Friday, 29 June 2012

Pipkins down at Cockleshell Bay with Mr Spoon (Part 1)...

You may think "Now that's an odd title for a blogpost..." But in a way, our earliest memories of television watching comes from puppets and their human friends. I'll admit, my earliest memory comes of watching Cockleshell Bay eating cheese and pickle sandwiches as a very young avid viewer. I know its odd that something as odd as a cheese and pickle sandwich can remind me of that, but it just does.

For as long as we've known it, we been lead on a journey by television through trying to make sense of the world as a young child. Programmes for the under fives do this, in their time dealing with new experiences even touching on death as well. Though with that, escapism play a part in the development of new viewers. Though originally For The Children which was presented by Annette Mills, the sister of Sir John Mills was conceived in 1937 being broadcast in a ten minute slot, with Muffin the Mule becoming the first success of this slot. With this arrangement happening until 1952 when Watch with Mother was launched.

From Watch with Mother's launch in 1952 as an offshoot of radio's Listen with Mother, these programmes have formed formative memories. Created by Freda Lingstrom, this slot was seen to be as a pre Children's Hour programme allowing older children their own programme a bit later in the afternoon. The show such as Bill and Ben, Andy Pandy and Muffin the Mule would have their own longevity such as Muffin being shown upto 1955, just before Annette's own death. Andy Pandy, which its twenty-six episodes had been repeated until just before the advent of colour, lead to the BBC commissioning thirteen new ones in colour and showing this upto 1976. 

None the less, Andy even made a comeback at the turn of the 21st century when Cbeebies brought him, Teddy and Looby Loo back again so a new generation could see them playing together. Similarly the same happened with Bill and Ben and Muffin the Mule being revived for a new audience, meaning that in these classic shows that Grandparents, Parents, their children and their own children could watch together.

As the Sixties drew in new programmes such as the Johnny Morris voiced Tales of the Riverbank, The Trumptonshire Trillogy, The Herbs, Pogles' Wood were added to the line-up not reflecting as such the times outside the window. But one programme, got the atmosphere of that time just right. Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, had been making children's programmes since the 1950's with Alexander the Mouse for Rediffusion being their earliest example of work. Though having to do cut-out animation live was not the most ideal solution for either of them. Their first joint project was to be a story told over and over again, as in 1959 they let the handbrake off Ivor the Engine for the first time. As this was such as success for the fledgling network, that Rediffusion wanted more to made, although Postgate and Firmin thought that Ivor had arrived in the sidings for good.

They offered a new idea Noggin the Nog to Rediffusion as a replacement for Ivor, but much like the Beatles being rejected like Decca, they took the idea to the BBC and six episodes were made, shortly after their success another six were made. Leading to other projects for their new production company Smallfilms to be made for both the BBC and ITV, but it was in 1968 that they took a colourful leap into a new era of programmes for younger children. Taking two ideas which come together to make seminal programme of its age.

The Clangers was the right programme at the right time, with the focus being on the lunar landings and also the new age as well. It was seen as something different to what had gone before, where as series previously had been only earth bound. It took an age old question and made it real, which was "Is there anybody out there?" By taking the situation of lunar exploration let Postgate and Firmin run their imaginations to another level, take on these types of programmes to new levels and to new imaginary worlds. But even The Clangers made it out of their own sphere when Postgate and Firmin made "Vote for Froglet" which was broadcast on the night of the second election of 1974, this was an answer the political unrest of the early 1970's and to be able to convey this to the voters in such a way they could understand it much like a child would.

Over at ITV, with the relaxing of broadcasting hours in 1972, this allowed programme for the under fives to become part of their daily daytime schedule. Allowing each of the big four weekday franchises to provide programmes of their own in different styles. From Thames came  
Rainbow, originally with David Cook presenting with Bungle, Sunshine and Moony. When Zippy came along, they were phased out for George and the pattern of the regulars was completed when Geoffrey Hayes came into present. As such the programme lasted for twenty years, even with revivals the early 90's.

Those as such were memorable, but backing Rainbow up was Indigo Pipkins. Originally based around a puppet maker and his puppets, Hartley Hare was sent into the world on the first day of 1973. With George Woodbridge originally presenting up until March 1973 when during the filming of the second series he died. The following year this was put into the programme, which this had never been done by children's television. Although the subject was repeated in 1978 when a pet goldfish died, leading to Topov the Monkey and Johnny, played by Wayne Laryrea to discuss why did people had to die. When Woodbridge died, the original idea of a puppet workshop was changed to the puppet becoming "The Help People" as suggested they would help people in their daily lives. 

Laryrea moved on himself in 1978 to be replaced by Jonathan Kydd, with him coming the human helper to Hartley and all with Kydd himself leaving in 1980 replaced by Paddy O'Hagan for the final two years. Even the set was given a revamp in 1979, by using techniques perfected on The Muppet Show lead to the set becoming roomier and giving the puppeteers more space to move around in.   

Meanwhile, Granada had gone for different approach in its programme. Hickory House from the outside seemed almost like ITV's own version of Playschool. With human presenters in a mocked up house with puppers, it did have the feel of being able to talk down the lens to children at home, almost one on one... But also had the same sort of thing as Rainbow, Pipkins and other shows, with humans and puppets interacting with each other. But with concept of being based in a house, it allowed household objects to come alive. By setting it in what a young child could recognise as similar to their own surroundings with everyday objects. Encouraging them to build a fantasy world in their own real one, allowing them to learn at the same time. 

Alan Rothwell with fellow Coronation Street alumni Amanda Barrie, Louise Hall-Taylor later present Watch for the BBC and Julia North all presented Hickory House until 1977 when the programme finished, though the programme may have been memorable in itself, it was also so for the Granada Giro 'G' ident transforming into the house itself through animating. Of all the shows for the under fives, it has never been released on DVD much to the opposite of Pipkins released through Network DVD although 129 editions remain in the Granada archives to this day.

For all the puppets and humans, come the shows from left field. One of the strangest has to be Yorkshire's entry into the pantheon of these shows, Mr Trimble. It was first broadcast like the others in 1972, by using the usual mixture of live actors, puppets and filmed inserts. Tony Boden played Mr Trimble whose wife Maureen Sutcliffe worked on another Yorkshire series for schools, My World took the leading part, although Sutcliffe provided some of the voices for the puppets. Based in an attic, Mr Trimble lived with Glug the Goldfish and also a robot for company as well. Though Trimble's look owed more to Mr Pastry, with glasses and a prominent moustache on his top lip, almost like a friendly uncle type of figure to be exact. Its strange combination of elements lead to the viewing experience to be slightly odder for anyone tuning in to catch Leonard Parkin reading the News at One, but this gave it a freedom to be more informal to younger eyes almost they had been invited to visit this man to interact with him. Seemingly almost trusting him in learning new experiences and also being entertained as well.

Though from the mind of John Read, a key part of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation films during the 50's and 60's, having worked on Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet came three series which were to key parts of the schedule in the mid to late 70's. Cloppa Castle was the first of these three, where he took a producing role then came Here Comes Mumfie in 1975 where he was producer/director. 

The Munch Bunch set of books were created in 1979 by Denis Bond under the pen name Giles Reed, after their success Lord Lew Grade through ITC Entertainment commissioned 12 episodes to be made under Read and Mary Turner, the stories were different to the books with Read mainly penning new stories for the characters. The success of those first twelve, lead to another forty to be made over the next four years. The series of books lasted longer then the television show lasting until 1984 with the final episode of the series being shown in May 1982.

By this time with the ITV franchises changing in January 1982, lead to shows coming in plus new ideas as well, though old favourites would still be there on both channels...

Coming up next time...

A King, A cat from Outer Space, Neil Innes in full effect and a ride on the See Saw...

That's in Part Two of Pipkins down at Cockshell Bay with Mr Spoon...

Monday, 18 June 2012

TV Nostalgia - Chain Letters

Here is the latest TV nostalgia column printed in the Portsmouth News on Saturday 16th June on Chain Letters... Enjoy!

"Change a letter, do it again and that's how you play Chain Letters.." An easy enough explaination of a gameshow, but this daytime show was a lot more then that. First broadcast in 1987 with Jeremy Beadle as host, it seemed like a cut price version of the letters round in Countdown.

Contestants were individually given words, and they must change one letter at a time to make new words. Though its never what it seems, from a simple four letter word, they would usual change it to what viewer at home was thinking about, usually leading to them using a different kind of four letter word instead!

Various hosts each had a go at presenting duties. From Jeremy's replacement, Andrew O'Connor to Dave or as he was billed back in 1997, David Spikey. Affable and genial, seem the words to describe him , at times though it did seem like he looked like he was caught in headlights! But he had needn't have worried as one of his main writers on the show was none other then a pre-Phoenix Nights Peter Kay, supplying the jokes for him. Though some good must have come out of it for Spikey and Kay, as they employed former host and warm up man for the show Ted Robbins and Spikey, made that version of himself into the character Jerry 'The Saint' Sinclair. 

Now who said that presenting gameshow wasn't good for the career, especially when you can get great material for future projects from them!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

We are family? A blank holiday usually sort that out...

At this time, when it seems everyone is celebrating or avoiding the Jubilee (delete where applicable...) The creation of two Bank Holidays in a row has been a boom time for some digital channels such as Dave being able to put out back to back editions of its favourite shows such as QI and Top Gear, though this is the case for most channels on Freeview. Though there was a time when these occasions were treating as something special, a day off from the norm. But not now, in part because of any Bank Holidays meaning nothing at all to anyone now. As such schedulers in telly land agree the same as any member of the public, why bother?

Go back at least twenty years, when it seemed like Bank Holidays last had any meaning to anyone, there would be a smattering of family friends films on television to keep people who didn't go out amused. This fare would usually be a Disney film, nothing offensive almost like candy floss or chewing gum for the eyes. 

An off-shoot would be Disney Time where a presenter would be at a family friendly venue to link inbetween clips of Uncle Walt's finest films and cartoons. To anyone now this would seem antiquated, almost stale and boring. You were even lucky to get special editions of The Generation Game, Swap Shop and the alike, there to entertain the family. As a business, television does not provide this at all and it seems it wants to give up on these occasions and let other things win and just be a piece of furniture in the corner rather then something special to provide entertainment to people. 

But we look back on this with fondness and wonder why it can'y be like this again, the reason because we let it happen in this way. We throw some many babies out of bath water to the effect that we basically discount everything which maybe vaguely entertaining. So we are the cack handed society, who want things to be how they used to be, but hate it if it's put back to that way.  

Maybe its time that people, took a look at themselves to see what they have become as such. A blank holiday, that's what...