Friday, 10 February 2017

The Kids Are Sick Again: A Day Off School With The Telly

The thing they say about writing a successful world-beating blog is regular content. Doesn't necessarily have to be any good as long as its REGULAR. But, this week, instead of being sat at my laptop bashing out a hot new take on some old shite probably from the 90s, I've instead been sat on the sofa with a chest infection watching children's programmes with my girlfriend's equally poorly 7 year old. Then I remembered that great piece of lazy writer advice - write what you know - and that's when it hit me that if I'm going to watch nothing but CBBC all day I could review it like such big sociological experiment about the Beeb and value for money on the licence fee and fake news and...hey, look Shaun The Sheep is on...

The fact of the matter is that Children's BBC as both a strand and a channel has always been a real jewel in the corporation's jewel box  (not a phrase) and while its the junior channel CBeebies that gets all the plaudits for its developmental and toddler-orientated programmes, the CBBC Channel is fun, accessible and a million miles away from Pip Schofield singing over the top of the Ulysses 31 theme tune or Children's Film Foundation filler that was part of the package when I was his age. Not that I don't still look fondly back at that era but its considerably easier when I don't have to sit through Gentle Ben repeats, The Puppy's Further Adventures or the other 24 minutes of Ulysses 31 after the theme had finished playing.

IDEANTS (correct spelling)

That said I was no snob when it came to the commercial channels and would generally watch whatever was more interesting. ITV tended to have much better comedy stuff and less ancient cartoons whilst the shoestring Children's BBC would dominate with drama and magazine programmes. Its a shame that many of the shows of my youth have yet been passed over by the likes of Network DVD in favour of every fart recorded in 1972 but maybe some of it is better left in the memory. Which is why I'm going to destroy those childhood remembrances by comparing my day in front of the TV with the same date thirty years earlier. (Actually, twenty nine years and 363 days as February 7th 1987 fell on a Saturday so not a fair comparison.)

For those with no memory or worse, not actually being born then, here's what both terrestrial kids programming looked like from slightly later that year...

Our day began at 8:25am with "Naomi's Nightmares of Nature", the latest in CBBC's always dependable nature programmes although notably different from previous series "Deadly 60" by having a presenter more terrified by the animals than any of the kids watching. Naturally the idea that you could sit at home in '87 and watch kids programmes all day was a pipe dream and the best offered so far is our old friend "Popeye cartoon" during TV-AM as their Beeb rivals "Breakfast Time" had switched to a harder news format and Channel 4 didn't start until the afternoon. Even "Pages From Ceefax" didn't start until 9am!

The Dumping Ground

"Drama series. Class war ensues in a country estate when the young people become Edwardian masters and servants for a day."

One of the mainstays of CBBC Channel since launch in various forms both with and without Tracy Beaker and still covering difficult subjects, this should be one of those series you go "oh yes, very well done, glad its there....what's on the other side?" but its a deserved hit with all ages thanks to sharp scripts, realistic scenarios and some brilliant child actors. There's a few rubbish ones too but you know, they int got no house or parens so its not their fault.

Not that 'dumping' though. That's right out.
Back in 1987, Breakfast Time has given way to its consumer spin-off "Watchdog" before the familiar fumble-in-a-Ford-Cortina hum that is Robert Kilroy-Silk with his programme we all remember called...erm, "Day By Day", which would eventually the following year (with the same titles and theme!) become everyone's favourite pre-Wetherspoons venue for a shout at 9am "Kilroy". Until he was a racist anyway.
The Next Step (double bill)

Okay, to be honest we might have skipped out on this because its about dancing. Unfortunately that's when my young charge decided he desperately that minute needed to see cinema's "The Smurfs", a film I had steadfastly avoided for most of his life (even the bits with Vanity Smurf) but ended up not...I mean its not good but...I just don't know anymore. I just don't know.

4 O'Clock Club
Nine Minute Ninja

Three programmes (including a sitcom co-created by comedian / rapper Doc Brown and provider of huss, Paul Rose) that are definitely far too entertaining to be in the time-slot once the proud stomping ground of SCHOOLS PROGRAMMING TM. And folk of a certain age will be delighted to learn that on this day, BBC Two opened with "Look and Read" although unfortunately "Geordie Racer" was still a year away so this was a repeat of 1983's "Fair Ground!" featuring Judy Cornwell, the voice of TV's "Mr TV's Animal Voice" Percy Edwards and a theme by - yes - Derek Griffiths. Could you point your erection the other way please? Thanks.

Meanwhile, ITV went with these...

How We Used To Live as standard. That series they were recreating "half three on a wet Sunday in August 1974".

The only real respite for the sick child in desperate need of not returning to school having actually...guh - LEARNT SOMETHING - back then was when BBC1 would show Neighbours (before Michael Grade famously moved it to 5:35 on the advice of his daughter) before Pip (never "Schofe") or whoever was in the Broom Cupboard that day sprung up like a delicious ghost of telly future to show off over-elaborate birthday cards for those kids with parents who clearly had a cleaner and no drink problem. Then its "Play School" (with Chloe Ashcroft, future perverts) and the oh-well-at-least-its-animated adventures of "Ivor The Engine".

We don't talk about "Five To Eleven".

My Life

"Ella takes us into her extraordinary world of wheelchair skating (or WCMX) and introduces us to her friends Kumaka, Hunter and Luzi who also do WCMX. They show us that even in a wheelchair you can back flip, grind and jump. It's the World WCMX championships coming up in Texas, how will Ella and her friends do?"

AKA The point where I start crying my eyes out at the brave disabled children doing so well while the child looks at me as if I've gone soft in the head. I'd love to say this is the illness making me so emotional but no, I just cry like a loon at most things. Over on BBC One thirty years previous, the TV forum "Open Air" had Alan Titchmarsh talking to Eamonn Holmes which is enough to make anybody cry...

Got What It Takes?

There's something that strikes me inherently high pressure and wrong about a singing competition for children, or indeed any contest that doesn't involve gunge, daft games or a literal Fun House. The winner gets to sing at Radio 1's Big Weekend providing some across-the-board brand synergy that made me feel a bit sick in my mouth and for the first time I was pining for 1987 where ITV had the double whammy of "The Raggy Dolls" and "Rainbow" although less so BBC One's "Tom O'Connor Roadshow" which had been hastily put together when they decided after just fifteen years that "Pebble Mill at One" was, in fact, bloody awful.

Shaun the Sheep
Strange Hill High

It does a heart good that even after all these years (and that time Chas burnt down the Aardman studio), Morph is still popping up on telly like a Plasticine pantless pal of yesteryear. Equally well thumbed (stop that) is 'stable'mate Shaun The Sheep now approaching ten years on TV with over 150 wonderfully slapstick yet never patronising episodes, not to mention the superb film which you need to go watch right now! Just after Smurfs. I mean not Smurfs. I mean....

"Have you tried turning on the computers?" LOL
"Strange Hill High" (sadly unrelated to the Dandy strip of the late 80s), is an unusual but visually wonderful mix of animation, vinyl dolls and puppetry which gained a lot of excited talk when it launched thanks to its impressive cast (including Richard Ayoade, John Thomson and the achingly missed Caroline Aherne) and the showrunner being Josh Weinstein who had worked on REAL programmes that grown ups had heard of, like "The Simpsons", "Futurama" and "Seinfeld", using the US table writing model of those shows. Thankfully it wasn't another "Bromwell High" (ask yer dad) and 26 episodes were made between 2012 and 2014.

Meanwhile, thirty years back, you had the choice of news or news.


One of the things you'll notice when spending the day watching kids TV is how much is actually co-productions with other countries such as the half-Australian "Bottersnikes and Gumbles", RTE going in on puppet science show "Brain Freeze" and this fantasy drama very much in the tradition of classic productions "Moondial", "Elidor" or "Earthfasts" about half wolf / half human teens was made with ZDF in Germany, who presumably don't get the cast to re-record every line in German thus getting the lesser of the deal. Wake up Merkel!!!!

Over in the past there's the last gasps of the See-Saw programme strand with "Heads And Tails" (more Griffiths!) before a choice of baffling repeats with a 1976 "The Liver Birds" and the slightly more recent "Bulman" from 1985. Thankfully BBC Two have got your back with the multi-generational favourite "You and Me" featuring whatever Cosmo and Dibs were meant to be and Jeni Barnett. This was actually one of the more controversial periods of the series which later sadly became fodder for tiresome sketch troupes on Channel 4 clip shows to watch out of context and shout "OMG" at, as this article explains thoughtfully and without any cutaways to Pappy's doing a face.

Unless the question is "Would you like to murder this pensioner?" 

So, potentially shocking but well-handled and potentially life-saving to a kid at home then. I mean...OMG LOOK AT PUPET (MAKE CHEQUE PAYABLE TO AVALON) and rounding off this first part immediately after "You and Me" is one of the biggest kiddies favourites of the era...

The Cocaine Explosion? Weren't they a funk band from the 70s?

From here we get into the rather more kid friendly programmes in the past, such as "Jackanory" (with Su Pollard. Because 1987.), strange Mike Smith fronted hobby guessing gameshow "Secret's Out" (a Grange Hill special viewable above and featuring one of Britain's greatest modern directors. And Zammo.) , "Newsround Extra" (excitingly a story about 50 years of The Dandy!) and more actual "Grange Hill" on BBC One while ITV (regions may vary) went with "Rainbow" again, the already mothballed-for-twenty-years "Batfink", the third T-Bag and T-Shirt adventure "T-Bag Bounces Back", invariably forgotten Cosgrove Hall creation "Alias The Jester" and "Bellamy's Bugle", which, of course, was still legal back in those days...

So there you go, thirty years with markedly little hurt and surprisingly a lot of my childhood past on YouTube which I'll fondly revisit before getting bored, turning it off and watching The Smurfs again instead. I mean Not Smurfs....definitely not Smurfs....I DID NOT ENJOY THE SMURFS FILM AND YOU CANT PROVE THAT I DID. Ahem...did I mention I was ill??


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