  squeeze  out  22  30- minute  variations  on  the  story.

I  might  be  being   bit  too  hard  on  it. It  did  have  sociological  significance  as  the  first  cartoon  to  have  a  predominantly  African-American  cast. And  for  me  at  the  time  it  was  just  there; I  didn't  turn  it  off,  didn't  miss  it  when  it  disappeared  and  have  remained  resolutely  uninterested  in  basketball  to  this  day.

* They  would  go  on  to  appear  three  times  as  the  "Special  Guests "  in  The  New  Scooby  Doo  Movies.

Monday, 19 January 2015

67 Top Cat aka Boss Cat

First  watched  : Uncertain

After  a  few  years  offscreen  this  Hanna-Barbera  perennial  returned  on  a  Friday  teatime  in  August  1971  prompted  by  the  success  of  The  Aristocats  at  the  cinema. The  title  was  clearly  Top  Cat  but   until  the  nineties   the  Beeb  insisted  on  re-christening   it  Boss  Cat  out  of  concern  that  they  were  advertising   a  popular  cat  food. As  they  didn't  overdub  the  theme  tune  or  the  many  references  to  T.C  in  the  show  all  they  succeeded  in  doing  was  confusing  young  minds  like  mine.

The  inspiration  for  Top  Cat  is  contentious.  It  was  originally  suggested  his  gang  was  based  on  The  East  Side  Kids  who  featured  in  a  series  of  B-movies  in  the  forties. It  was  later  claimed  the  series  was  a  cartoonised  Sgt  Bilko  with  TC'.s  voicing  clearly  based  on  Phil  Silvers. His  tubby  sidekick  Benny  the  Ball  was voiced  by  Maurice  Gosfield  who  had  been  a  cast  regular  on  The  Phil  Silvers  Show . Other  antecedents  have  also  been  suggested.

TC.  and  his  gang  lived  in dustbins  on  the  streets  of  Manhattan  and  the  plotlines  usually  revolved  around  TC's  schemes  to  improve  their  standard  of  living  and  the  local  police  patrolman  Officer  Dibble's  attempts  to  thwart  them  and  in  particular  to  stop  TC  intercepting  calls  meant  for  him. His  gang  consist  of  the  naive  Benny, shy  Choo-Choo, dim-wiited  Brain, suave  Fancy  and  resourceful  Spook  ( my  favourite ). TC  isn't  the  most  likable  of  Hanna-Barbera's  characters, being  narcissistic  and  not  above  ripping  off  or  stealing  credit  from  the  other  members. His  love-hate  relationship  with  Dibble  is  one  of  the  great  cartoon  antagonisms  and  possibly  influenced  Chisholm's  obsession  with  nicking  Arthur  Daley  in  Minder.

I  liked  it  although  a  lot  of  the  New  York  street  slang  would  have  gone  straight  over  my  head  and  apparently  it  is  the  most  oft-repeated HB  cartoon  spawning  the  inevitable  movie  in  2011.  

Sunday, 18 January 2015

66 Hope and Keen's Crazy House / Bus

First  watched  : Uncertain

I  actually  remember  little  more  than  the  titles  of  these  series. Hope  and  Keen's  Crazy  House  was  first  broadcast  for  six  weeks  in  the  summer  of  1971. Anchored  by  experienced  variety  performers  and  real-life  cousins,  Mike  Hope  and  Albie  Keen  it  presented  a  mixture  of  music  and  comedy  in  a  domestic  setting  somewhat  similar  to  ITV's  Little  Big  Time  ; Freddie  and  the  Dreamers  were  actually  guests  on  the  first  programme  which  doesn't  help  me  separate my  vague  recollections.

Perhaps  in  response  to  the  popularity  of   Here  Come  The  Double  Deckers  the  setting  was  changed  to  a  bus  for  the  second  series  in  April  1972   which  ditched  the  support  players  Peter  Goodwright  and  Ruth  Kettlewell  and  introduced  a  narrative  thread  about  hunting  down  a  family  legacy. It  was  repeated  once   in  the  summer  of  1973 ; ...Crazy  House   was  never  repeated.

Hope  and  Keen  were  regular  guests  on  light  entertainment  shows  until  the  mid-eighties  when  they  decamped  to  America  and  performed  in  Las  Vegas.  They  eventually  returned  and  slipped  into  the  twilight  world  of  provincial  pantomime   where  they  might  be  performing  still  ( both  turn  80  this  year  ).

Saturday, 17 January 2015

65 Crystal Tipps and Alistair

First  watched  : Uncertain

This  is  one  that  divided  me  from  my  sister. She  loved  it ;  I  loathed  it. It  was  just  the  look  of  the  thing, the  psychedelic  colours  and  Crystal's  appearance  with  the  long  chin  and  big  blue  hair  ( and,  I  note  now , an  alarmingly  short  dress  ). The  series  had  no  dialogue  just  music  and  with  the  often  surreal  plotlines  it  seemed  like  an  escaped  insert  from  Vision  On.  The  series  ran  from  1971  to  1974   and  probably  did  have  more  going  for  it  creatively  than  I  remember  but  I  can't  say  I'm  in  any  hurry  to  revisit  it.

Friday, 16 January 2015

64 Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons

First  watched  : Uncertain

This  was  my  favourite  of  the  Gerry  Anderson  programmes  although  it  falls  into  the  category  of  rarely-glimpsed  treat. It  was  made  straight  after  Thunderbirds  in  1967  and -  to  an  extent - wrapped  up  after  32   episodes  because  Anderson  assumed  another  one  wouldn't  be  commissioned.

The  series  has  a  darker  tone  than  its  predecessors  which  is  probably  why  I  preferred  it. In  the  first  episode   set  in  2068  an  exploration  of  Mars  commissioned  by  a  global  defence  organisation  called  Spectrum  goes  horribly  wrong   when  its  commander  the  trigger-happy  Captain  Black  destroys  a  Martian  complex  at  the  first  ( mistaken ) sign  of  aggression. The  inhabitants  are  a  group  of  sentient  computers,  the  Mysterons,  who  vow  revenge  on  Earth. The  Mysterons  have  perfected  the  re-arrangement  of  matter  so  they  can  both  resurrect  themselves  and  create  indestructible  facsimiles  of  people, starting  with  the  hapless  Captain  Black  to  do  their  bidding. When  they  attempt  the  same  with  another  Spectrum  agent,  Captain  Scarlet, for  some  not  properly  explained  reason he  recovers  his  free  will  upon  his  resurrection  and  thus  becomes  Spectrum's  most  effective  weapon  against  the  Mysterons'  attacks.  

Captain  Scarlet  and  the  Mysterons  is   therefore  much  more  violent  and  paranoid  than  its  predecessors  with  the  hero  regularly  getting  killed in  the  knowledge  he  will  come  back  to  life  in  the  next  episode.

The  series  was  rebooted  with  CGI  in  2005  as  Gerry  Anderson's  New  Captain  Scarlet  and  became  the  last  completed  project  of  Gerry's  lifetime. Unfortunately  his  contract  with  ITV  didn't  nail  down  how  the  product  would  be  presented  and  the  episodes, though  shown  in  order  , were  broadcast  as  part  of  the  magazine  show  Ministry  of  Mayhem  , cut  in  half  without  titles  or  even  a  fixed  time  slot  which  appalled  him. I'm  sure  I'm  not  the  only  person  who  missed  it  altogether.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

63 Yogi Bear

First  watched  : Uncertain

As  far  as  I  can  make  out  Hanna  - Barbera's   Yogi  first  came  to  our  screens  on  31  March  1971  although  he  first  appeared  on  The  Huckleberry  Hound  Show  in  the  US  in  1958, getting  his  breakout  show  in  1961. Yogi  Bear  was  inspired  by  a  real-life  problem, the  threat  to  visitors   posed  by  real-life  bears  in  U.S.  National  Parks, exacerbated  by  tourist  feeding  of  the  animals.  However  Yogi , his  pal  Boo  Boo  and  love  interest  Cindy  were  all  sympathetic,  never  resorting  to  violence  when  raiding  picnics   and  their  chief  adversary  Head  Ranger  Smith  was  presented  as  a  humourless  killjoy.  Yogi's  character  was  based  on  Art  Carney  in  The  Honeymooners , an  American  sitcom  of  the  fifties.

Yogi  has  never  really  gone  away  with  the  inevitable  live  action / CGI  film  in  2010  which  was  almost-as-inevitably  panned.  

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

62 The Road Runner Show

First  watched  : Uncertain

Road  Runner  seemed  like  ITV's  answer  to  Tom  and  Jerry   and  in  fact  started  out  in  1948  as  a  conscious  parody  of  the  latter. The  format  never  changed  , the  road-running  bird of  the  title  was  being  pursued  by  a  hungry  coyote  who  would  devise  elaborate  traps   to  catch  the  bird  which  would  invariably  blow  up  in  his  face . In  this  he  was  a  clear  ancestor  of  Dick  Dastardly.

The  first  run  of  cartoons  ran  from  1948  to  1963. Later  ones  were  made, the  last  in  2010  but  never  quite  captured  the  magic. Wile E  Coyote  crossed  over  and  became  an  antagonist  of  Bugs  Bunny  for  a  while  in  1963.

Monday, 12 January 2015

61 Thunderbirds

First  watched  : Uncertain

The  crowning  glory  of  the  Anderson  puppet  stable  was  this  one. Thunderbirds  first  emerged  in  1965 , shortly  after  Stingray.  The  premise  was  that  a  reclusive  but  philanthropic  billionaire  Jeff  Tracy  had  set  up  a  non-governmental  agency  International  Rescue  using  space  age  technology  to  perform  humanitarian  missions  when  needed. The  spaceships  were  piloted  by  his  five  dashing  sons  aided  by  bespectacled  geek  Brains. To  preserve  the organisation's  integrity  and  protect  their  advanced  technology  from  misuse  the  Tracys  hid  out  at  a  remote  island  with  concealed  launch  sites. They  also  had  double  agents  elsewhere  in  the  world  to  obtain  foreknowledge  of  any  threats  to  the  operation; the  most  notable  were  English  aristocrat  Lady  Penelope  and  her  lugubrious  chauffeur,  Parker.

The  thing  that  most  distinguished  Thunderbirds   from  the  other  Anderson  series  was  its  50  minute  running  time, double  the  length  of  Captain  Scarlet  or  Joe  90  ( and  longer  than  any  other . For  me  at  least  this  was  also  its  Achilles  heel. I'd  sit  down  excited   at  the  prospect  of  watching  something  longer  and  a  little  more  demanding  and  then  find  my  attention  wandering  especially  when  Penelope  and  Parker  were  on  screen, their  operations  often  seeming  barely   connected  to  the  main  story.  I  also  found  it  a  bit  samey, one  episode  was  much  like  another  and  the  Tracy  boys  were  so  undifferentiated  that  to  this  day  I  couldn't  tell  you  which  one  was  which.

Thunderbirds  was  cancelled  in  1966  after  32  episodes   because  Lew  Grade  overplayed  his  hand  and  failed  to  sell  it  to  the  American  networks  but  it  remained  a  staple  of  ITV's  Saturday  morning  and  holiday  schedules  throughout  the  seventies. ITV  put  it  to  bed  in  1981  and  it  was  off screen  for  a  decade  until  the  reception  for  a  Radio  Five  adaptation  in  1990  prompted  the  BBC  to  buy  it  off  them. When  re-broadcast  in  1991 it  was  a  massive  success  with  huge  merchandise  sales  and  promotion  of  the  series  on  other  programmes  such  as  Blue  Peter  making  models  of  Tracy  Island.  The  series  was  regularly  repeated  through  the  nineties  and  early  noughties  but  suffered  some  brand  damage  from  the  2004  live  action  adaptation Thunderbirds  and  hasn't  been  broadcast  since  2006.  Gerry  Anderson,  who'd  sold  his  rights  back  in  the  seventies, described  the  film   as  "the  biggest  load  of  crap  I've  seen  in  my  entire  life ". However  a  CITV  remake  of  the  series  is  said  to  be  on  the  way.  

Sunday, 11 January 2015

60 Watch With Mother : Mr Benn

First  watched  : 1971

Apart  from  some  Tony  Soper  wildlife  shorts ,  Mr  Benn  was  the  first  new  programme  in  the  Watch  With  Mother  slot  for  well  over  a  year. It  was  actually  the  only  one  for  which  I  remember  my  mother  evincing  any  enthusiasm.

Mr  Benn  was  nothing  to  do  with  the  controversial  politician  of  the  time   though  it  no  doubt  gave  rise  to  many  laboured   political  jokes  among  his  contemporaries. David  McKee's   Mr  Benn  was  seemingly  modelled  on  Michael  Palin's  accountant  in  Monty  Python  who  wants  to  be  a  lion  tamer.  The  bowler-hatted  commuter  went  into  a  fancy-dress  shop  to  be  served  by  its  presumably  Turkish  proprietor. Once  in  the  changing-room  with  his  chosen  costume  Mr  Benn  would  be  transported  to  an  appropriate  fantasy  world  where  he  would  have  an  adventure  before  the  appearance  of  the  shopkeeper  in  the  scene  heralded  his  return  to  reality and  he  went  back  home  with  some  sort  of  souvenir.

Only  13  episodes  of  this  classic  ( not  counting  a  special  new  episode  aired  on  a  channel  called  Noggin  in  2005 )  were  made  but  they  were  frequently  repeated  and  are  very  fondly  recalled, mainly  you  suspect  by  guys  who  have  found  themselves  in  Mr  Benn's  humdrum  existence  and  long  for  some  sort  of  temporary  escape. I'm  saying  nothing.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

59 Origami

First  watched :  Uncertain

The  best  thing  about  this  space  filler  was  that  it  did  what  it  said  on  the  tin; there  was  no  false  promise  of  excitement   or  tension. What  you got  was  paper  folding  no  more  no  less; even  the  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  team  were  unable  to  find  much  to  spoof  in  it.  I  can't  think  I  ever  watched  it  rapt  but  perhaps  the  banality  cast  its  own  spell  and  lodged  in  the  memory.

Friday, 9 January 2015

58 The Wonderful World of Disney

First  watched  : 1971

I   honestly  can't  remember  much  else  about  those  years  except  a  certain  mood  that  permeated  most  of  them , a  melancholy  feeling  that  I  associate  with  watching  " The  Wonderful  World  of  Disney"  on  Sunday  nights.  Sunday  was  a  sad  day - early  to  bed, school  the  next  morning, I  was  constantly  worried  my  homework  was  wrong -  but  as  I  watched  the  fireworks  go  off  in  the  night  sky,  over  the  floodlit  castles  of  Disneyland, I  was  consumed  by  a  more  general  sense  of  dread, of  imprisonment   within  the  dreary  round  of  school  and  home. Richard  Papen  in   The  Secret  History  ( Donna  Tartt  ).

Fortunately,  watching  TWWOD   has  not , so  far  at  least,  led  me  onto  becoming  an  accessory  to  murder  but  I  know  what  Donna  was  saying.  With  affordable  flights  to  the  USA ,a  Disneyland  just  across  the  Channel  and  reasonable  approximations  dotted  over  the  country  now  it's  impossible  for  those  born  in  the  last  thirty  years  or  so  to  really  understand  the  magic  just  the  name  conjured  up  for  young  children  in  the  seventies. This  fantasy  land  on  earth  , impossibly  far  away  in  California, brooked  no  other  response  but  complete awe  and  longing.

Donna's  also  shrewd  in  alluding  to  the  titles  because  what  they  wrapped  around  was  often  less  than  stellar. Disney  had  originally  gone  into  television  to  finance  the  construction  of  Disneyland  but  wasn't  going  to  part  with  the  crown  jewels  so  the  TV  show  only  featured  edited  versions  of  less  successful  films  or  material  specifically  written  for  television. By  the  early  seventies  the  material  was  predominantly  live  action  drama  - with  Mom  and  apple  pie  values  well  to  the  fore  - and  nature  films. Animated  features  were  a  rare  treat  so  I  always  associate  the  programme  with  anticipation  and  frequent  disappointment. Genome  reveals that  this  could  have  been  avoided  by  looking  at  the  Radio  Times  beforehand  but  perhaps  I  knew  that  and  preferred  to  be  kept  in  suspense.

What  I  particularly  wanted  was  Donald  Duck  and  his  three  nephews  Huey  Dewey  and  Louie. The  ducklings  were  actually  far  more  prominent  in  comics  and  appeared  infrequently  on  screen  but  I  wasn't  to  know  that. At  the  time  Dewey  was  denoted  by  a  red  cap  ( it  later  became  settled  that  Dewey  wore  blue )  so  he  became  my  favourite  , the  kids  having  no  individual  personalities. When  a  kind  teacher  gave  me  a  monkey  puppet  during  my  hospitalisation  for  a  serious  eye injury  a  few  months  hence,  he  was  christened  Dewey ( I  was  reading  comics  with  my  good  eye  after  lights  out  which  probably  wasn't  advisable  in  the  circumstances ).  I  still  have  him  of  course  but  he's  rather  delicate - he  was  a  bit  battered on  arrival - so  he's  kept  out  of  my  son's  reach.    

Thursday, 8 January 2015

57 Here Come The Double Deckers

First  watched  : 1971

Much  as  I  loved  Wacky  Races  I  can't  say  it  impacted  on  my  life  off  screen  much  but  this  one  did  and  perhaps  still  does. This  is  the  second  entry  in  my  Top  10.

Here  Come  The  Double  Deckers    debuted  on   New  Year's  Day  1971. The  series  was  spun  out  of  a  series  of  short  films  for  Saturday  morning  cinema  made  by  the  Children's  Film  Foundation  starring  a  gang  of  seven  children,  "The  Magnificent  Six  and  A  Half" . After  two  successful  seasons  the  creators  Harry  Booth  and  Roy  Simpson  wanted  to  transfer  it  to  television  but  the  BBC  didn't  bite preferring  to  develop  the  long-forgotten  Adventure  Weekly  instead.. The  idea  was  salvaged  by  Twentieth  Century  Fox  but  they  wanted  a  new  name  and  a  new  cast ;  Booth  and  Simpson  eventually  managed  to  transfer  two  of  the  original  cast  over  to  the  new  series  though  their  characters  had  new  names.*

The  series  revolves  around  seven  youngsters  from  mid-teens  to  primary-aged  who  have  made  a  den-cum-laboratory  in  an  old  London  bus  which  has  ended  up  in  a   ( presumably  municipal ) yard. The  caretaker  Albert  ( Melvyn  Hayes ) knows  they  are  there  but  acts  as  their  adult  friend. The  pin-up  leader  of  the  gang  is  Scooter  ( Peter  Firth ), helped  by  his  jovial  2-in-c  (  though  this  is  never  actually  stated ) Spring  ( Brinsley  Forde ). He  often  has  to  defer  to  the  knowledge  of  uber-geek  Brains ( Michael  Audreson ) whose  inventions  are  the  basis  for  the  most  memorable  episodes  and  sometimes  to  the  feminine  wisdom  of  Billy  ( Gillian  Bailey ) . Making  up  the  group  are  the  obese  and  rather  dopey  Doughnut  ( Douglas  Simmonds ) ,surely  the  model  for  Grange  Hill's  Roland  , the  obligatory  ( once  20th  Century  Fox  got  involved  ) American  kid  Sticks  ( Bruce  Clark )  whose  precise  function  in  the  group  dynamic  is  never  really  nailed  down  and  cute  poppet  Tiger  ( Debbie  Rusk ).  The  kids'  home  lives  are  never  explored and  their  parents  are  never  seen  although  the  final  episode  does  place  them  in  school  where  Sticks  is  in  the  same  class  as  Scooter  and  Spring  despite  Clark  being  very  obviously  much  younger  than  Firth  and  Forde.

Beyond  the  above  pretty  much  everything  went, musical  breaks  ( to  take  advantage  of  Gillian  Bailey's  evident  song  and  dance  talents ) , slapstick  ( often  speeded-up )  , science  fiction , mild  satire, a  little  teen  romance, you  name  it.  Forde  and  Audreson   were  the  survivors  from  the   CFF  series  and  Bailey  already  had  an  impressive  c.v.  for  a  child  actress ( though  she  was  rejected  for  Phyllis  in  The  Railway  Children   after  playing  her  in  the  TV  series  because  Lionel  Jeffries  thought  she  was  hammy  which  takes  the  biscuit  of  you've  seen  him in  action  ) but  the  others  were  virtually  unknown.

And  I  absolutely  loved  it  ; it  was  the  first  show  where  I  was  gutted  if  I  missed  it. More  importantly  the  gang of  disparate  but  mutually  supportive  pals  having  adventures  away  from  adult  supervision  ( Albert  never  seems  really  necessary  to  proceedings  and  usually  ends  up  behaving  just  as  childishly  as  his  charges )  defined  an  ideal  of  friendship  that  I  would  spend  the  rest  of  my  childhood  - and  perhaps  beyond  - trying  to  realise  ( with  me  in  the  Brains  role; I  knew  I  could  never  be  Scooter ) .

It  was  always  a  mirage; every time  I  got  even  close  it  would  founder  very  quickly. This would  be  through  either   my  personal  timidity - I would  literally  run  away  if  something  too  daring was  undertaken -  or  others'  boredom  with  my  petty  stipulations  ( these  two  factors  were connected ),  or  my  lack  of  an  indispensable  talent  like  Brains' s  or,  if  it  lasted  long  enough , the  realisation  of  others  that  I  was  manipulating  "the  rules"  to  my  own  advantage.  The  other  main  reason , which  I  could  do  little  about,  was  that  the  others  were  getting  all  the  camaraderie  they  needed  from  being  in  football  teams, sailing  clubs  etc ; they  didn't  need  my  "gangs"  like I  did. I,  probably  unfairly, blamed my  father  for  a  lot  of  this;  as  my  class  awareness  grew,  I  reasoned  that  his  conscious  effort  to  live  below  his  means  and  be  able  to  retire  at  60  was  forcing  me  to  work  with  unsuitable  material; if  we  lived  at  a   middle  class  address  everything  would  be  different. Actually,  it  would  probably  have  been  worse; I  was  in  the  top  sets  at  secondary  school  but  the  middle  class  boys  in  them  never  saw  me  as  a  kindred  spirit  and  in  some  cases  were  much  nastier  than  the  local  kids.**      

 The  most  obvious  manifestation  was  the  Adventurous  Club , formed  with  the  neighbours'  kids  which  had three  separate  iterations  in  the  seventies. The  name  was  actually  chosen  by  my  sister, laughably  since  this  was   someone  who  found  the  idea  of  eating  a  baked  bean  not  made  by  Heinz  too  alarming  ( but  it  was  still  better  than  my  suggestion  of  the  Helping  Animals  Club ).  I  don't  think  that  version  lasted  much  longer  than  an  evening. The  second  one  in  March 1976  lasted  about  three  weeks.The  club  had  a  den   in  our  porch   which  I  decorated  with  the  initials  A.C.H.Q  in  white  paint  on  the  front  ( my  mum's   face  was  even  whiter  when  she  saw  it )  and  a  schedule  of  activities  which  I  drew  up  and  presented  as  a  fait  accompli. The  wheels  started  coming  off  when  my  dad  destroyed  the  burglar  alarm  we'd  just  saved  up  for , after  it  woke  him  from  his  Saturday  afternoon  nap  once  too  often. I then  had  the  misfortune  to  fall victim,  for  the  third  time  in  as  many  months  , to  a  nasty  stomach  bug  and  in  my  enforced  absence  the  guys  decided  to  form  their  own  Fishing  Club  which  seemed  to  have  only  one  rule , that  I  wouldn't  be  allowed  to  join  ( they  were  well  aware  I  didn't  have  any  fishing  tackle  at  that  point ) . Not  that  they  seemed  to  do  much  angling; the  club's  activities  seemed  to  consist   solely  of  making  up  rude  songs  about  me  and  shouting  them  over  the  fence. When  the  coast  was  clear  I  revived  it  for  the  last  time  in  spring  1979  hoping  that  others'  memories   of  1976  wouldn't  be  as  vivid  as  mine. They  weren't , perhaps  because  one  of  my  main  antagonists  wasn't  involved  this  time  round,  and  I  think  it  just  dissipated  after  a  couple  of  weeks  without  any  aggro.

Anyhow  back  to  the  programme. Only  17  episodes  were  made  when  the  original  plan  was  for  26  ( and  a  second  series  after  that ).  Twentieth  Century  Fox  lost  faith  in  the  project  after  a  change  in  personnel  at  the  top  and  by  the  time  the  show's  worldwide  popularity  had  become  evident  the  cast  had  aged  too  much  to  resume  filming.  At  the  time  of  writing  15  are  available  to  watch  on  You  Tube; ( 7  and  8  have  been  blocked  for  copyright  reasons  probably  related  to  some  musical  content; the  latter's  a  particular  shame  since  Scooter  ends  up  in  a  fantasy  sequence  with  Alice  in  Wonderland  played  by  a  young  Jane  Seymour ). I've  watched  them  all  with  my  6  year  old  son  who  adores them. So  is  the  magic  still  there  for  me  ?

Well,  partly. The  ones  I  particularly  remember, those  featuring  the  hovercraft  , the  haunted  house  and  the  robot  are  still  great  and  so  is  Simon's  favourite,  the  one  where  Brains  makes  Doughnut  invisible  to  wreak  havoc  in  a  toy  shop  ,with  its  cheeky  steals  from  Barbarella.  On  the  other  hand, if  we  can  assume  that  the  episodes  were  made  in  the  order  they  were  broadcast   and  watch  them  in  sequence  then  there's   a  definite  sense  of  a  series  running  out  of  ideas  in  the  later  episodes. Episode  16  "Up  To  Scratch"  certainly  isn't  with  its  time-wasting  rendition  of  "Old  MacDonald  Had  A  Farm" - Simon  protested  "this  is  for  babies !". And  Episode  14  "Man's  Best  Friend"  is  simply  unwatchable. Written  by  Hayes   ( who  doesn't  feature  at  all  in  the  subsequent  episodes )  it  dispenses  with  any  narrative   halfway  through   in  favour  of   an  embarrassing  extended  parody  of  Rowan  and  Martin's  Laugh -In.

So  what  happened  to  them ?

Peter - no  relation  to Colin -  Firth  of  course  continues  to  have  a  successful  acting  career  although  it's  never  quite  hit  the  heights  that  his  Oscar  nomination  for  Equus  once  promised. He  apparently  doesn't  welcome  enquiries  about  the  series.

Brinsley  Forde  continued  in  acting  but  from  1975  onwards  was  more  involved  in  music  as part  of  the  British  reggae  band  Aswad . They  seemed  doomed  to  eternal  support  slots  as  a critically  respected  but  low-selling  niche  act  until  a  decision  to  record  more  commercial material  saw  them  score  a  number  one  with  "Don't  Turn  Around"  in  1988. They  enjoyed fairly  regular  hits  until  1996  when  Forde's  decision  to  quit  for  spiritual  reasons  ended  their period  in  the  sun. Since  then  he  has  become  a  radio  presenter  on  6  Music   and  taken  the odd acting  role. A  few  days  ago  he  was  given  an  OBE  in  the  New  Year. In  recent  years  he  has  become  more  amenable  to  discussing  the  series  seeing  his  participation  as  an  important  role  model  for  black  children  in  the  seventies.

Gillian  Bailey  also  continued  in  acting  and  worked  regularly  in  the  seventies  with  a  decent  part  in  Poldark  amongst  others. She  was  in  the  first  episode  of  another  favourite   programme,  Blakes  7 ( though  I  didn't  recognise  her ); her  brutal  death  in  a  massacre  halfway through which  affected  me  quite  strongly  at  the  time, set  the  tone  for  the  whole  series. The work  started  drying  up  in  the  eighties  and  after  a  tiny  part  in  Lovejoy  in  1991  she  quit acting  and  went  to  university  with  the  hope  of  becoming  a  script  editor. That  didn't  work  out but  she  stayed  in  academia, got  a  PhD  and  is  now  head  of  the  Drama  Department  at  the Royal  Holloway  University. She  has  always  been  the  most  approachable  member  of  the  cast for  those  wishing  to  talk  about  the  series.

The  others  largely  dropped  out  of  the  public  eye. In  contrast  to  his  screen  role  as  Brains's  clumsy  nemesis  Douglas  Simmonds  was  actually  of  a  scientific  bent . After  one  more  appearance  in  a  Play  For  Today  he  quit  acting   to  concentrate  on  his  O  Levels. He  eventually  became  a  theoretical  physicist  and  then  worked  in  ICT  for  the  NHS. He  took  early  retirement  hoping  to  spend  more  time  in  his  garden  but  sadly  died  of  a  massive  coronary  in  2011  aged  just  53. Michael  Audreson's  career  is  more  difficult  to  track . His  acting  career  stymied  after  an  appearance  in  the  film  Young  Winston   then  he  falls  off  the  radar  until  1996  when  he  founded  Rivendell  Healthcare  a  treatment  centre  for  drug  addiction. He  also  ran  a  company  dealing  with  copyright  issues. In  recent  years  he  has  been  trying  to  return  to  media  work  , writing  and  directing  a  feature  film  which  has  yet  to  be  released.  Bruce  Clark  returned  to  America  after  an  appearance  in  Play  of  the  Month  in  1972  and  never  pursued  a  career  in  acting. He  is  a  family  man   living  in  Atlanta. Debbie  Russ  actually  reprised  the  role  of  Tiger  in  a  British  comedy  film  Double  Take  in  1972  but  her  screen  acting  career  was  over  by  1974  and  she  went  to  university  obtaining  an  English  degree. She  worked  in  marketing  after  graduating  and  has  since  been  working  in  radio, including  a  spell  in  Japan  and  doing  voice  over  work.  She  is  currently  a  news  presenter  for  a  small  radio  station  in  Surrey  and  singing  in  a  part  time  band.

To  learn  more  check  out  the  excellent  and still  active  website  here Double Deckers

*  A  third  season  of  The  Magnificent  Six  and  a  Half   shorts   was  made  for  cinema  in  1972   but  featured  nobody  from  either  ...Double  Deckers   or  the  previous  seasons.

**  My  son's  recent  Autistic  Spectrum  Disorder  diagnosis  potentially  throws  a  new  light  on  all  this.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

56 Christmas Crackers

First  watched : Either  25.12.70  or  25.12.71

There  isn't  much  to  write  about  this  one. Michael  Aspel  presented  a  few  cartoons  on  Christmas  morning. On  the  1970  programme  two  Tom  and  Jerry  cartoons  sandwiched  Pluto's  Christmas  Tree  fanfared  as  "the  first  complete  Mickey  Mouse cartoon  on  British  television  in  colour".

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

55 Bugs Bunny

First  watched : Uncertain

Sticking  with  ITV, they  had  the  rights  to  show  Bugs  Bunny  cartoons. I  think  a  detailed  analysis  of  the  wisecracking  rabbit  ( or  was  he  a  hare ? ) who  always  outwits  his  enemies  would  be  pretty  superfluous. In  his  fully  developed  form  he  emerged  in  1940  and  became  very  popular  during  the  war  in  such  shorts  as  the  not  much  shown  now  Bugs  Bunny  Nips  The  Nips.  The  cartoons  ITV  was  showing  all  pre-dated  1964  as  Bugs  went  into  hibernation  between  then  and  1976 . He  remains  a  popular  character  and  the  subject  of  new  material  to  this  day.

Monday, 5 January 2015

54 Pinky and Perky

First  watched  : Uncertain

Pinky  and  Perky  were  originally   contemporaries  of  Muffin  the  Mule  on  the  BBC  and  lasted from  1957  to  1968. These  two  clunky  wooden string  puppets   spoke  and  sang  in  high  pitched voices  because  the  recordings  had  been  sped  up , a  very  simple  gimmick  but  it  obviously worked  for  a  considerable  length  of  time.  With  record  players  in  every  home  the  BBC decided  it  had  had  its  day  in  1968  but  ITV  picked  up  the  ball   and  ran  with  the  porcine pals  until  1971.

In  the  BBC  version  they  had  a  human  foil  and  took  part  in  skeches. This  was  all  stripped  out  in  the  ITV show  which  merely  had  them  miming  and  dancing  to  speeded  up  records.

A  number  of  Pinky  and  Perky  records  were  released  , both  singles  and  albums  but  none  charted, the  people  being  smart  enough  to  realise  they  could  create  just  as  good  a  version  from  their  existing  record  collection  with  a  flick  of  the  switch  on  their  Dansette.

The  pigs  disappeared  from  the  screen  for  two  whole  decades  before  a  brief  revival  in  The  Pig  Attraction  ( which  did  spawn  a  very  minor  hit  with  their  version  of  Reet  Petite  in  1993 )  and  then  morphed  into   animated  characters  for  a  show  on  CBBC  in  2008  which  is  still  being  shown.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

53 Screen Test

First  watched : Uncertain

This  stalwart  started  on  Wednesday  18th  November  1970.

Screen  Test  was  a  quiz  show  for  kids.  Four  contestants  were  asked  questions  relating  ( in  variable  degree ) to  a  film  clip  they  had  just  watched.  One  of  the  questions  usually   demanded  recall  of  a  minute  observation , an  idea  shamelessly  ripped  off  by  The  Krypton  Factor  a  few  years  later.   At  first  the  quiz  would  be  broken  up  by  a  small  feature  about  some  aspect  of  film-making  but  in  1973  the  Young  Film-maker  of  the  Year  competition  was  integrated into  the  format  instead ( the  only  famous  winner  was  Ratatouille   director  Jan  Pinkava  in  1980 ). I  think  there  were  usually  four  clips  including  one  from  a  film  that  was  more  or  less  current  and  one  that  you'd  never  heard  of,  made  by the  Children's  Film  Foundation  ( although  I  did  see  some  of  these  on  Saturday  mornings  at  the  ABC  in  Rochdale  later  in  the  decade ).  The  prizes  were  always  Premium  Bonds; I  wonder  if  anyone's  still  holding  them  and  whether  any  contestant  had  a  big  win ?

The  programme  was  hosted  by  the  genial  Michael  Rodd  who  looked  like  he'd  dipped  his  hair  in  quick-setting  concrete  before  going  on  screen. I  don't  remember  either  of  the  later  presenters  ( it  went  on  till  1984 )  so  I  guess  I  tuned  out  some  time  in  the  late  seventies.

Most  of  it  has  been  wiped  but  there  are  reportedly  three  of  the  Rodd  series  still  extant. It  was  a  big  break  for  Rodd  who  was  only  26  when  it  started  and  he  went  on  to  Record  Breakers  and  Tomorrow's  World.  At  the  start  of  the  eighties  he  formed  his  own  production  company  Blackrod   and  after  two  series  on  ITV  The  Real  World  and  Circuit  Training   he  ceased  doing  any  presenting   although  he  pops  up  now  and  again   to  contribute  to   business  programmes  and  nostalgia  shows.