LONG-SERVING domesticated whimsy cavalcade and major player in ITV’s 1970s children’s lunchtime slot from Granada. The titular cottage, distinctly wonky of gable and mildly psychedelic of decor, with chilling grinny-faced doors and giant candy-coloured polyurethane flora out front, passed through the hands of a series of coquettish female tenants, to wit: AMANDA “Alma” BARRIE (1973), NICOLETTE CHAFFEY (1974), LOUISE “WATCH” HALL-TAYLOR (1975-7), and JULIE NORTH (1977-8). Dwelling at the never-visited house down the road and perpetually popping over for a bowl of sugar was the one constant human figure, ALAN “PICTURE BOX” ROTHWELL (“Hello!”), whose Beckinsalian shaggy locks gradually transformed to a less raffish short back and sides as the series played out. Evidently higher up the pecking order were the house’s permanent occupants, namely the saveloy-nosed Dusty Mop (“a very houseproud fellow”), forever berating the slovenly habits of his female housemates in time-honoured ‘grumpy cockney janitor’ voice; the dozy, obscenely-schnozzed Humphrey Cushion (“who eats too much and collects everything”) and the Handle Family, woolen gloves plus knitted heads who lived on the Welsh dresser. All came courtesy Barry Smith’s Theatre of Puppets.
The format was standard Children’s Live Action Short Type A: an object would turn up at the house, or a character would start to exhibit a troublesome trait, which would lead to a Lesson Being Learned, and a bit of paper-craft being made. Along the way there was a story, some rudimentary animation, and the obligatory grainy 16mm montage of “real life” kids engaged in relevant activities. What set the programme slightly apart from its highly similar stablemates was the loose, ad-libbed style of Rothwell and friend’s banter, which came about by accident due to the inevitable lack of rehearsal time available for the low-priority show, but enlivened proceedings considerably, especially compared with the earnestly stiff dialogue of, say, Rainbow. Said digressions remained – just about – on-message, though Barrie in particular was forever earning stern rebukes from the watchful representatives of the Lancashire Education Committee for recklessly jumping off low walls, referring obliquely to Edwardian shipping disasters, making vague double-entendres etc. A flutey theme tune completed the lunchtime cosiness. Pianist: Derek Hilton.