HOW TO fill half an hour of early evening Channel 4 telly quickly and cheaply: take two teams of reasonably erudite celebrities (WILLIE RUSHTON, GRAEME GARDEN, GYLES BRANDRETH, CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS, RULA LENSKA, SHIELA STEAFAL, BARRY CRYER, MELVYN BRAGG etc.), some hastily-concocted word games (e.g. names of counties hidden in monologues), and hey presto! Instant employment for PETER PURVES as quizmaster. It couldn’t fail…or could it? Much of the badinage seemed to be read off cue cards, which dulled the verbal to-and-fro a tad. Even JOANNA LUMLEY managed to memorise her little bit of spiel on CALL MY BLUFF, for God’s sake!
B is for…
ACE TEATIME CBBC fare documenting the exploits of one Brian Arthur Derek Boyes (B.A.D. BOYES – do you see?) starring STEVEN “NEVER APPEARED ON TELEVISION AGAIN” KEMBER as the eponymous self-styled Best Dodger in the Universe locked in a trial of pithy playground strength with school bully Slogg and other larger-than-life late-80s wideboy weiners. Two series ensued, both A+, largely thanks to script being pitched slightly above average intelligence of people waiting for Neighbours to come on: “I just got accosted by two separate Poppy collectors, but fortunately I was able to fend one off with, ‘I disapprove of your symbol because opium comes from poppies. Do your realise that you are promoting drug addiction?’ and the other with, ‘I lost my grandfather in the War and all our money goes into keeping his grave.’”
TV CREAM SAYS: WRITER JIM ELDRIDGE ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR NEVERENDING RADIO 4
DR WHO-STARRING SCHOOLCOM KING STREET JUNIOR
ANOTHER OF those cartoon double-bill “sandwiches” that spread like, indeed, nits during the 1970s (see the ALL-NEW POPEYE SHOW). Sauntering up first came wise-cracking moggy Baggy Pants, who re-enacted old Chaplin routines before giving way to the Nitwits, a decrepid crime-fighting duo Gladys and Tyrone, bizarrely based on characters from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Now safely confined to the arse end of nowhere.
TV CREAM SAYS: FROM THE RINKY-DINK STABLE, UNSURPRISINGLY
13 EPISODES of sepia soft toy sophistry from the late mind of cardboard scissor-whizz turned latterday environmental doommonger OLIVER POSTGATE. Desperately slow plots always began the same way – with a desperately slow rundown of precisely what was about to happen, depicted in faded prints of the kind they used as props in NEVER THE TWAIN. A girl, Emily, then appeared dressed as if it were the 1840s, who for some reason “owned” a shop that sold nothing. Everything – here comes the hook – on display in the window was lost property, watched over by the store’s resident custodian and “old fat furry catpuss”. Said feline – baggy and a bit loose at the seams – was then called upon by Emily in textbook 70s hippy chanting, to “wake up and look at this thing I bring; wake up, be bright, be golden and light!” Bagpuss responded with a huge yawn (securing plus points ad infinitum from bored teenage/student viewers) and the episode proper began. Those shop “assistants” in full: a toad with a banjo (Gabriel – “Oh, look!”); a load of mice on their “marvellous mechanical” mouse-organ; can’t-be-arsed rag doll Madeline; and, hero of the hour, woodpecker bookend Professor Yaffle, whose advanced years meant ambling down a pile of books to examine this week’s curio was hard going. Yaffle’s addled brain would then mistake a pin cushion for an earless elephant, while the mice would turn a doll’s house into a mill for making chocolate biscuits out of breadcrumbs and butterbeans, only to be exposed as a fraud. Such hysteria was interspersed with even more desperately slow songs and stories, before the mice did some genuine “fixing” and restored the piece of junk to its former glory, at which point its actual purpose was revealed and everyone went back to sleep. Show’s legacy far outweighs actual merits of each episode, but “when I produce Bagpuss at my student lectures, everyone cheers!” insisted Oliver, so that’s OK.
TV CREAM SAYS: HEAVE! HEAVE!
MORE OBSCURO-MATION. The only roller derby chase cartoon in history, for which we can all be thankful. Heroes were titular asteroid-monikered mopes. Numerous villains included the Jekyll Hydes, who turned from posh toffs (“Good show, what?”) into evil sniggerers the next. Other “teams” were the Yo-Ho-Ho’s (pirates, unsurprisingly) and The Really Rottens.
TV CREAM SAYS: "THINK WACKY RACES...WITH ATTITUDE!" SAID THE H-B BOSSMEN.
ARNIE WIGGINS and a bunch of his urchin mates, soot of cheek and fleet of foot, are taken into the employ of the World’s Greatest Detective to run around the streets getting under the feet of posh nabobs (“Blast these tearaway tykes!”), their equally posh but more sympathetic wives (“Have a heart, Geraint, they haven’t got any shoes on!”), and London’s assorted jay-walkers, fish-hawkers, barrow-merchants and soil-carts. Kids end up solving actual crimes, much to the annoyance of him upstairs (who is never seen, except in shadow) and dopey police who dislike “these sorts of things not being done by the book”. Fantastic stuff, replete with convincing Victoriana-murk in spades. Jay Simpson was Arnie, Ian Beale one of his pals, Howard from EVER DECREASING CIRCLES was Lestrade, and confusingly Lestrade from Jeremy Brett’s Holmes was Moriarty.
TV CREAM SAYS: "LESTRADE WOULDN'T KNOW A CLUE IF IT BIT HIS ANKLE FOR HIM!"
THE OLD PETER SELLERS monologue about “glorious Bal-ham” is dusted down for late entry in the PLANK, etc. pantheon of Britcom support features. Directed by Michael (i.e. Mickey) Dolenz (METAL MICKEY, LUNA). Made as a spoof travelogue, with great voice-over by David De Keyser. Danny Schiller and Judy Gridley played tourists while ROBBIE COLTRANE turned up in at least 15 other parts. From an original sketch written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden.
TV CREAM SAYS: "AND IS THERE HONEY STILL FOR TEA?" "HONEY'S OFF, LOVE."
CZECHOSLOVAKIAN CARTOON about a small, bearded scientist who solved various problems in the same, arbitrary fashion (see NOAH AND NELLY) i.e. by pacing up and down, then turning on a big, complicated machine which eventually produced a drop of green liquid which subsequently turned into just the right artefact to do the job! Tidy, at least.
TV CREAM SAYS: BAL...BALTHAZAR
GEORGE “HANNIBAL” PEPPARD strolls around Boston collecting rewards from insurance companies. On a 10% cut, so bigger the loot, greater his take-home pay. A Mystery Movie strand, but not as popular as the ones that involved actual murders. There’s a lesson there.
TV CREAM SAYS: BIGGEST HAUL CAME IN UNEARTHING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLERS
BURIED UNDER BOSTON STADIUM
RETINA-INFURIATING Hanna-Barbera live-action mayhem of hazily-yet-vividly-recollected infamy. The objective, as far as anyone can actually make out an objective behind all this, seems to have been to create a cross-platform moneyspinning Nuggets-friendly garage punk band that would appeal as much to sugar-crazed youngsters as to crazy far-out hippies who had ‘seen’ the hidden messages in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, by plonking them in an acid trip-esque shifting kaleidoscopic vista of Saturday morning TV entertainment wherein psychedelic back-projections and Doors-y keyboard runs vied for space with slapstick comedy and lower-rung animation, thereby simultaneously conquering the TV ratings and pop charts, and shifting a couple of boxes of official tie-in breakfast snack Kellog’s Raisin Bran into the bargain. This they hoped to achieve via the cunning innovation of getting the band to dress up in huge cartoony animal costumes.
That line-up in full, then: lisping lolling-tongued cartoon hound Fleagle (guitar), dopey clown-nosed lion-ish Drooper (bass), Mickey Dolenz-resembling vaguely sort of ape-like Bingo (drums), and alarmingly unkempt shaggy creation Snorky (keyboards), whom under a certain light and if the wind was blowing in the right direction could be loosely said to have borne a very slight passing resemblance to something akin to an elephant. Their live action antics were, it has to be said, ever so slightly on the formulaic side – they arrive in psychedelically-decorated clubhouse via chute/bendy fireman’s pole/’Banana Buggy’, Fleagle initiates Banana Splits Club AGM by banging a tremor-occasioning gavel, Drooper attempts to take out ‘trash’ but is defeated by psychotic garbage can, Fleagle attempts to collect mail but is defeated by psychotic mailbox, Snorky gets squashed behind door and momentarily becomes 2D carboard cutout of self, all four withstand sabotage ploys by go-go dancing schoolgirl rivals The Sour Grapes Bunch, audience gets bored by intruding Mariachi irritants The Dilly Sisters, Drooper attempts to play agony aunt and leaves the others head-in-hand via dimwitted corny gag response, assembled company yell “HOLLLLLD THE BUS!” while fleeing recycled Hanna Barbera offcuts, sub-Shadows Of Knight pop-psych numbers play out to footage of the gang larking about in theme parks, talking Moose Head and Cuckoo Clock offer running commentary on whether or not said activities consitute a ‘triple ooch’, and so not particularly varying forth. However, it succeeded by virtue of being rendered in brain-searing cartoon-come-to-life Incense & Peppermints-evoking one-pill-makes-you-larger gaudiness, and by appearing in bitesize portions due to presence of substantial non-Splits interludes.
Widely presumed to be otherwise unsaleable Hanna Barbera misfires that had been sitting around on a shelf for a couple of years, these are all (well, nearly all) now ironically as well-remembered as the Splits themselves. The Arabian Knights brought together the world’s most unlikely collection of freedom fighters – deposed gymnastic type Prince Turhan, equally deposed master of disguise Princess Nida, strongman Raseem, magician Fariek, Bez who apparently had ‘the gift of the beast’ (ie he could transform into, say, an elephant simply by exclaiming “siiiiiiiize of an elephant”), and Zazuum – the hee-hawing happy-go-lucky donkey who with a simple tug on his tail by a hard-of-thinking enemy guard scoffing at the ‘simple beast’ would transform into a whirling wall-demolishing equine whirlwind – to jape-equippedly battle the corrupt Bakaar and ginger-bearded henchman Vangore in Old Baghdad. Slightly more historically accurately – and slightly less entertainingly – The Three Musketeers saw Porthos, Athos and Aramis of literary legend (plus their title-taxing regular cohorts, the expected D’Artagnan and Godzooky-style non-canonical creation Tulee, a precocious brat of indeterminate royal patronage who invariably got told to stay at home with his wooden sword-waving gung-ho derring-do but ended up disobeying everyone and saving the day) foil endless plots to purloin crown jewels and the like, armed only with rapier-like awful puns about the fiends and blaggards they had just knocked over with a barrel (well, that and rapier-like, um, rapiers).
Less often seen, and deservedly so, was Micro Ventures, sci-fact ‘edutainment’ that forgot the ‘tainment’ bit about some family who can miniaturise themselves and their car to enable close-up observation of, and the endless reeling off of unprompted scientific facts about, ‘soldier ants’. And then, in an exciting excursion into rule-proving-exception for the nominally pen’n'ink based Barbera & Co, there was Danger Island. Lavishly directed on location by a then-unknown Richard Donner, this episodic cliffhanging saga charted the attempts of Prof Hayden (Frank Aletter) and inappropriately dressed daughter Leslie (Ronne Troup) to locate his missing explorer brother on a strange uncharted island with mystical powers, helped by their clean-cut diver Link (Jan-Michael Vincent) and stranded seamen Morgan and Chongo (of “uh-oh Chongo!” catchphrase-generation), and hindered by raggedy pirate captain Mu-tan and blue body paint-favouring natives The Skeleton Men.
Memorable fare indeed, for all the right and indeed wrong reasons, but it never quite got Raisin Bran flying off the shelves and the ‘suits’ got nervous. Series two brought with it some desperate streamline-attempting innovations – zany falling-over-on-bumpy-slide title sequence antics to replace the original shots of them miming to the theme song and ‘meeting’ the public; Porthos and company deservedly binned in favour of long-forgotten Hanna-Barbera-on-autopilot creations The Hillbilly Bears; wisecracking puppet gopher with standard-issue wonky teeth; The Splits delivering corny one-liners through a hatch-equipped ‘Joke Wall’; and most conspicuously, the original Snorky outfit replaced by a more urbane and recognisably elephant-esque model – but to no avail. The four oversized cartoony animals barely made it into the seventies – a decade in which the pop charts would look more favourably on human musicians wrapped in luridly-dyed carpet – and barring a best-forgotten attempt at an animated revival, it was all over for Bingo and the boys.
Or at least in America. Over in BBC-land, however, what had failed as a cereal’n'records-flogging gravy train was to prove to have an altogether different kind of cultural staying power. For the Beeb had seemingly paid for about twenty thousand repeat showings as part of their original purchase, and those self-same battered prints – seemingly increasingly washed-out and chopped-down with each successive outing, though always with that original title sequence intact – would occupy the First Thing slot on many an eye-hurting Saturday morning well into the eighties.
TV CREAM SAYS: "ONE OF THESE DAYS, THIS BANANA'S GONNA SPLIT FROM THE BUNCH!"
THE GOODIES decide to regroup after numerous solo efforts to “recreate the magic”. A suitable vehicle is searched for to best deploy their many talents. Instead, they end up doing silly voices for this plodding cartoon Batman pisstake of the long-extinct Nutty comic. Tim does Eric, resident of 29 Acacia Avenue and soft fruit fancier; Graeme does what happens when Eric eats a banana; Bill does wise-talking crow and Oirish police comissioner. Laughs fail to follow.
TV CREAM SAYS: BEST THING WAS THE TITLE MUSIC (FOR NOT BEING A BILL ODDIE SONG)
SHIT CARTOON of Scandinavian origin concerning a sort of extended family of colourful, shapeshifting balloony blobs. The main two were Barbapapa and Barbamama, with various “character” parts (sporty Barba, sexy Barba) making up the numbers.
TV CREAM SAYS: MORE FUN THAT THE MOOMINS, THOUGH THAT WASN'T HARD
KING OF some African republic or other, Babar is a rather dull elephant in a crown and green suit. Also present are Celeste his wife, a rhino rival bloke, and an annoying monkey freeloader. Sedate adventures, to say the least. PETER USTINOV was multiple voice boy, originally.
TV CREAM SAYS: PONDEROUS PACHYDERM PALAVER
CAKE-resembling stop-motion ursine of Gallic extraction with pedantic nomenclatural obsession. Olga Pouchine’s once-literary bear Colargol became well-known to a generation of Watch With Mother watchers through redubbed stop-motion antics by another name altogether: Barnaby. And didn’t we know it. For at the slightest hint that a hat might possibly concievably drop somewhere in the known universe, he would burst into song reiterating that Barnaby The Bear was his name, and that he was never, ever to be called Jack or James.
Singing, you will not be surprised to learn, was high on the storyline agenda, with his thirteen-episode exploits taking in his brief employment as an operatic stunt-rider in a travelling show of freakishly talented animals, and something about him donning a cardboard beak to become ‘king of the birds’ or somesuch (OK, maybe something got lost in translation), and even in the midst of his seafaring excursion and sojourn at the North Pole, he could still be relied on to make with the ‘signature’ ditty whether anyone asked him to or not. And it wasn’t just limited to the English language version, as if anything has been learned from what little can be made out from any overseas presentations, the theme song had an invariable tendency to brag about his not that remarkable ability to sing ‘sharps and flats’.
Overseas viewers also got to see about a million further episodes (the Beeb presumably not considering it worth the financial outlay in getting Colin Jeavons, Percy Edwards et al to ‘do an Eric Thompson’ with any further episodes), boasting all kinds of hallucinogenic deviations into outer space and the wild west that were a source of untold confusion for hapless holidaying Brits chancing upon a French book about TV. And you didn’t even have to go abroad to be bewildered by him – for a couple of years in the eighties, by which time Barnaby had long since ceased chirruping about his naming, you could hardly move around ITV’s summer holiday schedules without bumping into either Canadian reworking ‘Jeremy’ (alright, don’t fucking start, pal), or its animation house stablemate Once Upon A Time… Man, which included a perplexing cameo by that all-too-familiar visage amongst its scary Bach-backed primeval opening burblings.
TV CREAM SAYS: SANG HIS WAY TO FAME, IT SAYS HERE...
ROLLICKING ANTIQUE-THEMED spy excursionism with STEVE FORREST having a fist fight with two monosyllabic heavies while a very red bus goes past in the background. Clue – he won. Scripts by TERRY “LIBERATOR” NATION.
TV CREAM SAYS: "AM I DISTURBING YOU?" "NOT AT ALL. AM I DISTURBING YOU?"
BAFFLING KIDS DRAMA about a public schoolboy (just for a change) called Billy who learns his parents have been killed in a sailing accident, moves in with their solicitor, then finds out he was adopted and sets off to track down mum and dad #2. Trek took him across Europe taking in lots of lovely-to-film architecture and minging moaning locals. Kid (BENEDICT “A PERFECT SPY” TAYLOR) gets nowhere fast, plays the cello alot, falls in with po-faced characters with a penchant for staring into the distance after muttering they knew his father a long long time ago, and meets BRIGADIER ALISTAIR GORDON LETHBRIDGE STEWART. Each episode ended with the tyke learning fuck all and moving on to look at more distinguished architecture.
TV CREAM SAYS: SUNDAY TEATIME SORBET BEFORE HIGHWAY
SIR FRED HARRIS makes his first proper appearance in our A-Z, here presiding over an agreeably strange maths show. In-studio chats mixed to schoolkids on location, but the best bits were the abstract animations on topics like binary notation, area and geometry, played out to the off-kilter prog-blues of seventies maverick composer RON GEESIN.
TV CREAM SAYS: CHECK OUT RON'S BLUE FUSE LP FOR INSTANT CALCULUS NOSTALGIA
UPPER CLASS FOX with a human voice insults well-known BBC face, takes the piss out of world famous celebrities, blows up some sticks of pretend dynamite, introduces latest hit parade offering from The Shadows/Paul Nicholas/Elaine Paige, then repeatedly interrupts well-known BBC face trying to read an adventure story “until next week’s exciting instalment”. Established rakish credentials under tutelage of handkerchief-tampering sorceror DAVID NIXON before graduating to own variety show with co-host RODNEY BEWES. Successive “Misters”, in chronological and descending-greatness order, were DEREK FOWLDS, ROY NORTH, HOWARD WILLIAMS and BILLY BOYLE. Plenty of memorable tomfoolery with the likes of TERRY WOGAN and INSTANT SUNSHINE kept 1970s ticking over, while perennial invocation of “Dirty Gerty from number thirty” jostled for ubiquity with cries of “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” getting increasingly slower. Voice and hand of IVAN OWEN. Latterly revived in 2002 with the wrong a) face b) voice c) format (a sitcom!), but nobody was watching so it didn’t matter. Boom boom.