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Playbus

PLAY SCHOOL-REPLACING nod to neo-multicultural values (Humpty no longer deemed to cut the inclusivity mustard) in which the titular bus called at a different stop each weekday.

Mondays – THE WHY BIRD STOP: irritating multi-hued bird puppet doing a poor impression of Ruth Madoc pushes buttons on a till-like ‘computer’ with its beak with the aid of constantly rotating human co-conspirators.

Tuesdays – THE PLAYGROUND STOP: AKA The Domain Of Dave Benson Phillips, studio-based ‘playground’ set-up populated a handful of children and Floella Benjamin-alike puppet Lizzie (“I’m Lizzie, and I’m always on the move…”).

Wednesdays – THE DOT STOP: Lisa Stansfield-a-gram drama student type mime artist in dice-themed Pierrot costume pranced around a predominantly monochrome set in utter silence while miming various concepts connected to numbers, sparse interjections from a largely mute narrator, and the occasional guest appearance by people in dog costumes or the rather unsettling-looking ‘Jack Frost’. Not unlike some long-forgotten Kate Bush video, target audience frightened out of their wits, complaints rolled in, original Dot-who-played-the-violin Eithne Somethingorother replaced by Dot-who-played-the-drums Liz Kettle before segment was eventually dropped.

Thursdays – THE PATCH STOP: a series of clues led to inanimate scarecrow-ish doll Sam Patch (or occasional replacement Peggy Patch), interspersed with legendary horticulturally-obsessed animation King Greenfingers (containing one of the last great unadulterated outings for Derek Griffiths in full-on shooby-dooby-dooby mode for the intro song: “hiiiii-yeep! hiiiii-yeep! hiii-iii-yeep, in the valley of Puddle Brook, there’s a green fingered King, and his garden is beautiful from winter through to spring, his fingers aren’t green at all, they’re just-a-like (justalike!) yours and mine, but he is called King Greenfingers, because his plants gro-ow so fine”, with demented “brap-a-ba-ba” acapella backing vocals), and Paddington-attired presenter Amber Leigh (or Vanessa Amberleigh, as her credit mysteriously switched to after a while), who became the subject of unhealthy feverish obsession for many adolescent boys, largely on account of her strong stylistic resemblance to those unattainable Smiths Fan girls in the sixth form that could only be coyly admired from afar (the original Dot’s charms did not go ‘unappreciated’ either).

Fridays – THE TENT STOP: free jazz-like improvisational youth theatre festival-resembling cross between LET’S PRETEND and WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY, with gaggle of over-energetic human performers improvising a story (usually something to do with a King who had lost his hat) with the assistance of a Weeblesque wobbling- but-not-falling-down clown effigy, and more obliquely a Michael-Palin-in-Python-sketch cardboard cut-out Edwardian bather bloke with poseable twirly moustache dubbed ‘Humphrey’.

Hated by proto-Clarksons, loved by children and by daytime TV obsessives alike, but then Michael Rosen-tastic real-life charity Playbus demanded that the BBC change the name to Playdays to avoid associative confusion and it all went in to freefall. Overnight change of name at Christmas 1989 marked by a week of special programmes coming from hastily concieved Jagger-Meets-Lennon compilation effort THE CHRISTMAS TREE STOP (with one episode entitled ‘Why Bird And Humphrey Go To Leamington Spa’ and incongruous Fowler family dialogue on EASTENDERS, Dot ditched shortly afterwards, never quite the same again. Ho hum.

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  1. Philip Thompson

    April 20, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I remember the show when I was young, and had grown up with it right until its cancellation. Just a few errors and additions to point out:

    1. The Why Bird Stop was based in a ‘lost-and-found’ department. The name of the till-like computer was called the ‘Whytech’. Later years saw Why Bird bugger off to the Playdays Bus (yes, they decorated a bus in Playdays colours) and explore places such as a bakery and a Post Office alongside Peggy Patch and Poppy, an annoying ginger cat with a frightening fetish for sardine sandwiches.

    2. Lord Dave Benson-Phillips was also accompanied by a scraggy hand puppet named Chester (preformed by Lord DBP), whose sole purpose was surely to scare the kids with his bug-eyed features. Lady Zoe Ball was also presenter on that stop to alternate things a bit.

    3. The Dot Stop was eventually replaced by ‘The Roundabout Stop’. The first incarnation was a mighty roundabout named Rosie of inexplicable design (namely, more than a few bells and whistles, such as hands that would clap accompanied by sound effect of an audience cheering, and party honkers, making it the toddlers’ equivalent of the TARDIS Console), looked after by Charlie the caretaker (who also popped up in the Why Bird Stop) and owned by a moustachioed pseudo-clown (all clothes, no make-up) named Mr. Jolly. Each episode had Mr. Jolly, Charlie and Rosie, accompanied by ver kids (who also appeared by ‘coincidence’ in the other stops of the week) trying to find and place onto Rosie illustrated pieces that, when slotted together, would reveal a nursery rhyme or kids’ song (such as, barmily enough, ‘Yellow Submarine’!). Other features included the Button Moon-esque ‘Professor Mop and Morgan’, and later two puppets who lived in Rosie and preformed songs about numbers, seasons, letters, etc. (I think their names were Morris and Milly, I’m not sure. Any help?)
    Later revisions took the same basic gist of the plot, but with a difference. This time, ver kids had been booted out and replaced with Why Bird, Peggy and Poppy; Rosie had regenerated into less of a TARDIS Console and more of a merry-go-round/TARDIS (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and Mr. Jolly was now more of a ride operative than a clown. The three puppets would buy different tickets from a chanting Mr. Jolly (“Round tickets, square tickets, shapes that you know./Pick one and dream of the places you’d go/And maybe, there might be a song that you know!”) and ride aboard Rosie. One by one, they’d be teleported to a different land (read: different part of set with cardboard backgrounds) and meet a character with a problem, linked to a nursery rhyme or kid’s song. After solving the problem, they’d be given illustrated pieces (shaped like the ticket they’d chosen), and once this was repeated again twice, they sang the nursery rhyme/kid’s song of the day.

    4. Peggy Patch soon replaced her brother in the rankings slot with Parsnip, a brown rabbit with a fetish for carrots. She soon gained the ability to speak, and the ability to travel around via the Playdays Bus, and in one memorable episode, took Zoe Ball, ver kids and Parsnip to Alton Towers of all places (mentioning the name and everything!) where they showcased the kiddie’s rides. Even Sonic the Hedgehog made a quick cameo appearance, as part of the then Toyland Tours ride (now Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)! You’d never get that with Play School now, would you?!

    5. The actual name of the stop was ‘The Tent Stop’, so called because of the massive (cardboard) tent in the middle of the set. The set was supposed to be the circus ring inside said tent, but somehow it was shown outside of the tent in a sort of pseudo-Uncle Feedle kind-of-way. The name of the clown was Wobble (who’d have guessed). Later, this stop was replaced by The Poppy Stop, featuring Poppy living inside her house wherein rotating presenters stopped by to control the wild moggy. Sardine sandwiches flowed by the ton.

    And that’s that. Except for one interesting letter sent-in by a cleverclogs of a kid who noticed an error in the title sequence. The signs with the red arrows on top of the tunnel that the Playbus goes through and out should’ve been swapped round. Who knew? Who cares.

  2. TV Cream

    April 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for that great comment – we’ve amended the name of the Tent Stop accordingly, and suspect the error may have been down to the writer having been a feverish adolescent more interested in Amber and the original Dot than anything else in the show. Erm, then rather than now, if you see what we mean.

  3. Amir Thompson

    June 6, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Awesome tune, and I’m not even into that kind of music.

  4. Richard16378

    March 9, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    My sister really liked this, & would get really upset if my Mum forgot to video it after she started school.

    Eventually my Sister stopped watching it apart from The Tent Stop, we might still have some on video at my parents house.

  5. Applemask

    June 15, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Wasn’t Why Bird Scouse?

  6. S Hayward

    June 26, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Do you know the names of the animators of Why Bird, Poppy and Peggy? It must have been very difficult for them to see what they were doing especially when the 3 were sitting on the settee. My mother and I, both pensioners, always enjoyed the Playdays series.

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