Thursday 15 November 2018

The Forgotten World of British Children's TV - Vol. 1

Following on from a couple articles I wrote about lesser known British children's TV (see them here and here), I've decided to do a few more regular articles on the subject. Whilst they won't be as huge as the previous articles, they will be marginally more bite-sized and, most importantly, they will be getting more and more obscure.

So, the general remit for inclusion in The Forgotten World of British Children's TV is that they don't appear in all those 'GREATEST CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMES EVER' type polls and that the mere mention of them in the staff room causes your colleagues to scratch their heads and quickly change the conversation towards all those urban myths about Captain Pugwash.

I suppose it may sound a little bit like an act of snobbery, but at the heart of these articles is a love of the curious, the forgotten and the unlucky. Not every TV show can become a hit, but it's a shame when they become forgotten. Hopefully, these articles will give these obscure shows a little more time in the limelight to shine. So, here comes the first batch...

Kizzy – BBC1 – 1976

Romany gypsy Kizzy (Vanessa Furst) spends her days travelling in a traditional, horse-drawn carriage with her ancient grandmother (Betty Hardy). However, after setting down camp in the orchard of Admiral Twiss (John Welsh), Kizzy’s grandmother decides that it’s time for her to retire from travelling. It’s not long until the local busybody Mrs Cuthbert (Angela Browne) is getting involved and, with social services now on the case, Kizzy is forced to attend the local school. Bullied by her highly prejudiced classmates, further trouble awaits Kizzy when her grandmother passes away. Worried that her horse Joe will be sent to the knackers yard, Kizzy also faces the prospect of being rehomed in a care home unless Admiral Twiss and the kindly Olivia (Anne Ridler) can come to the rescue.

An intriguing look at the rigours of prejudice and culture clashes, Kizzy features some harrowing scenes of bullying and one particularly nasty attack on Kizzy towards the end of the serial. Thankfully, there’s warmth at the heart of Kizzy and this is no small part due to the fine performance of Vanessa Furst and John Welsh’s engaging character. Based upon Rumer Godden’s 1972 novel The Diddakoi, Kizzy was adapted for the small screen by John Tully who had previously dramatised Thursday’s Child and Tom’s Midnight Garden (1974). A six episode serial, the 30-minute episodes of Kizzy first aired on BBC1 at 5.15pm on Wednesday evenings in early 1976. Kizzy received a solitary repeat on BBC1 in spring 1977.

Fanfare – ITV – 1977 to 1978

Briefly laying down their instruments, Essex pop-rock band Flintlock front Fanfare, a television show that casts its eye just beyond the poptastic top 40 to explore the wider world of music. Guests appearing on Fanfare include folk singer June Tabor, operatic baritone Thomas Allen, George Melly, classical pianist John Lill and the occasional pop group such as Manfred Mann and Rosetta Stone. Guests perform a musical number before sitting down with Flintlock for a quick chat about their career and the intricacies of their genre. Episodes are brought to a close with an ensemble piece featuring Flintlock and their guests performing a quick song as the credits roll.

Given the scope of the guests and the genres being taken on, Fanfare could easily be labelled as highbrow. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that it’s a highly accessible music show with engaging guests that bring something new every week. Given their relative youth, they’re all around 20, Flintlock bring a certain naivety to Fanfare, but combined with their Essex boy charm it somehow works. Two series of Fanfare aired in the late 1970s with a total of 13 episodes being produced by Thames Television. The 25-minute episodes were broadcast on ITV in a 4.45pm timeslot and were never repeated.

Jigsaw – BBC1 – 1979 to 1984

Presented by Adrian Headley and Janet Ellis, Jigsaw is one big puzzle game for children with a little bit of letter learning stealthily slipped in. Adrian and Janet are also joined by the floating jigsaw piece known as Jigg (John Leeson) who encourages viewers to uncover the clues within Jigsaw. From the rather spacious Jigsaw studio, a bank of six blocks takes centre stage and, throughout the episode, letters are revealed that spell out a six letter word such as EXPAND or SPRING. These letters are gradually uncovered by Adrian and Janet through a series of sketches and activities that involve a rather long cast list.

Wilf Lunn is the resident inventor who designs contraptions such as a pneumatic hedgehog hammer. Only ever visible as a humongous, superimposed foot, Biggum is a Scottish giant who occasionally pops by the studio. Hector is a hedgehog from Yorkshire who claims to be invincible (due to the harsh Yorkshire weather toughening him up). Pterry is a Pterodactyl that talks in proverbs and was found by Janet at the Natural History Museum. A detective of some repute, Sid Sleuth (David Cleveland) attempts to solve crimes, but doesn’t always get the best of the villains and on one occasion has his moustache stolen. Dot (Julia Binstead), who later presents the series when Janet leaves, is a literal dot who zooms down from the corner of the screen into a humanoid form and controls all the electronics on the show.

And then there are the adventures of Noseybonk (Adrian Headley). Clad in a dinner suit and wearing a facemask with huge staring eyes and an even larger, phallic shaped nose, Noseybonk is truly one of a kind. His role in Jigsaw is not, as rumoured, to terrify viewers, but to provide clues as to the identity of one of that week’s letters. His jaunts are as surreal as his appearance and include growing nosegay flowers, dowsing for water so that he can fill up his flask and there’s even an impromptu appearance from a baby Noseybonk. Adding to the general air of avant-garde horror, Noseybonk’s activities are soundtracked by the curiously jaunty tones of A Hippo Called Hubert.

An intriguing collection of comedy, mime, bizarre interstitials featuring dolls coming to life and, of course, Noseybonk, it’s difficult not to be fascinated by Jigsaw. Janet Ellis, with a delicious slice of motherly charm, and Adrian Headley, who performs some quite fantastic mime, host the show with panache and the variety on offer means that becoming bored is never an option. The series was written and directed by Clive Doig who was also behind Beat the Teacher, Eureka and Puzzle Trail. 49 episodes of Jigsaw were produced over the course of six series and usually aired in a 4.40pm slot on BBC1. Episodes of the series were repeated up until 1985.

The Munch Bunch – ITV – 1980 to 1982

Lying discarded in the corner of Mr Veg’s groceries shop, the Munch Bunch have decided that it’s time to escape their mundane, pointless existence and seek something a little more satisfying. Making their escape through the cat flap, Spud, Olly Onion, Corny on the Cob, Sally Strawberry, Pedro Orange, Peanut and the rest of the Munch Bunch make their new home in and around a downtrodden garden shed and its surrounding clutter. And, within the Munch Bunch’s newly established village, a new school is founded to keep the young members of the Munch Bunch out of trouble, Scruff and Billy ruin a painting of Emma Apple and Olly Onion is constantly bursting into tears at how unfair life can be.

The Munch Bunch episodes are gentle, yet entertaining and there’s a nice emphasis on the importance of community contained within the narratives. It’s certainly a difficult show to forget, especially with Brian Wade’s harmony soaked theme tune and the inimitable looking puppets, but it’s strangely absent in the pantheon of classic children’s TV. Based on the children’s books written by Giles Reed (who was actually Denis Bond, Elizabeth and Barrie Henderson), The Munch Bunch was produced by Mary Turner and John Reid who also wrote a number of the stories alongside Denis Bond and Rosemary Kingsland. Over the course of four series, 52 10-minute episodes aired in the children’s lunchtime slot on ITV with episodes being repeated up until early 1983.

Maths-in-a-Box – BBC1 – 1980

Dressed like a medieval knight-cum-spaceman, Powka (Eugene Geasley), who is from the faraway planet Sooter, is in somewhat of a quandary. Powka’s mode of transport across the galaxies is a delightfully magic box which is so small you could never imagine anyone, aside from an ant, fitting within it. However, with a wave of his curious ‘trustock’ wand and a quick utterance of “Tiki tiki tox, into the box” he can shrink himself down into said box. This all sounds rather marvelous, but the thorn in Powka’s side is that the computer within his box has been damaged in a flood and lost all of its knowledge about maths and shapes.

Luckily, help is at hand in the form of two young Earth children called Tracy (Melissa Wilks) and Paul (Clark Flanagan). Setting out on a learning adventure that takes in maths, geometry and all round number fun, the triumvirate seek out all the relevant information required to restore Powka’s computer to its former glory. Investigating tasks such as making a cake with carefully weighed ingredients through to playing 10-pin bowling arcade games and cocking his eye towards the wonders of symmetry, Powka learns about Earth’s intriguing disciplines thanks to the teachings of Tracy and Paul.

Kick starting episodes with a wonderfully minimalist, synth theme tune (imagine The Buggles politely wrestling with Kraftwerk), Maths-in-a-Box is a charming look at maths for the under 8s. In terms of entertainment, it’s very successful thanks to the fact that it concentrates mostly on its three protagonists’ adventures rather than any weighty discussions on maths. Okay, as a BBC Schools production it should perhaps hammer the learning home a little harder, but there’s still enough to establish some basic concepts of maths and geometry. Written by Alex Glasgow, who also provided the voice for Powka’s computer, 10 15-minute episodes were produced as part of the BBC Schools schedule.  The series was repeated several times across BBC1 and BBC2 with the final repeats coming in 1984.

Let’s Read with Basil Brush – ITV – 1982 to 1984

From deep beneath the roots of a grand tree, within his subterranean den, Basil Brush is learning to read. Helping Basil to get to grips with the rudimental basics of reading is Mr Howard (Howard Williams) who comes loaded with a series of stories featuring Pepper the puppy. The adventures awaiting Pepper involve hijinks aboard a pirate ship, hiding from his mother at the park and terrifying beachgoers with a crab. Although he’s interminably interrupted by Basil’s gags and wisecracks, Mr Howard eventually finishes reading the story and then goes back over it in a read along fashion with words at the bottom of the screen. The final section features Basil and Mr Howard putting up three cards, each containing a phrase from the day’s story, and then opening these cards up to reveal a picture.

Let’s Read with Basil Brush was part of the ITV Schools strand of programming with its 10 minute episodes airing on Thursday mornings at 10.20am and 9.45am for series one and two respectively. The two series, both written by Barry Hill, were produced by Granada Television with a total of 28 episodes being broadcast and these were repeated up until summer 1985. A report by the Independent Broadcasting Authority found that infant school teachers were not entirely enamoured with the series and, given Basil’s constant interruptions of Mr Howard’s reading, this isn’t a complete surprise. Nonetheless, Let’s Read with Basil Brush features Basil at his best with the gags being machine gunned out, so, at the very least it creates a firm link between reading and fun.

Tickle on the Tum – ITV – 1984 to 1988

Tickle is a picturesque little village positioned on the banks of the River Tum and, as a result, the village is better known as Tickle-on-the-Tum. A crucial social hub for this serene village is the Central Store and Post Office which is run by Ralph McTell with help from Danusia Harwood (series 1 – 2) and Jacqueline Reddin (series 2 - 4). Each episode of Tickle on the Tum finds one of the local inhabitants coming into the shop to regale Ralph with a story from their day.

These local villagers include Dora the school bus driver (Penelope Keith), the eccentric Doctor Dimple (Bill Oddie), Bessie Bagwash the launderette owner (Mollie Sugden), Mike the Milkman (Kenny Lynch) and Willie Wok (Burt Kwouk). The story told in each episode is usually relatively amiable such as Dora’s school bus breaking down due to her forgetting to fill it up with petrol. Following the denouement of these tales there’s times for Ralph to dig into the post bag and unearth some jokes submitted by the viewers and then a closing song that recaps the main points of the episode’s story.

The final series of Tickle on the Tum finds a slight change in surroundings as, with Ralph having left, Jacqueline finds herself at the Tickle Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) studios alongside puppet cat Dexter (John Eccleston). Life at TBC is mostly the same as before with the villagers still paying visits to Jacqueline with Barney Bodger the builder (Tim Healy) coming to show off the scenery he is building for the Tickle Players’ latest production and Freddie Fireman (Graham Stark) pops by to discuss a new quiz show he’s created for TBC called Whose Hat?

A wonderfully British production that taps into a rather romantic view of an idealised British village, Tickle on the Tum is charm personified. Ralph Mctell’s laidback Croydon charm sits perfectly alongside a cast of villagers which is quite remarkable in its breadth of television talent. In fact, it’s fair to say that there’s very little to dislike about Tickle on the Tum. A Granada Television production, Tickle on the Tum ran for four series with a total of 118 10-minute episodes which aired in the lunchtime ITV slot and also in the later Children’s ITV schedule. Over the course of its run, Tickle on the Tum had a wide range of writers working on the series including Rick Vanes, Laura Beaumont, Chris Galer and Doris M. Day.

The Saturday Starship – ITV – 1984 to 1985

Hovering high above Earth is the Starship where Tommy Boyd and Bonnie Langford host The Saturday Starship. Despite their altitude, Boyd and Langford are joined by a never ending stream of guests such as Captain Sensible, Bob Geldof, Alvin Stardust and Wilf Lunn. The action isn’t just limited to the Starship as, down on Earth, Nigel Roberts is tasked with a number of assignments. These features include chatting with skiers at England’s longest ski slope and introducing a raucous live performance from Motörhead. In amongst the live sections there are clips from Disney films, Hannah Barbera cartoons and numerous music videos. And, with Bonnie Langford present, there are quick tutorials on how to perform dance moves from contemporary pop videos of the day.

A replacement for The Saturday Show, which itself was a replacement for TISWAS, The Saturday Starship follows the usual formula of Saturday morning children’s TV to a tee. Boyd, Langford and Roberts are all enthusiastic presenters but there’s nothing that necessarily stands out, although the starship interior is all types of retro cool. The Saturday Starship was produced by Central Television with a total of 21 editions (roughly 2 ½ hours each) going out between September 1984 and January 1985 on Saturday mornings.

Tune in next week for more of the same! And let me know what you can remember about these shows in the comments below!


  1. As a Romani myself I am pleased to see Kizzy on this list. Thank you for your efforts!

  2. Maths in a box...I can recall the black box very clearly for some reason....thanks for dredging that up...and the others....loved tickle on the tum!

  3. A nice selection, and I'm looking forward to this becoming a regular feature.

    'Jigsaw' has stuck with me since very early childhood; In fact my mother often to this day still comments on it as well. Partly due to "Janet Ellis before she did Blue Peter", slightly due to Jig the floating jigsaw piece, but mostly due to Noseybonk. In fact, certainly in recent years, Noseybon's notoriety seems to have transcended his 'Jigsaw' origins, to the extent that anyone who never saw 'Jigsaw' could easily be mistaken Noseybonk had his own programme.
    Oddly for me, who was quite easily scared as a child (It was never scared by the Daleks or Cybermen in 'Doctor Who' that scared me... I never got as far as seeing them - it was K-9, 'Doctor Who's robot dog, that would send me run terrifying out of the room!!), I loved Noseybonk and never found him scary ... just funny. I often still find myself whistling his theme song as I walk around too. (The nurse says the meds should start taking effect any day soon!)

    'Let’s Read with Basil Brush' would have been after Mr. Brush parted ways with the Beeb for a couple of years. I can't recall this particular incarnation, but I'd estimate was when the character was past his initial best... though any Basil Brush is normally fairly decent quality Basil Brush, in fairness.

    'Tickle on the Tum' has stuck in my memory in little more than name and a few old TV Times listings; It seems to have very much bypassed me when it was airing, which is pretty amazing when you look at the quality line-up of performers involved with it. To be honest, I think it sound like a cliche, but I do believe that back then we had so many strong performers and programmes they'd be in offered up that it was almost easy for whatever series to not stand out from the norm, whereas looking back at it alone, we can only dream of such a class ensemble.

    Don't think I ever did 'Saturday Starship' but, asides from Bonnie Langford (already an established name) going on to be one of 'Doctor Who's possibly most unbearable companions ever, I did like when Tommy Boyd took over the reigns (after a brief earlier stint) of Children's ITV in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He also went on to become one of my favourite radio broadcasters.

    1. I'll dish out a couple of suggestions for future considerations with each instalment of this article. For now...
      (I was gonna start with 'T.T.V. - Teatime Television', but the site already has a comprehensive entry for that)

      * Batty Adventures - Totally forgotten little Children's BBC series that only I seem to remember, for 1987. For years (when I was trying to even recall the series title) my memory suggested it might have even been a young Michael Barry as it's solo star; turns out of was actor Chris Allen. He played the title character, 'Batty' (without any of the street slang connotations that may go with that name nowadays), a not-really-clear-why delivery man on a bicycle, who seemed to fancy himself as a bit of a secret agent would 'have adventures', with other items, such as a postbox or a garden rank, talking to him. Allen voiced them all, and the context of the series wasn't really clear - was he just a bored delivery man passing the time; were these other 'characters' only visible to him, or was he somehow unwell. Either way I remember loving this; a quite search of Geonome reveals six episodes broadcast in 1987 with, oddly, an extra two suddenly turning up in 1989, which suggests to me the Beeb may have lost faith in the series (or indeed have been concerned about possible mental health parallels? Who knows!)

      * Go Getters - Late '80s/early '90s CITV offering featuring teams of well knows faces racing around the country getting and doing things; a bit like one of those student charity 'tick list' things, and a small dollop of 'Challenge Anneka' mixed in. The faces were all fairly decent - think Cheggers, think Jenny Powell, the awkwardness radar DLT was in there too. Never really set the playground alight with discussion, but a really fun series in itself. A bit of online research a couple of weeks ago found that a filmed fifth (final) series was delayed broadcast for a year or two as it featured Craig Charles who had been up in court (and subsequently cleared) on rape charges; it was finally shown in various ITV regions in a non-CITV slot, though my local ITV region, Thames (later Carlton)/LWT did show it.

      * 'Victor and Hugo' - A strange Cosgrove Hall series that felt like it should have been a hit but never fully got there - indications are it was affected when Thames TV lost their regional franchise in 1991). V&H had first appeared in 'Count Duckula' which itself was a spin-off from 'Dangermouse', so indications (and hopes) were that this would be a similar hit; alas it got cut short (but managed 30 episodes). Out of this list, not one I'm eager to fully relive, but considering the quality of DM and CD, would be nice to see how well it holds up.

      'Round the Bend' - I've made reference to it in several of my comments, but this one really sticks in my mind. Spitting Image-type puppets, as well as animation inserts, satire, parody, "time travelling underpants"... it was glorious. I've still got a spin-off comic special, though it's got less and less over the years as pages have slowly become ripped off.

    2. Thanks for the suggestions! Round the Bend is due to go in the next edition. I can't remember the other ones, so will look into them!

    3. Update on 'Batty Adventures' - I didn't spot on Geonome that 1989 wise, many were lumped in under a blanket Children's BBC entry (all repeats). So the whole series did get re-run, but still seemed to have gone very unnoticed. Sadly, not a single clip can be found on YouTube.
      On the other hand. there's loads of 'Round the Bend'; I've just watched the first two episodes. Astounding a few of things they got away with. Wonderful. :)

    4. I indeed remember that 5th series of Go Getters very well as Craig and co rocked up at our local Lazer Quest in Hull and joined in the game I was in I was shown on camera being shot in the back by Mr Charles which is about as good as a claim to fame that I have!

  4. I still remember the fabulous theme tune to Maths In A Box!
    Maths in a Boxey,
    Ticky, ticky, toxey
    Easy as 1-2-3!