They really were the greatest animals in the land. Captain Beaky and his band (from left to right: Timid Toad, Reckless Rat, Artful Owl, Batty Bat) were immortalised in verse by Jeremy ‘Allo ‘Allo’ Lloyd, set to music by Jim Parker (whose recent Ground Force theme bears more than a passing resemblance) and recited by Keith ‘Henry VIII’ Michell. Lloyd’s doggerel tales of anthropomorphic derring-do, Parker’s military pomp and Michell’s deliberate, actorly relishing of the juiciest rhymes (‘Owl’s idea, the clever feller/to have a flying um-ba-rella . . . ’) secured a number five chart position. A second single, two albums and a BBC2 series followed in short order, detailing the further adventures of Beaky and nemesis Hissing Sid, plus a whole menagerie of zoological chums. Michell was helped out in the reciting department by the likes of Twiggy, Harry Secombe, Penelope Keith, Peter Sellers, Petula Clark, Noel Edmonds and, naturally, Peter ‘Me and My Girl’ Skellern.
C is for…
In the days before desktop publishing, magazines and newspapers were limited to the typefaces they could use. Most relied on Letraset to physically stick down each letter they needed, so much so that the first issue of the Sun had to be creative with headlines as they could only afford three big ‘E’s. In those days, the Casual font was much used as it was perhaps the only typeface that looked a bit like normal handwriting. Of course, it was just as uniform as your bog-standard Times New Roman, but somewhere along the line it became the official font of comics. Whizzer and Chips certainly embraced it with gusto, using it in every speech bubble and caption, and most other comics liked its juvenile quality. It also came to represent everything to do with school, especially when Grange Hill decided to use it for their end credits. The move was swiftly mimicked by more or less every other children’s programme. When Microsoft Word became commonplace, the Casual font started to fall out of favour, and for the most part was replaced by the ubiquitous Comic Sans. Nowadays this font can most often be seen when an office manager is trying to make that demand not to steal their biscuits just a little bit more friendly.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE VERY OPPOSITE, FRIENDLINESS-WISE OF THE 'SHATTERPROOF' FONT
It’s the late 1980s, and, once again, banks and building societies are at pains to come over all friendly, as their TV ad campaigns extend a cosy, understanding arm round your shoulder (all the better to snaffle that loose fiver from your inside pocket). After all, it’s not all work, work, work! Wackiest of all was the campaign cooked up by Guardian Royal Exchange (members, lest we forget, of LAUTRO) for their Choices pension scheme, employing a game old duffer (who may have been Hugh Cecil of Armando Iannucci Shows fame, but don’t quote us on that) who applied for the exciting new pension which ‘you can take from job to job, whether you’re fully employed, partly employed, or even taking time off from work’. Crestfallen after being denied on age grounds, he then turned up in leather jacket, baseball cap and modish smiley badges. “Hi, man! I’ve come about a Choices pension!” So rib-tickling was this conceit, the ‘groovy duffer’ became a regular character for a couple of years’ worth of brand-building, until either they got bored or went under in the ’91 crash (and we’re not trudging off to Companies House to find out).
TV CREAM SAYS: OUTTA SIGHT!
Over nineteen years from 1979, 184 Choose Your Own Adventure titles were published. Their unique selling point lay in allowing you – the reader – to make crucial plot decisions in the story by directing you to a particular page in the book dependent upon what choice you made – like whether you opted to ‘walk toward the Indians and return the peace sign’ (surely the right answer) or ‘prepare to shoot it out’. Indeed, one of the by-products of the series was an unwanted lesson in morality that taught us that to do the thing you think will be most exciting and violent will invariably result in your own abrupt death. Whilst perhaps the most ubiquitous, Choose Your Own Adventure was far from the only purveyor of such fare. TSR Hobbies (makers of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS) knocked out a few under the banner of an Endless Quest and Puffin produced what seemed like hundreds of Fighting Fantasy titles most of which were written by Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson – or both. The big downfall with these books was that they relied on the reader rolling dice to determine whether or not they were successful in combat, and given that we couldn’t be trusted to play a single adventure from beginning to end without cheating, the belief that we might actually abide by what a die said seems laughably naïve.
TV CREAM SAYS: 'YOU ARE DEAD' , EH? WE'LL SEE ABOUT THAT...
As the school term wound up at the end of the year, teachers across the country looked for some form of activity to keep the kids ‘making and doing’ which wouldn’t result in any take-home work for themselves. Thus was created the tradition of the Christmas card post box, a two-pronged initiative that would not only keep the little bleeders quiet for a couple of afternoons, but also served as handy reinforcement of the most valuable lesson any of us ever learn in school; popularity is all. First came the construction of the device. Generally inspired by similar-themed ‘makes’ on Blue Peter, these were manufactured from a well-known frosted cereal box and decorated with crêpe paper (a material never glimpsed outside the classroom), tinsel and a shit-load of glitter-encrusted Marvin glue. Once built, it would then be placed in the corridor by the fish tank for the whole school to use, awaiting the deposit of greetings cards constructed during school time (another afternoon taken care of, there), or those begrudgingly bought from the charity catalogue. Every morning a grandiosely-titled ‘card monitor’ (read: spoddy kid) would then collect all the envelopes addressed to their class and distribute them to much excitement. Cue kids comparing how many salutations they’d each received, and a harsh but valuable lesson for the odd-smelling ‘seasons greetings’-less child at the back of the room.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE SPIRIT OF GIVING TURNED INTO CLASSROOM BASTARDRY
From the invention of colour television to the advent of digital effects, CSO (or Chromakey if you worked for ITV) was the most prevalent special effect in the business. Subjects were photographed in front of a plain blue (or green) background, which was electronically replaced with a starfield, library footage of the Grand Canyon or a picture of Joe Gormley, according to taste. Limitations to this technique gave programmes of the era a distinctive look. The lighting had to be extremely bright, so the people in the foreground looked unnaturally washed-out compared to their background. Hair and shadows were the technician’s nightmare, adding a furry blue fringe around the subject if they weren’t careful – a sort of anti-Ready Brek glow. The result – every programme, from Blake’s 7 to The Kenny Everett Video Show to Nationwide, took on an eerie, fuzzy quality which just made telly all the more mysterious and imposing.
TV CREAM SAYS: ‘THAT’S CLEVER, HOW’S THAT DONE?’
To get to the covered market you need to take a long walk down a shallow concrete ramp. It’s about 4.15PM on a Saturday, the only time to pay a visit, under a heavily overcast sky, lowering clouds forever threatening a downpour that never quite arrives. Atmospherically oppressed from above, overcoated folk hurry about to get their ‘last minute bits and bobs’ before the various joys of Saturday evening are upon us. If the atmosphere above deck is one of gathering storms, unsupped pints and unclaimed dividends, at the bottom end of the ramp it’s altogether more intense. I’m getting concrete, I’m getting sawdust, I’m getting freshly gutted mackerel. I’m getting… yes, all right, piss. But the olfactory overload is nothing compared with the headache engendered by the criss-cross network of strip-lighting that illuminates the scene. Council officials have diligently ensured that a mandatory thirty percent of the overhead lighting is set to a permanent wild flicker, giving certain corners a definite ‘epileptics keep out’ air. God knows how the old dears manage to keep body and soul together as they browse the haberdashery stalls in ambient conditions that would have been deemed ‘a bit much’ at Studio 54. The concrete cavern may be solid enough, despite being only twenty years old (FACT: all covered markets were opened by either Prince Michael of Kent or Vince Hill), but the stalls themselves are permanently on the verge of collapse. The favoured building material is pegboard. All the better to hang loads of packets of wool and Rawlplugs off, certainly, but it doesn’t half give the impression of a Mexican shanty town, eking out a meagre existence under the feet of the mighty ‘proper’ shops. Where the market really excels is in the novelty department. The kind of practical joking tat eschewed by the more respectable emporia is here in abundance, making the little joke cubicle the nearest you could get to those mythical ‘joke shops’ the folk of the Beano were ever dashing into. Only without the abundance of on-premises chuckles. Novelty vending is a serious business, and customers implicitly understand that any pleasure is only to be had when said goods are well out of the frowny sight of Alan the proprietor. All this surly transaction is good practice for the progress from black soap to Black Sabbath, and a trip to the second hand record stall. The intimidating atmosphere of second hand record shops is legendary, but the stall’s an even bigger ordeal. After all, in the shop the tubby know-all with the PiL t-shirt and the thousand well-argued reasons why compilation albums are for the mentally deficient is up to six feet away. At the stall it’s more like six inches. And he knows the contents of those punnets back to front – every hesitation you make in the lengthy flicking process is read, deciphered and facially disapproved of while you sweat. Bomb disposal operatives have a more placid time of it. Inevitably you leave with nothing. In fact, best to get out of the covered market altogether. The stalls are battening down their unwieldy plywood hatches and that miserable bloke is disconsolately pushing a hinged double broom arrangement in your direction – a final ‘clear off out of it’ gesture if ever there was one. Time to get back to the surface people. The Pink Panther’s on in a minute.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE MODERN REPLACEMENT - THE TILED INDOOR MARKET WITH LITTLE FAUX-RUSTIC WOODEN WAGONS - IS GRIM IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WAY
If the bomb dropped, we’d still have Crosse and Blackwell soup to keep us company in the twilight. Indeed, the cubes were so small you could have fitted a couple of hundred in your Anderson shelter Along with Cup-a-Soup, soup in a cube was one of the by-products of the explosion of convenience foods in the 1970s. We often pondered how the Alphabet variety managed to fit all the letters in such a small space, but however they did it, it certainly made for a special treat when off school feeling sick – helping to settle your stomach by tasting of, basically, nothing. Nowadays the cube seems to have disappeared again as a popular form of nutritional storage, even in the form of that football ground favourite, Bovril.