42 Lesser Known British Children’s TV Shows

I was flicking through one of those 'Greatest Children's TV Shows' things the other day and, yes, the shows it listed were indeed fantastic, but what about the other children's shows that were making up the schedules as Tiswas, Knightmare and Grange Hill were unfolding?

I'm pretty sure that they're still worthy of recognition in some way (even if they're forgotten for good reason), so that's why I've decided to pull together 42 lesser known British children's TV shows to give a fuller understanding of what children's TV is capable of.

1. Codename Icarus - BBC1 - 1981


Airing in late 1981 on BBC1, Codename Icarus - written by Richard Cooper - is perhaps one of the most intelligent and unpatronising shows ever produced for British children. Concerning itself with the fortunes of child prodigy Martin Smith (Barry Angel), Codename Icarus looks at the exploitation of easily malleable child geniuses to help further the nefarious needs of John Doll, the head of Farleigh School.

It's not easy to serve up psychological torture, threats to British defences and a sense of complete helplessness to young viewers, but thanks to a dose of espionage provided by Andy Rutherford (Jack Galloway) and Barry Angel's fine performance, Codename Icarus is an absorbing watch which gives its audience's intelligence plenty of respect in a hard hitting slice of children's drama.

2. Len and the River Mob - BBC1 - 1968


Children need to know how to read as it's an essential skill for navigating their way through life and enjoying the simple, yet timeless wonder of the written word. Accordingly, television has been doing its best to encourage reading ever since its very early days. And, in 1968, Len and the River Mob landed on our screens as part of the Look and Read series to help boost and enhance the reading skills of British youngsters. Written by Roy Brown, Len and the River Mob was a 10 part series which aired on BBC1.

Len Tanner (George Layton - yes, him of Doctor at Large, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Minder) wants to buy his friend Pat a doll, but the local shop has been robbe. Saddened by this, Len heads down to his job at the docks and discovers a box of dolls. It turns out that the 'River Mob' have been up to no good and Len's boss, Mr Moon (Kenneth Colley) is deeply involved with them. In order to uncover the crimes taking place, Len risks kidnap and, well, he dreads to think what else. And, of course, there's plenty of time for Len, safely back in a studio, to go through the words on offer (and their phonics) to tie everything up in a bundle of learning.

3. Mick and Mac - BBC1 - 1990


Ushering in the 1990s (well, it first aired on 3rd January 1990), Mick and Mac was a curious idea for a children's show which mixed slapstick, animation and Michael Barrymore all at once.Written by Geoff Atkinson (the man behind Heil Honey, I'm Home!) and Andy Walker, Mick and Mac was a 13 episode series which made up part of the Children's BBC schedule.

Mick (Michael Barrymore) is a cartoonist whose drawing board happens to be home to a cartoon character (actually a man in a suit) who goes by the name of Mac (David Jarvis). Episodes start with Mick and Mac bickering and chatting, but Mick soon gets to work and draws a cartoon featuring Mac in action. The action then shifts to Mick dipping his toe into the world of slapstick as he takes on an everyday task - such as wallpapering - with hilarious consequences.

4. Windfalls - ITV - 1989


Stop motion animation is a painstaking task at the best of times, but when you're trying to achieve this with all-natural, fragile materials such as pressed flowers, petals and even onion skins, it's a monumental task. However, it's not impossible as Windmills demonstrated through it's inimitable aesthetics - provided by the legendary FilmFair - which helped to teach children about the natural world lurking beneath our feet and it's accompanying joys and dangers.

The short five minute stories - produced by Central Television and written by Jenny Kenna - are fronted by Berry, Butterbur and Rosebay, but they are also joined by countless other botanical friends such as Uncle Onion, Evening Primrose and Cornflower. Together they investigate the wonders of Windfall Land and learn how dock leaves could soothe nettle stings and how rainbows form, but they all agree it's probably best to stay away from Shady Wood where Bella Donna lurks with her poisonous berries.

5. Over the Moon - BBC1 - 1978


Science is highly important for us to understand this crazy world we live in and preschoolers are no exception. In fact, they perhaps need to get to grips with the world around us more than anyone else on the planet. And, thanks to the tutorial friendliness of presenter Sam Dale, the under fives of the late 1970s were able to learn about all manner of scientific concepts. Over the Moon is so keen to explain the scientific world that it tackles gravity, the difference in gas densities and why the static generated by a balloon rubbed on a jumper can be so much fun.

Helping to maximise the fun content, Over the Moon couples all this scientific know-how with accompanying animations provided by such luminaries as Pigeon Street's Alan Rogers and Mr Benn's Leo Beltoft whilst they are soundtracked by a host of stars including Jasper Carrott, Don Spencer and Barbara Courtney King. Over the Moon doesn't just succeed in entertaining and teaching young children, but also ticks the same boxes for any adults watching.

6. Gilbert's Fridge - ITV - 1988


Gilbert the Alien (voiced by Phil Cornwell) first found fame in Get Fresh, but proved so popular that he soon span off into his own series, Gilbert's Fridge, which was produced by Tyne Tees Television. 10 episodes aired on Thursday afternoons over on Children's ITV and were written by Phil Cornwell.

Gilbert's Fridge, much like a real fridge, features all manner of items along with Gilbert's customary and trademark snot. One segment can find Gilbert cooking a quick gateau with Rustie Lee whilst the next may see him interviewing Yello before the action launches into POW drama How Far to Hitchin?

Packed full of attitude (and Phil Cornwell's typical genius), Gilbert's Fridge was an anarchic and hilarious series. It's unusual that Gilbert, himself, isn't as well remembered as other puppets from the 1980s, but such is life and, at the very least, Gilbert's Fridge is evidence of his brilliance.

7. Dizzy Heights - BBC1 - 1990 to 1993


Alan Heap and Mick Wall run Dizzy Heights Hotel, a seaside hotel with a luxurious, curved staircase and classy flock wallpaper. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything as it happens. Haunted almost constantly by the ghoulish, gluttonous latex horrors known as the Gristle family, Heap and Wall are subjected to disastrous happenings which make Fawlty Towers look like a break in the sun.

Chaotic encounters with opera singers, disastrous attempts at returning a magic wand to a magician and having to deal with an evil duke leave Heap and Wall with their heads in their hands on a weekly basis. Oh, and they have two mice - Morty and Myrtle - living in the stairs with a whole host of subplots to help maximise the chaos on offer in Dizzy Heights. Crucially, though, all these manic exploits help to create a children's sitcom which is ridiculously funny and even led to a spin-off for the Gristle family in 1994's The House of Gristle.

8. The Telebugs - ITV - 1986 to 1987


Who doesn't love a good robot? Packed full of technological wonder, they offer a glimpse of the future and, you know, the fact that some of them can fly around and even change into lorries is pretty damn cool. Accordingly, it's no surprise that kids love them, so that's why The Telebugs were perfectly poised to capture the attentions of young viewers. Created by John M. Mills and Elphin Lloyd Jones, The Telebugs was produced by Telemagination for Television South in the mid 1980s and chalked up 85 episodes over the course of three series.

The short and sweet five minute episodes found CHIP (Coordinated Hexidecimal Information Processor), SAMANTHA (Solar Activated Micro Automated Non-inTerference Hearing Apparatus) and BUG (Binary Unmanned Gamma camera) creating not just a mouthful with their names, but also plenty of adventures as they battled Angel Brain, Magna, Baron Bullybyte and the Telebug turned evil ZUDO (Zero-failure Universal Data Optimizer). Perhaps inspiring the televisual stomachs of the Teletubbies, the Telebugs were designed by Professor Brainstrain to have TVs for faces - a design which made them just perfect to be TV reporters for the local TV station ran by Mr McStarch.

9. Brainchild - BBC1 - 1974 to 1975


Most famous for his news presenting on Newsround, John Craven has also presented a few quiz shows in his time; one of the earliest was Brainchild which aired on BBC1 during the mid 1970s and chalked up two series with a total of 15 episodes - all of which are now sadly missing having fallen foul of the BBC's junking policy. The main thrust of Brainchild is for two teams of two children to take on the general knowledge questions that BERYL (Brainchild's Electronic Random Year and Letter indicator) has stored in her memory bank. Each week sees the teams attempting to beat the series' highest score so that Craven can crown them Brainchild of the year.

10. Two D's and a Dog - ITV - 1970


Hot on the heels of their success in Do Not Adjust Your Set, David Jason and Denise Coffey's next move was to star in Thames' Two D's and a Dog whilst a number of their pals from DNAYS went on to star in a little TV show called Monty Python's Flying Circus. Written by Jan Butlin, the six episodes of Two D's and a Dog aired over the summer of 1970 and centred around the adventures of Dorry Charles (Denise Coffey), Dingle Bell (David Jason) and their dog Fido.

With poor Dorry's father having passed away recently, Dorry is penniless, but determined. Hopping onto an antique motorbike with her chauffeur Dingle and Fido, the trio head off in search of work and financial remuneration. Episodes see the intrepid triumvirate heading down to the seaside, meeting Mr and Mrs Chick Chick and even being hired as ghost hunters in order to earn a crust to survive. Little is known about this early chapter of David Jason's career - although Jason now views it as a misstep in his career - but all the episodes remain in the Thames archive, so the remote chance of a repeat remains.

11. Ghost Train - ITV - 1989 to 1991


An ITV Saturday morning magazine show produced by Tyne Tees Television, Ghost Train ran for three series running up 63 episodes. 1990 also saw a spinoff popping up on Sundays in the form of Ghost Train on Sunday.

Frances Dodge has inherited a ghost train from his grandmother, but it's in the clutches of Barry Mafia (Joe Hall). Striving to get back what is rightfully his, Frances captures the ghost train with the help of Paul J Medford and  Sabra Williams. Finding Gerard (Angelo Abela) and Nobby the Sheep inside, the team use the ghost train as a platform for showcasing pop stars and showing cartoons such as Scooby Doo, all whilst trying to keep Barry Mafia at bay. 

12. Palace Hill - ITV - 1988 to 1991


A spinoff from sketch show Your Mother Wouldn't Like It, the educational goings-on of Palace Hill were a somewhat unique sitcom featuring, over its three series, a procession of pupils based upon members of the royal family who just happen to be attending a comprehensive school. That's why we get to see Princes William and Harry turning up for French lessons and even a severe lampooning of Prince Charles in the guise of Chas Slough (do you see what they did there?). Oh, and for good measure there's also a headmistress in the form of Maggie Thatcher. And did I mention that the final series is set in outer space? No? Well it is.

Like its parent sketch show, Palace Hill (the title of which was an obvious parody of Grange Hill) was produced by Central Television and episodes written by Peter Corey and Bob Hescott. The gaggle of pupils were all handpicked from the Central Junior Television Workshop and ensured that there was plenty of established chemistry between the young stars. At times surreal and taking a bite of a satirical apple which has long since been kept out of reach of children's TV, Palace Hill stands out with such vigour that it's almost unfathomable as to why it's not remembered by everyone who grew up in the late 80s.

13. Juniper Jungle - BBC1 - 1992 to 1993


Created by Bobby Ball - who also sang the theme tune - and based on a series of children's books, Juniper Jungle was a 12 episode series produced by Storm Group Production which first aired on Children's BBC in late 1992. Providing the voices for the animated characters of Juniper Jungle were Maxton Beesley, Jonathon Donne and Sarah Dangerfield. However, who were these characters? And what exactly were they up to? Well...

A common theme of children's TV shows - and, come to think of it, any type of narrative - is to have good guys pitted about bad guys and that's exactly what Juniper Jungle is going for. The Nasties of Swampland appear to have a serious beef with the pleasant, peaceful folk of Juniper Jungle and seem hell bent on making their lives miserable. Hence, we find Miserable Mattress hypnotising perennial good guy Toby the Turtle into becoming a bankrobber and The Nasties even go as far as kidnapping the Beanleaders in order to destroy all sense of normality.

14. Words, Words, Words - ITV - 1985


Back in the mid 1980s, Marjorie Sigley was working at Thames Television in the lofty position of head of children's programming. Wanting to familiarise young viewers with the wonders of the alphabet, she set about devising Words, Words, Words, a 13 episode series which went out on ITV and was written by a seemingly endless list of writers.

Starring Andrie Reid, Aaron Shirley, Matilda Thorpe, Paul Venables and Donald Waugh, Words, Words, Words is a mixture of sketches, stories and dance to help keep the viewers' errant attentions on track. Treats include stories about Eggbert the Egg (appearing in plays such as 'Romeo and Juliegg' and 'Omelette') whilst the opening song about words is an insanely 80s mixture of pastel coloured outfits and smiles turned up to 11. Not the most popular children's show in the grand scheme of things it only managed one series before disappearing into the ether.

15. Zingalong - ITV - 1970 to 1972


You just try and stop children from singing, they love it, they absolutely love it and, in the early 1970s, Thames Television decided to give them the opportunity to sing with some actual real life singers in Zingalong; it certainly beat singing along to a transistor radio. Three series were produced with episodes running to 15 minutes and featuring school children backing up stars including Sandie Shaw, Gerry Marsden and Clinton Ford.

16. CBTV - ITV - 1982 to 1985


Sticking with Thames, our next illustrious and dusty entry is CBTV (Citizens Band Television) which aired in the first half of the 1980s on Children's ITV. Running for four series, there were a total of 137 episodes running to 25 minutes each. A magazine show - purportedly as part of a pirate TV station atop Thames Studios - CBTV is fronted by Jim Sweeney and Steven Steen. Also popping up as presenters on CBTV are 80s stalwarts Mike Smith and Anneka Rice.

Each week finds Jim and Steve having to sneak past Thames security guard Harry Fielder in a series of ingenious disguises be it lurking in the back of a limousine or dressed up as sheep in amongst a flock of actual sheep. Once in the CBTV studio, features include interviews with Madness, a Kajagoogoo special and the team even interrupt a 'rehearsal' by Morecambe and Wise who are on fantastic form. Wildly popular back when it aired, it's since slid into rather obscure territory due to a lack of repeats and very little archive footage making its way online.

17. Ed and Zed! - BBC1 - 1970


Ed and Zed! was a Saturday lunchtime BBC1 show which ran for nine episodes in late 1970 and was written by Jack Tinker and Paul Ciani, with direction duties also taken on by Ciani. The series only ever aired once, but is notable for being one of the earliest attempts at Saturday morning magazine shows for children, even if it did, technically, air at lunchtime. The series was a follow up of sorts to Zokko! but more about that later...

The episodes find DJ Ed Stewart and 'rebel robot' Zed presenting clips from Walt Disney films and The Wizard of Oz, but most intriguing are the weekly music guests displaying their biggest and newest hits. Popping up throughout the series are contemporary popsters such as Hot Chocolate, Mud, Gulliver's People and even Vanity Fare. An unusual time capsule of the sounds of the 1970s, Ed and Zed! remains not only an interesting cultural artifact, but also acts as an early stepping stone for Saturday morning TV shows such as Swap Shop and Going Live!

18. Ragdolly Anna - ITV - 1982 to 1987


The life of a doll can seem as inanimate as its form, but the truth is - according to Ragdolly Anna - actually very different and can take all manner of surreal twists and turns. Produced by Yorkshire TV, Ragdolly Anna was transmitted throughout the 1980s on ITV and, over the course of three series, clocked up 30 episodes. The series was based on a series of books written by Jean Kenward.

Ragdolly Anna is a small doll who lives with the little dressmaker (Pat Coombes), the wise white cat and, of course, the dressmaker's dummy. Not wanting to reduce Ragdolly Anna's life to that of a mere ornament, the little dressmaker is keen to take Ragdolly Anna out and about to show her the world and what life is all about. And that's why episodes of Ragdolly Anna find curious little narratives taking place such as Ragdolly Anna falling down a drain (on her way to buy bacon, no less) and encountering a talking frog or even making a tin hat for a talking scarecrow. Unseen on British TV for 30 years, Ragdolly Anna is packed full of gentle, offbeat delights and deserves much more recognition.

19. Parallel 9 - BBC1 - 1992 to 1994


A summer replacement to fill the Saturday morning gap left by Going Live!/Live & Kicking, Parallel 9 was produced by Roach & Partners at Pinewood studios. Three series aired in the early 90s with a total of 64 episodes.

The basic premise of the first series finds Mercator (Roddy Maude-Roxby) banished to an inter-dimensional space prison where he is only allowed to be awake for two hours a week - 9am to 11am on Saturdays. Mercator is also blessed with the ability to beam up celebrities from Earth. The second series moves the action to a space station and also introduces characters such as Brian the Dinosaur.

20. Runaround - ITV - 1975 to 1981


Based upon the American children's TV show of the same name, Runaround was a quiz show for children produced by Southern Television which ran for 12 series (which was 11 more than it's original US incarnation) from the mid 70s through to the early 80s and totalled 100 episodes. The series came to an end in 1981 when Southern Television lost their franchise to Television South. Mike Reid was the original host, but was then replaced by Leslie Crowther and then Stan Boardman before Reid returned for the last three years of Runaround.

Runaround pits two schools against each other in a quiz battle which runs the whole gamut of general knowledge. However, that would be a little too sedentary to keep young minds entertained, so contestants are, instead, expected to run towards one of three circles to indicate their answer. The 'runaround' angle appears when contestants are given a few seconds to give their (possibly copycat opponents) the runaround by jumping into a different circle. Coloured balls are awarded to contestants with the correct answers whilst incorrect answers see contestants being sent to the dungeon. Prizes for the victors included bikes and TVs - the dream of almost every child in the 1970s.

21. Whoosh! - BBC1 - 1968

An early forerunner of Saturday morning children's TV along with Zokko! (more on that later) and Ed and Zed!, Whoosh! was a 1968 BBC1 series which went out in the 12.25pm on Saturday afternoons. The brainchild of Cynthia Felgate and Peter Ridsdale-Scott, Whoosh! delivered 10 episodes which were "a place where anything can happen" and starred Rick Jones, Dawn Macdonald and Jonathan Collins.

Unfortunately, all 10 episodes (apart from some end credits) have been wiped, so it's difficult to tell what did happen. Rick Jones tells me that "it was based in an imaginary central headquarters with pneumatic message delivery tubes everywhere", but even his memories are vague and he starred in it! The Radio Times listings show that the trio visit the fair and follow a mysterious map with surprising consequences, so we can only dream of the wonders which lay within.

22. Erasmus Microman - ITV - 1988 to 1989


If you've ever turned on your TV set then there's a good chance that Ken Campbell has appeared in one of your favourite shows as he's popped up in Fawlty Towers and Lovejoy, so it's a rare and quie bizarre individual who doesn't adore either of those two shows. However, less well known is Erasmus Microman which was produced by Mirageland for Granada and consisted of two series with seven episodes each. The series, which went out on Children's ITV, was written Stephen Trombley and Gary Hopkins.

Erasmus Microman (Ken Campbell) is a rather eccentric chap who claims to be 1005 years old and, in order to wake up TV junkie children to the wonders of science, has taken up residence in the TV owned by siblings Ben (Nick Pickard) and Jane (Thea Redmond). Annoyingly they're unable to just switch channels to get rid of Erasmus, so, instead, they have to enter the TV set and embark on a voyage of discovery where they meet great scientists such as Archimedes, Einstein and Newton. The second series sees a shift in narrative as Erasmus is now hot on the trail of Dr Dark (Lee B. McPlank) and, this time, the educational factor focuses on inventions including computers, television and communications.

23. The Pig Attraction - ITV - 1993


Puppets populate our childhoods with a regularity which means if we're not messing about with finger puppets then we're either at a Punch and Judy show or watching a TV show featuring puppets. And, in 1993, a children's TV show in the form of The Pig Attraction came along which lifted the lid on the world of puppetry. 10 episodes of The Pig Attraction were produced by HTV for ITV and the series was devised by puppeteer Simon Buckley.

Billie the Pig runs The Pig Attraction, a documentary-cum-chat show which investigates various puppetry techniques and even features, in one episode, Peter Baldwin aka Derek Wilton from Coronation Street discussing his love of Victorian puppet theatres. Meanwhile, Billie the Pig interviews puppet stars such as Roland Rat and Hartley Hare all whilst Billie (along with Simon Buckley) attempts to calm the backstage chaos caused by rampaging puppets.

24. Go with Noakes - BBC1 - 1976 to 1980


John Noakes' legendary exploits in Blue Peter as its go-to action man led to the creation of Go With Noakes to concentrate on his adrenaline inducing and endurance bursting exploits. A total of six series aired on BBC1 with 31 episodes being produced by David Brown and BBC Manchester. The series was later repeated as Look Back with Noakes whilst Peter Duncan went on to helm a similar series under the title of Duncan Dares.

Go with Noakes finds Noakes - who is joined by Shep (yes, the Blue Peter dog) - travelling around the country and visiting all manner of institutions and events to try his hand at raising his pulse rate to dangerous levels or challenging his seemingly endless stamina. And he achieves this by flying with the Red Arrows, training with the Castleford rugby league team and even enters Ireland's toughest canoe race. However, not every episode is a white knuckle ride and the endurance based tasks aim more at stretching his leg muscles to ridiculous extremes, so one week may find such Noakes and Shep hiking through the Scottish Highlands whilst the next week can see them traversing the Cornish coastline.

25. Jonny Briggs - BBC1 - 1985 to 1987


Blessed with one of the finest brass led theme tunes ever committed to videotape - courtesy of Colin Buchanan's trombone take on The Acrobat - Jonny Briggs aired as part of Children's BBC in the mid 1980s. Based on a series of books written by Joan Eadington, the two series of Jonny Briggs were adapted for television by Valerie Georgeson and directed by Christine Secombe who had previously directed Grange Hill and Jackanory.

Jonny Briggs (Richard Holian) is a young lad living in Yorkshire (although the books were set in Middlesbrough) with his Mam (Jane Lowe), Dad (Leslie Schofield), older sister Rita (Sue Devaney) and brothers Albert (Tommy Robinson) and Humphrey (Jeremy Austin). Together with his pal Pam (Georgina Lane), Jonny finds himself constantly at odds with the twins Ginny and Josie, falling down cellars, trying to keep tabs on his dog Razzle and, perhaps most excitingly, flying a kite whilst trying to avoid a water balloon battle. Almost a kitchen sink drama thanks to its working class, Northern sensibilities, Jonny Briggs is quite unlike any of its contemporaries.

26. Atarah's Music - ITV - 1984

Produced by Granada and consisting of 13 episodes going out in the lunchtime and afternoon Children's ITV slots, Atarah's Music showcases the extensive musical knowledge of Atarah Ben-Tovin with the help of Ian Lavender. Whilst Atarah educates the young viewers on the basics of a flute, there's also time for stories about orchestra instruments such as Frances Flute going for a ride in a spaceship. Each week looks at a different instrument, so there's time to examine clarinets, trumpets and drums.

27.  Mop and Smiff  - BBC1 - 1985


Cats and dogs make for unusual bedfellows - especially if you've ever read the Beano where they're constantly at each other's throats - but they can actually get on like a house on fire as evidenced in Mop and Smiff. Created by musician/actor/all round nice bloke Mike Amatt, Mop and Smiff was a 13 episode series produced by BBC Manchester which mixed animation and live action. And who directed it? Well, surprisingly, it was Sid Waddell aka the voice of BBC darts coverage for many years.

Moving onto the actual series, Mop and Smiff finds Mike Amatt living in an idyllic village in amongst the rolling hills of Lancashire. He's not alone, of course, as he's joined by his loyal sheepdog Mop and cat Smiff. Episodes find Mike and Mop venturing into the village to visit the post office, watch a wedding and meet Mop's extended family. Once their stroll round the village is complete, Mike and Mop head home for lunch with Smiff before the furry duo fall asleep and Mike sketches their dreams. These sketches morph into animations where Mop and Smiff develop voices provided by Timothy West and Prunella Scales respectively.

A follow up to Mop and Smiff aired later on in 1985 under the title of Mike, Mop and the Moke. This series found Mike and Mop travelling around coastal towns in an Austin mini Moke to play games and interact with local children.

28. Tales of the Rodent Sherlock Holmes - BBC1 - 1990


The final show (for now) that Roland Rat made for the BBC, Tales of the Rodent Sherlock Holmes was a one series affair which aired on Saturday mornings on BBC1 as part of the Saturday Starts Here early morning strand. The series was written by long term Roland Rat collaborators Dominic MacDonald and Colin Bostock-Smith.

Tales of the Rodent Sherlock Holmes quite clearly takes its inspiration from Conan Doyle's hero but everything is a bit more rodenty. Sherlock Holmes (Roland Rat) and Dr Watson (Kevin the Gerbil) have to investigate dangeorous canary trainers, take on an empty box (yes, an empty box) and tackle the nefarious Blue Carbuncle. Attempting to thwart Baker Street's finest are a host of villains played by Rodney Bewes, Barbara Windsor and Mollie Sugden.

29. Fat Tulip's Garden - ITV - 1985 to 1987


Imagination is crucial for young children as, let's face it, without access to ready cash and transport they're a little bit limited when it comes to resources for fun. Thankfully, creativity is completely free and Fat Tulip's Garden (and it's follow up Fat Tulip Too) took full advantage of this. Devised by Tony Robinson and producer Debbie Gates, 26 episodes of Fat Tulip's Garden/Fat Tulip Too were produced by Central Television and aired on Children's ITV over two series worth of imaginative fun.

Fat Tulip lives in a delightful house with an even more delightful garden where all manner of surreal escapades take place. Joined by his friend Thin Tim, Fat Tulip has to contend with Fred the Baddy - a purple imp with a penchant for stink bombs and kippers - along with tins of paint, lost keys and jam doughnuts. Beneath Fat Tulip's feet, of course, a whole other world involving the animals of the garden is unfolding: Ernie and Sylv the frogs are shocked to discover that the filthy frogs Peter, Paul and Mary are moving in whilst Lewis Collins (a tortoise) decides he can leap over Fat Tulip's house.

This may sound like a busy, crowded cast, but there's only actually one cast member in Fat Tulip's Garden and that's Tony Robinson. Leaping and gurning his way around the house (now sadly a charred, gutted husk), Tony uses nothing but his unstoppable imagination to bring all the characters to life and create this offbeat universe.

30. Jamie - ITV - 1971


Jamie was an LWT series written by Denis Butler that comprised 13 episodes which went out on Sundays over the summer period with episodes being 25 minutes long. Jamie's narrative finds young Jamie Dodger on a historical trip after discovering a magic, time travelling carpet in the the junk shop owned by Mr Zed (Aubrey Morris). Along with his best friend Tink Bellow (Nigel Chivers), Jamie heads off through history stopping off at The Battle of Hastings and meets historical luminaries including Guy Fawkes and Horatio Nelson.  

31. Fox Tales - ITV - 1985


Created by Susan Kodicek and Rosta Cerny - masters of the black light theatre technique - Fox Tales was a 13 episode series which first aired in the ITV lunchtime slot in 1985. Episodes lasted 10 minutes long and featured narration from Peter Davison who wasn't long out of his stint as the fifth Doctor Who. The black light theatre techniques on offer allowed Kodicek and Rosta Cerny to free their creations from the limitations of strings and, instead, gave them much more freedom to work against black backdrops and increase the range of movement of their puppets. This captivating aesthetic and atmosphere was backed by the jaunty, yet mysterious score provided by Ilona Sekacz.

Fox Tales is, not surpisingly, a series of tales told by a fox about a fox. There's a little more to it, though, and Mrs Fox finds herself having to contend with the carnivorous advances of Mr Wolf (who tries to disguise himself as a pear) and, in another episode, Mrs Fox becomes the hungry, salivating fiend when she catches Rabbit in a sack, but her dinner plans go awry thanks to the bumbling interference of Bear. With its unique look and sounds, Fox Tales can feel a little creepy at time but it's a wonderful example of Central European influences manifesting themselves on British TV.

32. Bad Boyes - BBC1 - 1987 to 1988


Bad Boyes, written and created by Jim Eldridge, consisted of two series produced by Jeremy Swan and transmitted on Children's BBC in the late 1980s. The series is based around the fortunes of Brian Arthur Derek Boyes (Stephen Kember) and the various hijinks he gets up to at school. Episodes can easily find Boyes losing a chicken, trapping teachers in a boiler room and setting up an illegal home for pets. Naturally, he has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way and this is never more true than when teacher Mr Wiggis (Gregory Cox) or traditional school bully Slug (Warren Brian) are concerned.

33. Tricky Business - BBC1 - 1989 to 1991


Magic can capture the attention of children like no other, so it's no surprise that it's been such a popular concept to base children's narratives on. Tricky Business took this concept and ran with it through three series which were transmitted as part of the Children's BBC afternoon slot on BBC1. Written by several writers including Jim Bywater, David Till and Colin Bennett, Tricky Business comprised 27 episodes. Paul Zenon, who also appeared in Tricky Business, acted as the magic advisor for the series.

The first series of Tricky Business concerns the activities of Mr Breeze (John Quayle) and Mrs Breeze (Una Stubbs) as they run not just a magic shop, but also plenty of magic lessons for aspiring magicians. Matters change in the second series as Crabtree (Marcus Clarke), Woody (David Wood) and Micky (Paul Zenon) come to the fore as they deal with magical birthday parties, zoo animals and escapology tricks. The third, and final, series centres around Bernie Clifton who has inherited an old theatre from his Aunt Agnes where he encounters unusual plants and is literally stretched to his limits.

34. Grandad - BBC1 - 1979 to 1984


Inspired, to some degree, by Clive Dunn's 1971 number one single of the same name, Grandad was a sitcom written by Bob Block (also the man behind Rentaghost) and one which amassed 21 episodes over the four series run. Repeats of the series were last seen on TV in 1991 when episodes of Grandad made up part of the schedule of Saturday morning children's show The 8.15 from Manchester (along with Rentaghost). Although it would seem like a logical move, the theme tune for Grandad was a completely original composition and bore no resemblance to Dunn's 1971 chart topper. Apart from the fact that Dunn sang it.

Working in the local community hall, Charlie 'Grandad' Quick is a bumbling man for whom slapstick makes up the majority of his DNA. Flanked by the long suffering Bert Bamford (James Marcus), Grandad ends up in a series of bizarre adventures which include using homemade wine as rocket fuel, getting spooked by a ghost in the community hall and even has to protect his seemingly worthless umbrella from a pair of thieves. Most well known to British audiences as Lance Corporal Jones from Dad's Army, Grandad represents a fine showcase of Dunn's comedic skills.

35. First Post - ITV - 1983 to 1985


Children should always be allowed to express their opinion, it's an essential communication skill even if it's "I'M BOOOOOOOOOOORED!" and, with the advent of the First Post, children suddenly had an outlet for their views on television. Very much a Points of View for the under 12s, First Post was hosted for the majority of its four series run by the lovely Sue Robbie - Adam Sutherland and Ted Robbins stood in for Robbie during series four. The series was produced by Granada and featured a wonderful Moog led theme tune.

Typical episodes feature children's letters (and their accompanying voices) discussing shows such as Blockbusters, Give us a Clue and Wind in the Willows (it's better than Dramarama apparently). There's also time for Sue Robbie to go on tour and discuss featured shows with local children, so Robbie heads to locations such as Lanercost Priory, Cumbria or some Newmarket stables to discuss, for example, why Britain needs more Bob Holness. Magazine style features also lead to Sue Robbie interviewing young cartoonist of the year Malcolm Little or catching up with Julian Cope.

36. Earthfasts - BBC1 - 1994


Life for a teenager is tough enough what with the perils of acne and worrying about whether your latest trainers will secure you respect from your peers, so it must be doubly frustrating to also be dealing with bizarre shifts in time and giant stone men stealing pigs. It may sound ridiculous but these are the hardships awaiting within Earthfasts. Based on the William Mayne novel of the same name, Earthfasts was a five episode serial which ran as part of Children's BBC in early 1994 and was adapted for television and directed by the legendary Marilyn Fox.

Keith (Chris Downs) and David (Paul Nicholls) are a couple of teenage boys who suddenly find their whole world flipped upside down when they encounter Nellie Jack Jon (Bryan Dick), an 18th century drummer boy, emerging from the rocks making up the hilly landscape. Carrying a mysterious candle which remains alight yet curiously cold, Nellie Jack Jon is convinced that it was the 1700s not five minutes ago. Can Keith and David discover the mystery of the candle and prevent Arthurian legends getting a little too close for comfort before its too late?

Earthfasts may not be perfect - at times the narrative gets a little too twisted up on its own mythology - but the foundations are firm and the fantastic performances from the young cast make for a truly unsettling look at teenage displacement. Crowned by Marilyn Fox's skilled direction and Ilona Sekacz's suitably spooky soundtrack, Earthfasts is one of the hidden gems of British children's TV.

37. Kellyvision - ITV - 1988


Chris Kelly is well known for his in-depth investigations of the world behind the movies in Granada's exhaustive look at cinema, Clapperboard, but in Kellyvision he's tackling the mechanics behind the small screen. Produced by Tyne Tees, Kellyvision ran for one series with a total of nine episodes going out in 1988.

Along with Gaz Top, Kelly looks at exactly how all those televised broadcasts make their way to screen and, crucially, are transmitted. Investigating outside broadcasts such as live athletics and looking at the magic behind Knightmare's innovative production, Kelly and Top (with an exceptional mullet) help children understand television like never before with plenty of detailed, yet accessible insights.  

38. Heads and Tails - BBC1 - 1977 to 1979


Heads and Tails came from the brainbox of Michael Cole who devised some of the finest children's TV shows throughout the 1970s and 80s such as Bod, Fingerbobs and Pigeon Street. And, with, Heads and Tails, Cole wanted to help educate children about the animals populating planet Earth all with a wonderful soundtrack provided by Derek Griffiths - a Heads and Tails record was eventually released to tie in with the series. Two series (both with 13 episodes) aired in the lunchtime children's slot on BBC1 and Heads and Tails was repeated up until 1987.

The frenetic theme tune of Heads and Tails kicks episodes off before Derek Griffiths begins narrating and these episodes as we visit animals as diverse as dogs, proboscis monkeys and penguins. Whilst songs feature heavily throughout the series such as a jazzy little number about beetles scurrying across the desert, there's also time for Griffiths to create imaginary conversations between animals such as a crowded rock face of penguins all arguing with each other about not having enough room.

Both Michael Cole and Derek Griffiths are seen as legends of British children's TV, but whilst they certainly worked on more iconic and well remembered shows, Heads and Tails is packed full of delights which can't fail to put a smile on your face.

39. Hold Tight - ITV - 1982 to 1987


Alton Towers + 80s popstars + Bob Carolgees = What exactly? You may be excused for thinking that it's a mathematical problem with no solution, but there is one and it's Hold Tight! a Granada production for ITV which managed six curious series throughout the 1980s. Bob Carolgees wasn't the only presenter to feature throughout the run with Pauline Black (of The Selecter), Sue Robbie, Barbara Wilde and even Frank Carson helping out.

Episodes are an intriguing combination of music and quiz show, although the final series concentrates purely on music. Filmed, of course, at Alton Towers, the main centrepiece of the first five series is the huge snakes and ladders board where rival schools have to navigate their way through 19 squares of questions based upon potential answers formed from letters picked off a rack. A huge roster of popstars are on offer to perform within the grounds of Alton Towers and a select few include Bad Manners (who provided the theme tune for the first five series), the B-52s, Madness, The Damned and Shakin' Stevens.

40. Sam on Boffs' Island - BBC1 - 1972


An incredibly early role for Tony Robinson (years before his knighthood), Sam on Boffs' Island was an educational programme aimed at improving reading levels in the under 8s. 20 episodes were produced and helped make up part of the BBC educational strand Words and Pictures. Michael Rosen (who also presented WALRUS, another BBC Schools programme) provided the scripts and the stop motion animation on offer was provided by the talented chaps over at SmallFilms.

Sam (Tony Robinson) suddenly finds himself transported - midway through eating his breakfast - to Boffs' Island. The Boffs are tiny little guys who thrive upon the existence and enjoyment of words and letters. In particular, they're very keen on feeding the letters produced by their 'say-birds' into a shopping machine which can then produce food and anything the Boffs need that start with those letters. Throughout the series, words and phrases light up on screen to encourage the viewers to tackle phonics head on.

41. Let's Pretend - ITV - 1981 to 1989


As ATV came to an end, so did one of its flagship children's shows, Pipkins. However, it didn't take long for Michael Jeans to formulate a new show and, along with Pipkins writer Gail Renard, the result was Let's Pretend which consisted of just over 200 lunchtime episodes produced by Central Television and transmitted on ITV.

Let's Pretend's aim is to stimulate the imagination of young children and calls on nothing but a few props and, well, an imagination. Taking control of these elements are the pretenders (far too many to list, but including John Telfer, Tessa Hatts and Chris Hazell) who use a mixture of songs and acting to put together short plays which demonstrate the endless possibilities of your imagination. Choice episodes find thirsty magicians on a quest for orange juice and upper class twits getting stranded on a desert island.

42. Zokko! - BBC1 - 1968 to 1970


Perhaps the earliest and most definite forerunner to the Saturday morning children's TV extravaganzas we came to know and love, Zokko! was produced by Molly Cox and Paul Ciani and aired on Saturday lunchtimes over two 13 episode series on BBC1. The first series had one repeat showing, but the second series only ever aired once. Only two of the 26 transmitted episodes still remain in the archives.

Both series of Zokko! mix animations such as clips from Fantasia or in house BBC animations where bouffant haired chaps tell incredibly corny gags. Specially shot music videos are also a crucial part of Zokko!, so we get treated to visual interpretations of contemporary pop songs such as Finchley Central by The New Vaudeville Band and special guests appear in the studio each week to perform a spectacle for the viewers be it Ali Bongo and his magic or The Tumblairs and their amazing trampoline.

The one key difference between the two series is that series one features a talking pinball machine which launches a pinball and, when it strikes a score, this is read out to indicate a particular feature e.g. "Zokko! Six" before launching into the sci-fi serial Skayn which featured across both series. The second series drops the pinball machine and, instead, features a series of huge, bubbling liquid filled tubes.

How many of these shows can you remember? And which other children's shows do you think need a little more recognition and love? Let me know in the comments below!

CONVERSATION

6 comments:

  1. Some great stuff there. I loved Palace Hill (and of course Your Mother Wouldn't Like It!).

    Johnny Briggs felt like one of the few truly working class programmes on Kids TV back in the 80's, most "working class" stuff felt like it a middle class vision of working class life.

    It's sad that Gilbert is classified as lesser known. He was one of my childhood heroes!

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  2. I would question the claim that some of those are lesser known, I remember,fondly ,the majority of those.

    Highlights from my growing up years were Gilberts Fridge, CBTV,Runaround,Erasmus Microman,Fat Tulips Garden ,Heads and Tails and Hold Tight.

    One theme that was quite common amongst kids TV in those days was how they treated kids with respect and didn't talk to or dumb down when creating programmes.

    Gilbert was a comedy genius ,totally off the cuff ,no script,brilliant TV.

    Good article.

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  3. Does nobody remember The Silver Sword, a children's series set in WW2, about three child refugees (Edek, Bronya and I forget the other name)? It starred Melvyn Hayes as Edek and Frazer Hines as the other boy. It was scary and exciting. 1960s-70s maybe?

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  4. I'd forgotten about Mick and Mack! Dizzy Heights was hugely popular at the time, wasn't the boy in the Gristle family called Eustace? Some great trips down memory lane here. The lad who played Jonny Briggs appeared opposite Sue Devaney on Celebrity Pointless a couple of weeks back

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    1. Yes, Eustace was the boy from the Gristles. I saw the very start of that episode of Pointless - it was incredibly strange seeing Jonny Briggs as a middle aged man!

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