OMNIPOTENT CHILDREN’S odds-and-sods odyssey delivered by three-quarters avuncular quartet of friendly faces, in a split-level-desks-and-shelves-of-stuff format which survived two generations largely unchanged. “The home encyclopaedia delivered to your fireside”, they said. They also said: “Facts become fun as the team lark their way through another fascinating show.” Or better yet: “Facts, fun and mystery in television’s fastest free-for-all of fact!” And fact you certainly got; the sheer conviction with which the original delivered its often charismatically dull factoids (HOW d’ya get a ship in a bottle? HOW d’ya balance an egg on the rim of a milkbottle with only a cork, four forks, twelve feet of cotton and a tampon? etc.) and the sweltering AmerIndian theme plus unseen chief “How” “How!” marked this out for greatness. Participants started off as: FRED “GAMBIT” DINENAGE, of course – the eager but slightly goofy manchild of the bunch; JACK “GNOMIC” HARGREAVES – knowledgable but cosy ruralist pipe man; JON MILLER – science a speciality; and BUNTY JAMES – a lady, therefore craft and cookery were on the cards, plus the token non-stereotypical How for balance. Bunty was replaced by JILL GRAHAM (who was “a player with the Salisbury repertory theatre”) in ’69, and JIM KELWAY and hapless DIY expert BARRY BUCKNELL even did the odd stint replacing Hargreaves. Come 1970, and Bunty was welcomed back into the fold, cementing the “golden age” line-up that would be most strongly identified with the programme. In ’77 MARIAN DAVIES replaced her, for such delights as “How can Fred get rid of his warts? Ideas from Jon, Jack and Marian don’t help – until Fred finds a magical cure.” Behind-the-scenes fact: the final series was produced by NIGEL PICKARD. Later revived by TVS, then Meridian, then Scottish, with the likes of CAROL VORDERMAN and GAZ TOP playing jesters to the court of the evermore regal Fred.
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With a bit of luck, the second hour will be a preview of what BBC4 are serving up in twelve months as Tony plays the hits of 1981, mostly Lennon-orientated at the moment but hopefully he might give the mighty Susan Fassbender a spin as well. Before that, some stuff we’ll never see on BBC4 from 1961.
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