Saturday, 20 February 2021

Over to You

I may have written rather extensively on long forgotten children's television programmes, but it's impossible for me to know everything. And, when it comes to schools programmes, I'm barely even knowledgable. Despite my love of television from a young age I can hardly remember the programmes I watched at school. Sure, I recall gathering around the caged TV and VHS player to watch Look and Read, but that's about it. All my other memories are just of the teacher fast forwarding through the spinning ITV Schools on Channel 4 ident. A modern tragedy this may be, but at least it gives me plenty to explore on here. And today I'm going to look at Over to You.

There was a glut of British schools programmes between the 1960s to early 2000s. An absolute glut. And the sheer numbers involved mean that only a small proportion are remembered. Shows such as Words and Pictures, Figure it Out and the aforementioned Look and Read all managed to achieve iconic status with their young audiences. But, even if it meant escaping the trudgery of traditional classroom antics for a while, schools programmes were still all about learning. And many children would either stare blankly at the screen or out the classroom window in the hope of seeing a rogue dog in the playground. Over to You may not have become a perma-fixture of nostalgia, but it can hold the attention with the best of them.

If there's one thing that's consistent with researching schools programmes then it's the general lack of media coverage. Rarely were there features in the Radio Times or TV Times about programming for schools and, all these years on, this results in many unanswered questions. Over to You was produced by ATV and ran between 1974 - 82, but even this seven year stretch is barely acknowledged in the annals of TV history. What we do know is that it was a typical look at the world around its young audience. Episodes would look at a specific theme such as dreams, machines, water, rhythm and ghosts. Using a combination of performances, poetry, films, animation and discussion, these themes would be put through the wringer to squeeze out a comprehensive knowledge on the subject.

All of this is achieved through a pair of performers. Over to You began with Max Mason and Jane Hayward in place before they passed the baton on to Adrian Hedley and Gail Harrison who eventually gave way to Tony Aitken and Wendy Padbury. All of these pairings work exceptionally well together, although the Max and Jane combination is slightly hobbled by the lack of comedy which comes later. Saying that, an early episode does feature Max and Jane floating and talking in an imagined underwater world which is both hilarious and insane at the same time. However, with a little more mirth seeping into the later scripts, the performers get to sparkle more with the Hedley/Harrison combination really sinking their teeth into the comedy. But, you know, all three of the pairings present an engaging spectacle, so I'm not going to grind out any petty criticism here.

The pace of Over to You is probably its most pleasing aspect. Packed full of variety there's little time for your mind to wander. One moment Gail can be racing through a terrifying dream sequence where she's pursued by a trippy montage of scorpions and spiders. And, when she wakes, the action shifts to a film of school children discussing their dreams - the pick being a girl whose dream involves a clown with lots of fingers talking like a parrot. As soon as this section is complete we find ourselves watching Adrian sleepwalking down Birmingham's High Street. The emphasis on fun is strong within Over to You and, whilst it's not going to impart any technical knowledge, it's a fine introduction to the themes on offer.

And there's a rather special name behind Over to You. The credits list a writer by the name of Andrew Davies. At first, I was a little unsure if this was the Andrew Davies of House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, Game On and A Very Peculiar Practice fame. Children's television was a genre he had written for with stints on The Book Tower and the Marmalade Atkins programmes, but was this the same writer? I'm 99.9% certain it is as not only had Davies previously worked for ATV, but one episode with Davies' name in the credits features an excerpt from a Marmalade Atkins book. Davies appears to have left before the end of the series, with only George Moore's name appearing on the credits, but these later episodes with Aitken and Padbury retain an entertaining vigour.

Episodes are only 15 minutes long, so there's not much left to dissect. However, the theme tune does deserve a mention. Early series feature a rather plaintive guitar being plucked through a wah wah pedal, but the later 70s episodes adopt a simple, wandering synth tune (sounding much like a BBC Micro game) which instantly burrows into your ears. This version of the theme is also accompanied by a rather curious illustration of what can only be described as a 'long-nosed hand' and possibly helped to inspire Hedley's Noseybonk character in Jigsaw. Anyway, Over to You feels much more like a lunchtime slot show rather than a wholly educational show and it's all the stronger for this. Demonstrating the importance of fun in learning, Over to You is a forgotten gem of educational programming.

It's unlikely that Over to You will receive the box set treatment, but a few episodes have leaked on to YouTube. 

3 comments:

  1. unless it's also known as Merry Go Round

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, it's separate to that one (which I also need to look into at some point...)

      Delete