Wednesday, 31 December 2014

49 Barrier Reef



First  watched : Uncertain

The  Beeb  had  taken  note  of  the  popularity  of  Skippy  so  they  snapped  up  its  creator  Lee  Robinson's  next  Australian  series  with  indecent  haste. Its  first  broadcast, on  Monday  5th  October  1970  was  four  months  earlier  than  any  viewer  in  Australia  saw  it.

The  series  was  set  on  a  ship,  the  New  Endeavour , home  to  a  team  of  marine  biologists  working  around  arguably  the  planet's  most  impressive  natural  feature. Legendary  shark  seeker  Ron  Taylor  handled  most  of  the  underwater  photography.

I  don't  think  I  was  a  great  fan. I  probably  couldn't  follow  all  the  dialogue  and  given  that  the  action  mostly  took  place  either  within  the  confines  of  a  ship  or  involved  indistinguishable  characters  under  water  one  episode  did  tend  to  seem  much  like  another  and  there  were  thirty  nine  of  them.

It  seems  like  my  reservations  might  have  been  widely  shared. There's  no  DVD  available  and  next  to  nothing  on  You Tube  and  yet  the  series  was  aired  in  Canada  as  recently  as  the  nineties  so  it's  probably  still  extant  just  not  in  any  great  demand.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

48 Hatty Town


First  watched  : Uncertain

My  goodness  me  , this  one  had  to  be  dredged  from  the  furthest  depths  of  memory  but  yes  Sancho  the  walking  sombrero  does  ring  a  bell.

Ivor  Wood  animated  and  directed  this  one  for  FilmFair  productions   but  it  was  bought  by  ITV  perhaps  because  its  10  minute  running  time  didn't  fit  in  with  BBC  schedules.  The  whopping  debt  its  style  owed  to  The  Magic  Roundabout  is  obvious - probably  just  from  the  still  above.  Even  the  music  was  very  similar.

 Apart  from  Carrots  the  donkey  all  the  characters were  talking  hats  who  also  lived  in  buildings  with  hat  shaped  roofs  which  indicated  their  function. The  programme  was  written  and  narrated  by  children's  author  Keith  Chatfield  and  ran  for  two  initial  series  in  1969-70  then  returned  for  a  third  in  1973.


47 Ask Aspel


First  watched : Uncertain

Ah ,now  the  staples  of  my  teatime  viewing  are  coming  thick  and  fast.

Ask  Aspel   arrived  on  our  screens  at  17.25  pm  on  Friday  18th  September  1970  after  The Basil  Brush  Show.  The  format  was   very  simple ;  ( hopefully ) young  viewers  wrote  in  and asked  to  see  certain  TV  moments  that  they'd  missed  or  simply  wanted  to  see  again. There would  also  be  a  studio  guest  who  Michael  Aspel  would  briefly  interview  and  introduce  a couple  of  clips  demonstrating  their  work. At  the  time  it  started  Aspel was  37  years  old  but  a rising  star  in  TV  having  started  out  as  a  local  newsreader  in  Cardiff  after  completing  his National  Service. He  had  latterly  moved  into  presenting  and  had  been  the  main  host  of Crackerjack  since  1968.

The  programme  of  course  was  only  as  good  as  what  it  had  to  show  and  relied  on  a  steady  stream  of  mail  which  wasn't  always  forthcoming. The  some  time  title  sequence  which  had  Michael  throwing  a  rather  paltry  number  of  postcards  over  his  head  only  highlighted  the  problem. This  might  be  why  it  was  first   taken  off   the  screen  in  1973   but  it  re-emerged  for  another  five  years  from  1976  until  1981. I  remember  the  episode  with  Toyah  ( promoting   I  Want  To  Be  Free  in  June  1981 )  from  which  the  still  above  was  taken. The  programme  had  its  uses  in  creating  an  appetite  for  BBC's  repeats

Michael  Aspel  signed  an  exclusive  contract  with  LWT  in  1982  and  the  show  came  to  an  end. I'm  not  sure  which  came  first   actually  but  either  way  the  timing  was  impeccable  as  the  VCR  explosion  would  have  soon  removed  the  raison  d'etre  of  the  show  anyway.

46 Scooby-Doo Where Are You !



First watched : Uncertain

Another  Hanna-Barbera  classic  Scooby  Doo  has  a  special  place  in  my  affections   because  as a  franchise  he's  lasted  through  to   the  present  day. My  son  knows  who  he  is  and  that continuity  makes  me  feel  a  little  less  old.

Because  of  this  durability  it  feels  a  bit  superfluous  to  explain  the  premise  but  never  mind. Scooby-Doo  Where  Are  You ! ( sic )   is  the  bridge  between  Enid  Blyton's  Famous  Five  and  The  X-Files. Scooby  ( I'm  not  sure  the  other  characters ever  call  him  by  his  full  name ) is  a  Great  Dane  - a  breed  whose  size  makes  them  terrifying  to  me  but  Scooby's  scared  of  his  own  shadow - who  accompanies  four  late  sixties  stereotypes  on  missions  to  investigate  supposedly  supernatural  occurrences, a  task  for  which  he  is  fundamentally  unsuited  of  course. His  companions  are  Fred, a  square-jawed  jock, Daphne  a sultry  sex  bomb  with  a  propensity  for  becoming  a  hostage, Velma  a  bespectacled  library-bound  wallflower  and  Shaggy, a  proto-slacker  dude  and  Scooby's  human  equal  in  cowardice. Every  episode  was  pretty  much  the  same  - the  ghosts / monsters  would  be  revealed  as  ordinary  criminals  disguising  earth-bound  nefarious  activities  thanks  to  the  efforts  of  "those  meddling  kids " - but  it  was  lovable  just  the  same.

The  original  series  was  made  between  1969  and  1970  comprising  25  episodes  over  two  seasons. It  re-surfaced  two  years  later  as  The  New  Scooby-Doo  Movies  which  were   45  minute  long  episodes , less  formulaic  and  featuring  guest  stars,  either  fictional  characters  from  other  TV  series  or  real-life  celebrities  in  animated  form. These  were  all  American  of  course  and  this  is  where  I  first  heard  of  many  of  them  such  as  Sonny  and  Cher .Mama  Cass  Elliott  died  shortly  after  the  Mamas  and  Papas  episode  was  broadcast  here  in  1974   ; without  it  I  wouldn't  have  had  a  clue  who  she  was,  This  format  lasted  two  years  and  24  episodes  were  made.

By  the  time  of  the  third  format,  The  Scooby-Doo  Show  in  1976   I  had  tuned  out  so  I missed  the  introduction  of  the  infamous  Scrappy-Doo. I  only  heard  about  him  in  the  mid-noughties   when  members  of  my  walking  group  used  him   as  a  nickname  for  a  diminutive  member. The  guys  on  Pointless  are  fond  of  bringing  him  up  with  a  sigh  as  having  wrecked  the  franchise  making  him  the  equivalent  of  Fonzie's  shark.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

45 Here's Lucy


First  watched:  Uncertain

Here's  Lucy  returned  to  the   BBC 1 Saturday  schedule  in  September  1970  and  was  probably  the  first  programme  aimed  at  adults  that  I  saw  regularly.

It  was  comedienne  Lucille  Ball's  third  star  vehicle  following  I  Love  Lucy  and  The  Lucy  Show and  the  main  reason  for  this  re-vamp  was  to  bring  her  real-life  children  Desi  Arnaz  Jr  and  Lucie  Arnaz  on  screen  with  her. As  the  show  was  made  by  her  own  production  company  no  one  was  going  to  say  no  to  the  idea. The  premise  was  that  Lucille  as  widowed "Lucy  Carter"  worked  as  a  secretary  for  her  fastidious  brother-in-law  Harry  ( played  by  her  regula  fall  guy  Gale  Gordon )  while  coping  with  two  independent-minded  teenagers Kim  and  Craig. It  started  in  1968  and  ran  for  six  years. In  a  case  of  life  imitating  art  both  Desi  and  Lucie  were  keen  to  make  their  own  mark  elsewhere  and,  neither  being  teenagers  anymore,  gradually  reduced  their  involvement.  A  spin  off  show  with  Kim  as  the  main  character  had  gone  to  a  pilot  episode  but  a  lukewarm  reception  killed  the  idea, With  the  ratings  slipping  - though  not  catastrophically - as  well,  Lucille , now  in  her  sixties,  decided  to  pull  the  plug  on  the  series  and  bring  down  the  curtain  on  her  TV  career.  She  was  the  last  of  the  fifties  TV  legends  to  have  a  regular  show. She  and  Gordon  were  persuaded  into  an  ill-fated  comeback  series  Life  With  Lucy   in  1986   which  was  pulled  after  only  eight  episodes   ( and  never  shown  here  )  and  she   died  three  years  later  aged  78..

I  liked  it  but  can't  remember  enough  about  it  to  say  why and  viewing  a  couple  of  episodes  on  youtube  just   now  doesn't  help  me  much. I  was  too  young  to  appreciate  Ms  Arnaz's  statuesque  charms. The  other  thing  that  strikes  me  is  the  now  unusual  sight  of   a  sitcom  with  a  woman  in  late  middle  age  as  the  lead  character.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

44 The Pink Panther Show


First  watched  : Uncertain

This  U.S.  import  first  came  to  our  screens  in  September  1970  in  the  Saturday  tea  time  slot  vacated  by  Dr  Who  until  the  new  year.

It  had  an  unusual  genesis  which  took  me  a  long  time  to  work  out. The  original  Pink  Panther  was  a  diamond  in  Blake  Edwards'  1964  film  of  the  same  name. It  had  a  flaw   which  revealed  itself  in  the  light  as  resembling  a  leaping  panther.  To  make  the  lengthy  title  sequence  more  interesting  Edwards  commissioned  the  animation  company  DFE   to  design  a  character  to  pose  alongside  the  credits  while  Henry  Mancini's  unmistakable  feline  theme  tune  crept  alongside. The  Oscar-winning  sequence  made  an  enormous  impact  almost  overshdowing  the  film  itself. DFE  quickly  acquired  the  rights  -including  the  music -  to  make  a  TV  show  featuring  the  character.

With  a  memorable  title  sequence  of  its  own,  wherein  the  Panther  and  his  comedy  partner  the  Inspector, arrive  at  a  theatre  in  a  futuristic  race  car  piloted  by  a  surely  under aged  driver, the  series  had  a  simple  format  of  two   self-contained   shorts  featuring the  Panther  book ending  one  featuring  the  Inspector.

The  seriously  malnourished  Panther  was  something  of  a  blank  canvas  having  no  strong  personality. He  wasn't  particularly  brave, strong  or  intelligent  so  the  stories  could  really  go  anywhere  within  the  constraint  that  he  didn't  speak ; the  action  was  always  played  out  to  Mancini's  theme  which  gave  every  story  a  somewhat  downbeat  feel.  As  a  consequence  I  preferred  the  Inspector  segment  which  of  course  was  based  on  Peter  Sellers's  bumbling  but  conceited  Clouseau  ( oddly  enough  only  a  secondary  character  to  David  Niven's  jewel  thief   in  the  original  film )  and  was  much  more  amusing.

In   direct  opposition  to  the  way  the  film  franchise  went,  subsequent  series  ditched  the  Inspector  in  favour  of  new  cartoon  segments  completely  unrelated  to  the  films. I  have  no  memory  of  these  so  I'm  wondering  if  the  BBC  ever  purchased  them  or  just  stuck  to  repeating  the  original  ( perhaps  out  of  loyalty  to  Sellers ?) . Anyone  know  ?  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

43 Noggin The Nog


First  watched : Uncertain

Noggin  had  been  off  screen  for  a  while  before  it  was  briefly  brought  back  in  August  1970  to  fill   gaps  in  the  teatime  schedule  while  Jackanory  and  Blue  Peter  had  a  summer  break. Noggin  The  Nog  was  the  first  of   Postgate  and  Firmin's  shows  to  be  aired  on  BBC  ( in  1959 )  as  Ivor  The  Engine  had  been  broadcast  by  ITV.

Noggin  was  the  young  king  of  a  Northern  land, always  assumed  to  be  Scandinavian  largely  because  the  character  design  was  based  on  the  Norwegian-made  Lewis  chessmen. He  was  a  benevolent  ruler  who  constantly  had  to  fend  off  threats  from  his  uncle  Nogbad  the  Bad  who  wished  to  usurp  his  throne. The  stories  wed  something  to  Norse  saga   in  the  storytelling  mode  but  do  not  integrate  actual  Norse  myth.

Noggin  the  Nog  has  been  much-praised  over  the  years  but  it  never  really  grabbed  me. Perhaps  I  couldn't  see  past  the  beyond-primitive  animation  which  makes  Pogles'  Wood  look like  The  Matrix. It's  said  that  Noggin  brought  a   blast  of  Scandinavian  darkness  into  kids viewing  though  I  suspect  its  look  owed  more  to  Firmin's  intelligent  appreciation  of  what would  work  best  on  monochrome  TV.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

42 Ace of Wands


First  watched  : Uncertain

Back  to  ITV  now  and  if  Catweazle  was  a  bit  creepy  this  was  downright  terrifying  ( and  I'm  not  talking  about  the  clothes  ) . With  its  Tarot  cards, seances , evil  villains  and  gritty  urban  setting  this  pushed  the  envelope  much  further  in  terms  of  what  you  could  include  in  a  children's  TV  series.

The  stories  centered  around  Tarot ( Michael  McKenzie ) , a  stage  musician  who  had  genuine  supernatural  powers  which  made  him  the  focus  of  attack  from  evil  forces  both  in  this  world  and  beyond. Like  Dr  Who  each  series  was  comprised  of   four  to  six  self-contained  serials  and  Tarot  had  a  couple  of  sidekicks. The  original  pair  left  at  the  end  of  the  second  series  and  the  new  girl Mikki  ( Petra  Markham ), in  the  third  and  final  series,  could  communicate  telepathically  with  Tarot. One  of  the  villains,  Mr  Stabs,  played by  Callan's  Russell  Hunter  was  resurrected in  a later  series  called  Shadows .

I  recall  the  programme's  sinister  ambience  rather  than  the  actual  storylines  and  I  suspect  I  wasn't  watching  it  from  its  start  in  1970. Only  the  third  series  survives  intact  and  has  been  released  on  DVD; the  first  two  appear  to  have  been  completely  wiped.  As  an  introduction  to  the  fashions  and   preoccupations  of  early  seventies  Britain  it's  hard  to  think  of  anything  better.        

Sunday, 21 December 2014

41 For Schools and Colleges : Watch !


First  watched  : Uncertain

I  now  think  I made  a  mistake  with  an  earlier  post.  I  think  it  was  this  one  rather  than  Merry-go-round  that  we  watched  in  Infant  One  ( aka  Reception ).  It  was   the  name  of  Brian  Cant  on  the  latter  that  misled  me.

The  reason  I  think  that  is  that  on  Tuesday  16th  June  1970   the  subject  of  the  programme  is  listed  as  " The  Willow  Pattern  Plate"  and  I  remember  watching  that  one  which  explained  the  story  behind  the  images  on  the  plate. It  held  my  attention  because  we  had  one  at  home. That's  the  beauty  of  Genome, the  sudden  startling  shaft  of  light  into  long-undisturbed  recesses  of  memory; the  anchor  of  certainty  that  at  11am,  44  and  a  half  years  ago  I  was  sat  watching  this  programme  with  Pat  Brennan, John  Durkin, Martin  McCormick  et  al.

The  one  I  remember  the  most  wasn't  that  one  though . It  was  the  episode  on  "Prehistoric  Animals"  broadcast  at  11 am  on  Tuesday  11th  May  1971  which  I  watched  at  home  during  my  enforced  absence  from  school  following  surgery  on  my  damaged  eye. It  was  my  first  introduction  to  dinosaurs  and  I  was  awestruck. Thanks  BBC  for  sparking  a  lifelong  interest  and  providing  such  a  diversion   in  an  unpleasant  time  when  I  had  to  endure  twice  daily application  of  uncomfortable  ointments.  When  I  was  able  to  return  to  school  my  new  fascination  sparked  much  amusement  , the  teacher  Mrs  Hayhurst  recalling,  years  afterwards,  an   instance  when  she  asked  for  a  word  beginning  with  S  - this is  today's  Year  One , mind - and  I  volunteered  "Stegosaurus".  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

40 Abbott and Costello


First  watched  : Uncertain

This  was  introduced  to   BBC1   on   Monday  1  June  1970  as  part  of  the  re-jigging  of  the  teatime  schedule  to  accommodate  the  1970  World  Cup  ( of  which  I  have  no  recollection  whatsoever ). It  proved  that  not  everything  Hanna-Barbera  did  turned  to  gold.

These  five  minutes  shorts  were  part  of  a  series  of  cartoon  resurrections  of  comedy  greats ; Laurel  and  Hardy  got  the  same  treatment. Of  course  the  problem  was  that  not  only  were  these  guys  mostly  dead, so  were  the  people  who  wrote  for  them  so  what  you  have  here  is  two  cartoon  representations  of  well-loved  figures  dropped  into  the  lamest  of  scenarios - usually  "Lou  Costello"  yelling  as  he  ran  away  from  some  dangerous  beast - without  any  hint  of  why  people  loved  them  so  much  in  the  first  place.

What  makes  this  one  particularly  sad  is  that  Bud  Abbott  was  so  hard  up by  this  time  ( 1968-69 )  he  actually  agreed  to  come  in  and  do  his  "own"  voice  on  the  wretched  thing. And  that  wasn't  the  worst  of  it. Lou  Costello  had  died  in  1959  so  his  voice  was  performed  by  Stan  Irwin,  a  nightclub  manager  and  friend  to  both  men. Costello  had  developed  a  high  pitched  yelping  tone  in  their  radio  days  when  the  pace  of  their  repartee  made  it  difficult  for  some  listeners  to  tell  them  apart.  It  worked  for  him  but   Irwin's  exaggeration  of   the  voice  combined  with  his  wooden  delivery  make  it  excruciating,  unbearable  even  in  5  minute  doses.

It  disappeared  from  our  screens  in  1971  and  good  riddance !

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

39 The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


First  watched  : Uncertain

Like  Felix  the  Cat  this  was  another  rarely  glimpsed  ITV  treat. I loved  it  but  probably  only  got  to  see  two  or  three  episodes.

Having  more  in  common  with  Dr  Who  and  C.S. Lewis   than  Mark  Twain, this  was  Hanna  Barbera's  first  attempt  at  blending  actors  with  animated  figures in  1968. Huck, Tom  Sawyer  and  their  friend  Becky  are  out  walking  when  Huck  is  accosted  by  the  terrifying  Injun  Joe  who  is  seeking  revenge  for  Huck  testifying  against  him  at  a  murder  trial. The  trio  flee  into  a  cave  where  they  stumble  into  caroon  other  worlds  from  history, myth  or  literature  and  have  to  get  involved. The  villain  in  each  scenario  bears  a  strong  resemblance  to  Injun  Joe.

Though  sniffed  at  by  critics  steeped  in  Twain the  series  had  a  winning  combination  of  imagination, excitement - the  kids  were  always  in  some  form  of  peril  in  addition  to  being  far  from  home - and  technical accomplishment. It  was  probably  too  rich  a  blend  for  it  to  be  extended  to  a  second series  but  it's  been  regularly  re-run  as  a  feature  in  Banana  Splits  so  successive  generations  of  kids  have  been  able  to  enjoy  it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

38 Vision On


First  watched : Uncertain

Vision  On , which  returned  for  its  latest  series  on  Wednesday  22 April  1970  was  always  the  oddest  of  the  recurring  shows, a  programme  aimed  at  a  small  minority  of  children  that  managed  to  hold  an  audience  of  millions.

Vision  On  was  targeted  at  deaf  children so  there  was  a  minimum  amount  of  speech  and  even  sparer  use  of  captions  and  subtitles  as  these  would  slow  down  the  pace. The  main  presenter was  curly-haired  Pat  Keysell  ( the  only  one  who  spoke ) an  experienced  signer   who  would  introduce  a  rough  theme  for  the  programme. Beyond  that  almost  anything  went  so  Vision  On  was  a  heady  mix  of   slapstick,  art , animation , mime, music  ( necessarily )  and  odd  bits  of  film  that  defied  any  categorisation. Her  chief  honchos  at  the  time  I  was  watching  were  skilled  artist  and  animator  Tony  Hart   ( who'd  nevertheless  join  in  the  sketches )  and  mime  artist  and  future  Dr  Who  Sylvester  McCoy  (wearing  a  silly  moustache ).

The  frenetic  pace  only  really  slowed  for  the  "Gallery"  section  where  artwork  sent  in  by  children  was  displayed  to  the  maddening  lounge  pop  sound  of  Wayne  Hill's  "Left  Bank  Two" . Keysell  always  promised  a  prize  for  the  work  that  was  selected  but  never  specified  what  it  was.

I  usually  found  enough  in  it  to  enjoy  without  it  ever  becoming  a  favourite.

It  ran  from  1964  to  1976  when  the  producers  decided  to  call  it  a  day  because  ideas  were  running  thin. Tony  Hart  remained  on  screen  in  spin-off  series, McCoy  eventually  got  the  keys  to  the  TARDIS   and  Keysell  continued  working   with  various  ventures  to  help  the  disabled , occasionally  reappearing  on  TV  as  part  of  her  latest  project. She  died  in  2009  aged  83.  


Monday, 15 December 2014

37 The Shari Lewis Show


First  watched  : Uncertain

This  one  returned  to  the  screen  on  Sunday  19  April  1970.

Shari  Lewis  was  essentially  an  American  ventriloquist  who  worked  with  sock  puppets . She  was  a  big  TV  star  in  the  1950s  and  early  60s  but  was  ditched  in  1963  when  the  moguls  decided  that  childrens'  TV  should  be  100 %  animation. She  was  doing  live  work  when  the  BBC  approached  her  to  do  18  shows  a  year  for  them  starting  in  1968  and  running  till  1976.

The  show   used  more  or  less  the  same  format  as  the  American  series  so  she  was  perhaps  fortunate  that  the  latter  had  already  been  largely  wiped.

It  wasn't  a  great  favourite  of  mine  to  be  honest. Her  New  York  accent  was  grating  enough  before  being  exaggerated  for  the  whiney  voice  of  her  main  character  Lamb  Chop.

Starting  in  1992  she  made  a  major  comeback  on  US  TV  and  was  working  right  up  to  her  death. She  contracted  viral  pneumonia  while  being  treated  for  cancer  and  died  in  August  1998.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

36 Felix the Cat


First  watched :  Uncertain

Dipping  into  the  TV  Times  for  week  commencing  April  4th  1970  the  thing  I'm  most  likely to  have  watched  is  this  cartoon  feature.

Felix  of  course  made  his  mark  as  the  first  animated  character  to  achieve  popularity  in  the  movie  era. In  the  silent  movie  era  he  was  untouchable  and  it  was  his  creators'   reluctance  to  leave  their  comfort  zone  and  adapt  to  sound  technology  that  allowed  Mickey  Mouse  to  steal  a  march  on  him  and  establish  his  dominance. When  Felix  did  make  the  transition  the  results  were  disappointing  and  from  1936  he  only  existed  as  a  comic  strip  in  a  newspaper  until  1958  when  he  was  resurrected  for  a  TV  series.

Felix  The  Cat   took  the  form   of  shorts, 10  minutes  in  length. Felix  had  a  magic  bag  of  tricks  which  could  turn  into  almost  anything  he  wanted  and  the  plots  usually  revolved  around  people  trying  to  steal  it  away  from  him. Though  compared  unfavourably  to  the  original  shorts  by  critics  the  new  cartoons  were  popular  with  the  children  and  260  were  made.

I  don't  remember  too  much  more  about  it  other  than  a  vague  frustration  that  it  was  never  on  at  a  convenient  time.  

Saturday, 13 December 2014

35 The Adventures of Parsley



First  watched : Uncertain

The  Adventures  of  Parsley  was  not  so  much  a  spin-off  from  The  Herbs  ( which  ceased  to  be  made )  as  a  re-tooling  of  the  programme  for  the  pre-news  slot  ( it  replaced  Hector's  House  from  Monday  6th  April  1970 ). All  the  regular  characters  made  the  transition  and  most  of  the  action  took  place  in  the  Herb  Garden.  Dill  was  promoted  to  being  Parsley's  main  sidekick.

The  reduction  of  the  running  time  to  5  minutes  meant  that  the  characters'  signature  songs  had  to  be  jettisoned. The  other  main  difference  was  that  Parsley  could  now  speak  for  himself  and  reveal  a  laconic  wit.  The  Adventures  of  Parsley  also  acknowledged  the  world  outside  the  Garden; in  one  episode  Dill  is  writing  his  entry  for  Who's  Who. 

Despite  its  being  the  first  British-made  show  in  the  slot, The  Adventures of  Parsley  does  not seem  to  have  been  a  roaring  ( sorry )  success. It  was  not  re-commissioned  after  32  episodes  and  had  only  one  repeat  run  the  following  year.  This  didn't  adversely  affect  the  careers  of  either  Michael  Bond  or  Ivor  Wood  as  we  shall  see.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

34 Little Big Time


First  watched  :  Uncertain

As  with   Ken  Dodd  and  the  Diddymen  there  seems  to  be  no  surviving  footage  of  this, perhaps  surprising  for  a  show  that  ran  for  five  years ( 1968-1973 ).

My  recollections  of  this  ITV  show  are   fragmentary.  I  seem  to  recall  it  was  a  bit  similar  to  Crackerjack, a  comic  variety  show  with  audience  participation  and   musical  interludes.

It's  perhaps  best  remembered  for  extending  the  career  of  faded  beat  star  Freddie  Garrity. Freddie  and  the  Dreamers  are  not  very  well  documented  and  some  sites  suggest  that  the  band  split  up  in  1968  and  that  only  Garrity  and  bass  man  Pete  Birrell   were  involved  in  the  show. TV  Times  ( March  1970 )  however  bills  the  band  and  a  comment  on  manchesterbeat.com  asserts that  they  stayed  together  until  1972.

I  vaguely  remember  Oliver, the  talking  grandfather  clock  and  hero  of  the  running  serial  insert  Oliver  in  the  Overworld   and  the  haunted  house  set  with  the  laughing  cavalier  picture  and  the  Python-esque  bust  of  Queen  Victoria  that  said  "We  Are Not  Amused ".

When  the  series  ended  Freddie wasn't  able  to  extend  his  TV  career  beyond  a  few  ironic  guest appearances  which  usually  emphasised  his  has-been  status. For  the  next  quarter  of  a  century  he  trod  the  boards  on  the  nostalgia  circuit  until  retiring  on  medical  advice  in  2001  due  to  pulmonary  hypertension. He  lived  another  5  years  in  precarious  health  until  dying  in  Bangor  in  May  2006.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

33 For Schools and Colleges : Merry-go-round


First  watched : Uncertain

There's  not  much  to  be  found  on  wikipedia  or  youtube  about  this  one  which,  with  Brian  Cant  narrating, seemed  like  an  extension  of  the  "windows  segment"   in  Play  School .

I  can't  really  say  anything  has  stuck  with  me  beyond  quaint  memories  of  the  giant (ish )  black  and  white  TV  set  being  lugged  around  on  its  metal  trolley  between  the  classrooms  at  St  Mary's, Littleborough. No  tablets  for  our  generation - where's  my  slippers ?

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

32 Banana Splits


First  watched  :  Uncertain

Banana  Splits  was  another  Hanna -Barbera  production  mixing  live  action  with  animation. The  show  presented  two  new  cartoon  series  and  a  live  action  serial  with  comic  links  provided  by  four  guys  in  outlandish  animal  costumes, the  Banana  Splits. Ideas  were  borrowed  from  everywhere. The  Splits  "performed"  as  a  band  in  a  not  too  subtle  dig  at  The  Monkees. Snorky  the  elephant  - my  favourite - could  only  communicate  by  honking  a  la  Harpo  Marx  and  the  manic presenting  style  apparently  owed  a  lot  to  Rowan  and  Martin's  Laugh  -In.

I  didn't  get  any  of  that  at  the  time  of  course; I  just  thought  it  was  great  fun. The  cartoon  series  were  my  first  introduction  to  two  pieces  of  classic  literature. Arabian  Knights  owed  very  little  to  the  original  stories ; it  was  just  a  relocated  superhero  adventure  with  a  team  consisting  of  a  dashing  young  hero, a  femme  fatale  princess, a  muscle  man, a  magician  and  most  memorably  a  guy  who could  turn  into  an  animal - "Size  of  an  elephant  !". The  Three  Musketeers  was  a little  more  faithful  to  its  source  material  though  had  me  constantly  scratching  my  head  at  the  title  as  there  were  clearly  four  of  them; my  favourite,  for  no  reason  I  can  recall  was  Aramis.  There  was  briefly  a third  cartoon - which  I  still  remember - called  Micro  Ventures  about  a  team  of  scientists  shrunken  to  study  insects  the  better  but  it  was  decided  that  wasn't  working  so  it  was  pulled  after  four  episodes. The  decidedly  un-pc live  action  serial  Danger  Island  didn't  interest  me  as  much   but  is  notable  for  starring  a  young  Jan-Michael  Vincent  as  its  hero  and  being  directed  by  Richard  Donner,  cutting  his  teeth  before  Superman  and  Lethal  Weapon.

The  musical  interludes  were  stylistically  varied  as  they  would  be  with  Barry  White providing  the  song  one  week  and  Gene  Pitney  the  next. They  would  start  with  a  few  cursory  shots  of  the  "band"  pretending  to  play  their  instruments  then  follow  them  as  they  wandered  around  a  local  amusement  park  high-fiving  the  kids  and  trying  out  the  rides. The  seminal  opening  titles  had  them  riding  beach  buggies  to  the  strains  of  that   song   and  you  wonder  how  many  of  today's  fiftysomething  quad  bikers  are  humming  that  to  themselves  as  they  crest  a  hill.



31 The Basil Brush Show


First  watched : Uncertain

We  move  on  to  another  seemingly  indestructible  puppet. The  Basil  Brush  Show  returned  for  its  latest  series  on  Thursday  19th  February  1970.

Basil  was  originally  created  by  Oliver  Postgate's  puppeteer  partner  Peter  Firmin   for  a  programme  called  The  Three  Scampies  in  1962. He  was  operated  and  voiced  by  a  man  called  Ivor  Owen  who  never  came  out  from  under  the  table. He  was  subsequently  engaged  as  a  support  act  for  magician  David  Nixon's  show  where  he  made  enough  impression  to  get  his  own  show  in  1968.

With  Owen  staying  out  of  sight  the  wisecracking  fox  needed  a  human  straight  man  as  a  foil. The  first  occupant  of  this  rather  thankless  role  was  Rodney  Bewes  , followed  after  a  year  by  Derek  Fowlds  whose  once  promising  film  career  was  petering  out. Fowlds  stayed  until  1976.

I  was  never  greatly  keen  on  Basil. Foxes  are  beautiful  creatures  but  they're  not  exactly  endearing  and  Basil's  posh  smart  alec  persona  based  on   Terry  Thomas  just  wound  me  up. I  don't  remember  finding  any  of  the  jokes  very  funny  either.

Notwithstanding  the  above  Basil's  fame  has  been  enduring. The  show  originally  ended  in  1980  when  Owen  fell  out  with  the  BBC  over  the  timeslot. After  a  brief  spell  on  an   ITV  schools  programme  in  1982,  he  ( and  Owen )  returned  to  the  BBC  as  co-host  of  Crackerjack  in  1983-4. After  that  Basil  was  offscreen  until  after  Owen's  death  in  2000 . He  reappeared,  after   apparent   cosmetic  surgery, in  2002  in  a  series  which  retained  the  original  title  but  had  more  of  a  sitcom  format. It  ran  for  five  years  but  passed  me  by  entirely. Since  then  he  has  been  restricted  to  guest  appearances  on  things  like  Comic  Relief  but  you  can't  rule  out  another  comeback  one  day.  

Monday, 8 December 2014

30 Catweazle



First  watched : Uncertain

Although  Catweazle  was  filmed  in  '69 ,  it  was  first  broadcast  on  Sunday  15th  February  1970  and  it  seems  like  this  is  where  the  seventies  really  begin  as  far  as  TV  is  concerned.

Catweazle  is  very  much  a  product  of  its  time. With  Britain, thanks  to  Harold  Wilson  being somewhat  wiser  than  one  of  his  successors,  staying  out  of  Vietnam, the  hippie  movement here had  no  focus  for  protest  and  instead  turned  inward, exploring  the  past , seeking  out   particularly  any  remnants  of  old, alternative  religions  that  might  challenge  the  Christian consensus.  The  series  started  at  exactly  the  same  time  as  Jethro  Tull's  Ian  Anderson  was     terrifying  the   Top  of  the  Pops  audience  with  his  manic  appearance  and   unhinged   performance  of  The  Witch's  Promise . Although  its  creator , jobbing  actor  Richard  Carpenter , had  just  turned  40, he  tapped  into  this  cultural  shift  and  produced  a  surprisingly  daring children's  serial. Catweazle's  familiar , a  toad  named  Touchwood  is  an  unmistakably  occult element  and  this  was  going  out  at  teatime  on  a  Sunday.

This  was  the  first  TV  programme  to  actually  spook  me  which  was  probably  down  to  Geoffrey  Bayldon's  appearance, looking  like  one  of  those  street  drunks  my  mother  instinctively  pulled  me  away  from. The  premise  was  that  he  was  an  eleventh  century  Saxon  magician  on  the  run  from  the  Normans  who  dives  into  a  pond  and  emerges  on  a  farm  in  Surrey. He  is  discovered  , Whistle  Down  The  Wind - style, by  a  teenage  boy  nicknamed   Carrot  ( this  was  doubtless  appreciated  by  ginger  kids  everywhere ; ironically  the  young  actor  who  played  him , Robin  Davies, dyed  his  hair  for  the  role )  who  agrees  to  hide  him  from  the  adults   while   he  works  out  a  way  to  return  to  his  own  time. Catweazle's  alarmed  and  then  sceptical  reaction  to  the  modern  technology  he  encounters  introduces  a  thread  in  seventies  drama   running  right   through  to  Shoestring   at  the  opposite  end  of  the  decade.

Catweazle  lasted  for  two   13-part  series - a  third  was  planned  but  abandoned  - but  is  still  remembered.  A  rather  clownish  professional  wrestler  Gary  Cooper  from  Doncaster  adopted  the  persona  as  his  USP  and  was  a  regular  on  World  of  Sport  for  the  rest  of  the  decade  ;  he  was  the  opponent  for  Mick  McManus's  final  televised  bout. A  dozen  or  so  years  ago  I  let  a  beard  get  rather  out  of  control  and  the  local  teenagers  started  shouting   "Catweazle" at  me  ; it  might  only  have  been  one  lad  who  was  familiar  with  his  Dad's  DVD's  but  shows  the  impact  it  still  has  on  viewers.

Of  the  protagonists  mentioned  above  only  Bayldon  ( who'd  already  turned  down  the  title  role  in  Dr  Who  twice )  is  still  alive  at  90  having  worked  continuously  until  well  into  his  eighties. Carpenter  died  of  a  stroke  while  walking  his  dog  in  2012  with  a  movie  version  apparently  in  the  works . He'd  had  many  subsequent  TV  successes  most  notably  Robin  of  Sherwood . Davies  had  some  more  good  roles  as  a  teenager  then  he  gradually  faded  from  view  as  an  adult  although  he  was  still  active  in  provincial  theatre  at  the  time  of  his  death  from  lung  cancer  in  2010.    

Sunday, 7 December 2014

29 The Wind In The Willows


First  watched  : 1970

Back  to  ITV  and  the  only  thing  I  think I  may  have  watched  in  the  week  17-23  January  1970.  On  Tuesdays  and  Thursdays  ITV  had  a  storytelling  spot  that  was  in  direct  competition  with  Jackanory.  It  didn't  have  celebrity  presenters  and  the  narration  was  offscreen , requiring  more  illustrations.

The  Wind  In  The  Willows  was   narrated  by  actor   Paul  Honeyman   and  illustrated  by  John  Worsley  ( above ). Worsley  was  a  commissioned  war  artist  in  WWII  who  had  carelessly  allowed  himself   to  be  taken  prisoner  by  the  Germans   but  redeemed  himself  by  designing  a  dummy  which  was  used  in  a  successful  escape  attempt.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

28 Disney Time



First  watched : Uncertain

The  only  thing  I  was  likely  to  have  watched  on  Christmas  Day  1969  was  this  perennial  of  the  holiday  schedules  in  the  seventies  although  the  whole  concept  now  seems  quaintly  antiquated.

In  Ye  Olden  Days,  Disney  closely  guarded  their   successful  feature  films  for  repeat  business in  the  cinema . Only  the  turkeys  were  released  to  television  which  otherwise  had  to  make  do  with  authorised  clips  with  a  well  known  name   ( in  this  case  Julie  Andrews )  doing  the  links  in  an  extended  advert  for  the  Corporation's  wares. You  might  well  think  that  this  was  better  suited  to  ITV  but  the  Beeb  sealed  the  deal. Once  the  home  video  market  took  off  Disney  Time's    days  were  numbered  and  it  slipped  off  the  schedules  unnoticed  some  time  in  the  nineties. Like  Top  Of  The  Pops  the  following  decade  it  no  longer  served  any  useful  purpose. You  could  probably  pick  up  every  film  featured  on  the  Christmas  69   episode  ( which  included  The  Jungle  Book, Winnie the  Pooh and  101 Dalmatians )  from  your  local  charity  shop  for  little  more  than  a  tenner. 

I  loved  it  ; I  don't  think  I'd  actually  been  to  the  cinema  at  this  point  but  the  wonderful  cartoons  worked  their  magic  and  of  course  there  were  magazines  promoting  the  brand  as  well. For  years  Disney  represented  everything  that  was  wonderful  and  larger  than  life  to  me.

But  it's  also  linked  to  my  life's  first  great  disappointment. Disney  features  in  the  only  concrete  memory  I  have  of  the  girl  next  door  Gillian  Fearnley ( or  perhaps  it  was  Fernley ) , my  soulmate ,  whose   family  moved  away  in  the  early  summer  of  1970. I  don't  have  a  photo  just  a  vague  image  of  straight  mousey-coloured  hair  and  friendly  features. Around  Easter  time  I   was  in  her  house  and  she  let  me  have  a  go  on  her  Viewfinder  toy , a  mini  slide  projector  that  clicked  its  way  through  a  carousel  of  transparencies. If  memory  serves  the  one  we  used  showed scenes  from  Donald  Duck . I  thought  it  was  utterly  wonderful  and  hoped  they  might  leave  it  behind  in  the  house  when  they  left. Otherwise  I  just  remember  a  great  gaping  hole  when  she  left. The  family  moving  in  had  a  lad  just  a  year  younger  than  me  and  we  knocked  around  together  for  the  next  decade  but  it  was  always  a  rather  prickly  relationship  and  on  my  part  I  think  that  was  due  to  instantly  deciding  that  he  was  an  inadequate  replacement . That  feeling  of  disappointment  lingered  even   after  its  cause   had  been  largely  forgotten.            

Thursday, 4 December 2014

27 Skippy


First  watched  : Uncertain

The  other  ITV  programme  I  may  have  seen  around  Christmas  1969  was  this  old  Oz  favourite, a  massive  hit  all  around  the  world.91  episodes  were  made  between  1967  and  1969. It  had  a  short  lived  revival  in  1992  as  The  Adventures  Of  Skippy which  I'm  not  sure  got  shown  over  here  

Skippy  was  a  tame  kangaroo  living  with  a  family  ( including  young  Brit  Liza  Goddard )  in  a  fictional  national  park  near  Sydney .  She  was  rescued  as  an  orphan   by  Sonny  Hammond  , the  son  of  the  widowed  Head  Ranger  - and  thereafter  hung  round  the  ranch  of  her  own  free  will as  was  often  stated  to  get  around  the  awkward  fact  that  pet  kangaroos  were  illegal.

Skippy  was  an  odd  blend  of  reality  and  fantasy. The  dramatic  situations  , lost  hikers, bush   fires , snake  bites  etc,  were  natural  enough  but  Skippy's  versatility  certainly  wasn't . While being  fairly  easy  to  tame,  kangaroos  are  pretty  stupid  animals  and  certainly  can't   be  taught   to   open  doors, untie  ropes  or  operate  radios. Each   30  minute  episode  required  around  a  dozen  'roos  to  produce  the  shots  needed. Even  so  there  are  plenty  of  times  when  only  Skippy's  arms  are  in  shot  and  they  were  usually  disembodied. Skippy's  famous  clicking  "speech"  which  the   regular  cast  could  translate  is  an  utter  fiction  bearing  no  resemblance  to  the  marsupials'  actual  vocalisations.

But  none  of  this  really  mattered. The  kids  could  accept  it  all  and  adults  were  willing  to  overlook  the  nonsense  for  the  glimpse  of   Ozzie   sunshine  the  series  provided,  the  shimmering  mirage  of  an  alternative  lifestyle  only  available  to  a  lucky  few. I  think  I  probably  only  saw  a  handful  of  episodes  at  most  but  I  can  understand  the  appeal.

 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

26 The Sooty Show



First  watched  : Uncertain

We'll  switch  to  ITV  for  a  moment  as  the Christmas  1969  edition  of  TV  Times  is  available  to  peruse - there's  a  very  nice  picture  of  Diana  Rigg  in  a  bikini  in  there - although  I've  only  identified  two  shows  that  I  may  have  been  watching  at  that  time.

The  first  was  The  Sooty  Show  which, like  Tales  From  The  Riverbank,  was  originally  on  the  BBC, running  from  1955  to  1967. It  was  one  of  the  shows  axed  by  incoming  controller  Paul  Fox  but  was  quickly  snapped  up  by  the  infant  Thames  Television  in  1968.

Sooty  was  the  creation  of  Yorkshireman  Harry  Corbett  ( no  relation  to  the  Steptoe  and  Son  actor  who  added  the  "H"  to  his  name  to  avoid  this  confusion ) who  was  the  nephew  of  chip shop  magnate  Harry  Ramsden. The  original  glove  puppet  was  bought  from  a  stall  on  Blackpool's  North  Pier  in  1948; Corbett  added  soot  to  his  ears  and  nose  to  make  him  more  distinctive.

On  the  show  Corbett  was  the  perpetual  fall  guy; on  the  end  of  every  mischievous  trick  played  by  Sooty  and  his  mucker  Sweep. Sooty  was  mute  to  all  but  Corbett  who  related  what  Sooty  had  whispered  in  his  ear. Sweep  could  only  communicate  with  high  pitched  squeaks. Corbett's  ally  was  the  female  panda  Soo  who  could  speak  normally  and  often  brought  her  friends  into  line. Other  puppets  were  introduced  in  later  years  but  I'd  tuned  out  by  then. Besides  the  slapstick  humour, Sooty  was  a  budding  magician  who  performed  simple  tricks  with  his  wand. It  was  endearing,  innocent  fun.

 Corbett  suffered  a  heart  attack  in  1975  and  as  a  result  his  son  Matthew  took  over  the  show  although  Corbett  charged  him  a  hefty  sum  for  the  rights. Corbett  senior  continued  performing  in  theatres  until  his  peaceful  demise  in  1989,

This  second  incarnation   of  the  show   went  down  with  Thames  Television  in  1992  but  was  soon  resurrected  by  Granada  as  Sooty  &  Co,  still  with  Corbett  junior  at  the  helm.  Around  this  time  there  was  a "World  of  Sooty"  museum  in  Shipley  ( near  Corbett's  birthplace )  which  I  saw  signposted  when  I  was  walking  the  Settle-Carlisle  Way  in  1992. Charles  Jennings  gives  a   melancholic  account  of  a  visit  in  its  last  days  in  Up  North.  In  1998  Matthew  Corbett  himself  retired  and  sold  his  rights  to  Richard  Cadell  who  re-booted  it  as  Sooty  Heights. After a  couple  of  further  makeovers  Cadell  remains  at  the  helm  to  this day  and  there's   a  movie  out  soon  so  Sooty  seems  indestructible.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

25 Animal Magic


First  watched : Uncertain

Animal  Magic  came  back  for  its  latest  run  on   Tuesday  25th  November  1969. It  had  been  going  since  1962.

There's  a  popular  misconception  that  presenter  Johnny  Morris  was  the  real  life  keeper  at  Bristol  Zoo  who  became  a  TV  star  through  force  of  personality  but  that's  not  true  at  all. He  had  a  varied  career  as  a child  musician, solicitor's  clerk  , building  inspector  and  salesman  before  settling  on  a  farm  in  Wiltshire. He  made  his  debut  as  a  humorous  raconteur  on  BBC  Radio  just  after  the  war  and  enjoyed  a  parallel   career  to  his  farming  on  regional  radio  in  the  1950s. In  1960  he  was  engaged  to  narrate  Tales  of  the  Riverbank   and  Animal  Magic  followed  two  years  later. Despite  being  46  when  it  started  and  looking  somewhat  like  a  leathery  old  gnu,  Morris  immediately  connected  with  TV  audiences  and  the  show  was  a  success. His  onscreen  role  might  have  been  a  fiction  but  he  was  confident  in  handling  animals  through  his  farming  and  the  trick  worked

I  found  it  the  most  aggravating  of  programmes. Natural  history  was  another  early  interest  of  mine  and  the  paucity  of  factual  content  on  the  show  ( at  least  during  the  period  I  was  watching ) while  Johnny  did  his  Dr  Dolittle  thing  was  a  constant  source  of  frustration. The  comedy  was  feeble  and  all  the  animals  spoke  with  an  undifferentiated  West  Country  accent. I  don't  know  exactly  when  I  gave  up  on  it  but  it  was  probably  early  on.

The  series  ran  until  1983 when, in  an  early  example  of  what  you  might  call  political  correctness , it  was  axed  because  anthromorphism  ( attributing  human  qualities  to  animals )  was  deemed  unethical. Morris  didn't  take  it  very  well  and  never  worked  with  the  BBC  again. An  OBE  in  1984  was  little  consolation. He  busied  himself  with  environmental  work, did  the  odd  voiceover  for  commercials  and  briefly  re-surfaced  to  oppose  the  Newbury  By-Pass  but  was  generally  out  of  the  public  eye. In  the  mid-90s  he  appeared  on  Mariella  Frostrup's  video  review  show  to  talk  about  a  highlights  tape  ( although  most  editions  of  Animal  Magic  had  been  wiped )  and  was  still  narky  about  the  demise   of  the  show. He  was  on  the  verge  of  a  comeback  with  ITV  in  Wild  Thing  at  the  age  of  82  when  he  died  of  diabetic  complications  in  1999.

Monday, 1 December 2014

24 Clangers


First  watched : 16  November  1969

How  the  memory  plays  tricks ! I'd  have  sworn  this  was  broadcast  in  The  Magic  Roundabout   slot  on  a  weekday  but  no. It  actually  replaced  Ken  Dodd  and  the  Diddymen  on  a  Sunday  night  and  only  27  10-minute  episodes  were  ever  made  ( though  a  new  series  is  in  production  at  the  time  of  writing ).

Clangers  was  the  first  Smallfilms  production  since  Pogles'  Wood  and  could  hardly  have  been  more  different. Where  the  latter  seemed  an  elegaic  farewell  to  a  fast-disappearing  way of  life, Clangers  embraced  the  space  age  and  anticipated  finding  quirky  new  forms  of  life.

Clangers' most  unique  feature  was  the  script  which  was  originally  written  in  English  but  performed  through  swanee  whistles  which  kept  the  intonations  but  rendered  the  words  unintelligible. Oliver  Postgate  then  provided  a  voiceover  narration  to  make  it  coherent.

I  have  to  confess  I  thought  it  was  a  load  of  nonsense  and  failed  to  engage  with  it  at  all  but  I  realise  that  puts  me  in  a  very  small  minority.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

23 Apollo 12 Moon Mission



First  watched : November  1969

I  do  remember  watching  some  Apollo  footage  but  I  don't  recall  any  great  drama  so  it's  unlikely  to  have  been  Apollos  11  or  13  and  I'm  not  sure  the  subsequent  expeditions  received  much  coverage  outside  of  the  news  bulletins  so  it's  most  likely  to  have  been  Apollo   12.

Other  than  allowing  Pete  Conrad  ( pictured  above )  and  Alan  Bean - both  household  names  of  course - to  become  the  third  and  fourth  people  to  walk  on  the  moon ,  I'm  not  quite  sure  what  the  point   of  this  mission  was. It  was  all  of  course  a  bit  after  the  Lord  Mayor's  Parade  as  I'm  sure  both  astronauts  realised  at  the  time. Their  day  out  was  also  marred  by  Bean  dozily  pointing  his  TV  camera  directly  at  the  sun  which  brought  the  live  transmission  to  an  abrupt  end.

Around  this  time  I  recall  PG  Tips  running  one  of  their  Collector  Card  series  on  the  Apollo  missions.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

22 Hector's House


First  watched : Uncertain

Hector's  adventures  replaced  Babar   in  the  pre -news  slot  from  12th  November  1969  although  it  had  been  on  before. Like  its  predecessors  it  was  a  French  programme  re-voiced  for  English  consumption but  the  three  characters  were  glove  puppets  rather  than  stop  motion  figures.  Despite  the  title,  most  of  the  action  takes  place  in  Hector's  garden

Hector  the  hound  lives  with  Miss   Zsa  Zsa  the  cat   ( who  I  wrongly  presumed  to  be   his  wife  )  and  they  are  constantly  visited  by  noisy  neighbour  Kiki  the  Frog.  The  two  females  regularly  team  up  to  play  tricks  on  Hector  and  prick  his  pomposity  which  he  always  accepts  with  good  grace  at  the  end.  Hector  is  wonderfully  voiced  by  Paul  Bacon, his  fruity  tones  inflating  a  bubble  of  male  pride  just  asking  to  be  popped  though  you  do  sometimes  wish  he'd  turn  the  tables  on  them. It's  impressive  that  they  managed  to  squeeze  nearly  80  episodes  from  this  simple  formula.

I  only  found  it  mildly  diverting  but  I  seem  to  recall  my  mum  finding  it  funny.




Thursday, 27 November 2014

21 Wacky Races


First  watched  : Uncertain

The  first  Hanna-Barbera  production  to  feature  here   is  my  favourite  cartoon  programme  bar  none  and  would  still  feature  in  my  Top  10  TV  programmes   of  all  time. I  had  Wacky  Races  wallpaper  for  my  bedroom  for  a  time.

I  liked  the  huge  cast  of  eleven  vehicles  and  the  uncertainty  of  the  outcome  ( except  for  who  would  come  last  of  course ! ) My  favourite  character  was  Professor  Pat  Pending  and  I  was  always  thrilled  when  he  won   the  race.

The  series  was  inspired  by  the  Tony  Curtis-Jack  Lemmon  1965 comedy  The  Great  Race  which  is  actually  pretty  awful. The  show's  star  character  Dick  Dastardly  is  fairly  closely  modelled  on  Lemmon's  pantomime  villain  Professor  Fate. Dastardly's  most  obvious  character  trait  is  insecurity. He  never  trusts  his  impressive  vehicle  to  deliver  a  clean  victory  and  will  always  sacrifice  a  commanding  lead  to  stop  and  set  traps  for  the  other  racers. While  the  traps  often  do  damage  the  other  vehicles  they  always  ultimately  rebound  on  Dastardly  to  the  poorly  disguised  glee  of  his  canine  sidekick  Muttley. Dastardly  was  not  the  only  character  to  take  illegal  action  to  undermine  the  competition   but  none  of  the  others  did  so  on  the  same  scale  and  would  occasionally  help  each  other  especially  if  the  distressed  party  was  blonde  bombshell  Penelope  Pitstop.

In  some  ways  the  interactions  between  the  characters  when  Dastardly  wasn't  around  were  the  most  interesting  parts  of  the  show. There  was  a  blossoming  romance  between  Penelope  Pitstop  and  Peter  Perfect  whose  ego  was  nonetheless  punctured  by  frequent  mechanical  failure. Red  Max  in  his  car/plane  hybrid  was  a  bit  of  a  chump  whose  efforts  to  get  ahead  usually  came  to  grief  without  any  assistance  from  Dastardly  

Seventeen  episodes  each  containing  two  seperate  races  were  made  between  1968  and  1969  and  over  the  34  races  the  first  place  honours  were  fairly  even  shared  with  every  car  bar  Dastardly's  wining  either  three  or  four  times.  If  second  and  third  places  are  counted  there  is  more  of  a  disparity  with  the  Slag  Brothers  notching  8  runners  up  slots  and  the  Army  Surplus  Special  only  one  and  no  thirds.

Some  of  these  characters  we'll  meet  again  in  spin-off  shows  but  the  original  remains  the  best.