Sunday, 28 March 2021

What Did the Readers of Look-in Think of Television in the Mid-1980s?

Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s should instantly recognise Look-in. Marketed as the 'Junior TV Times' it provided a wealth of features on everything that a youngster should be interested in. Comic strips infested its pages alongside interviews with pop stars and, of course, television featured heavily. Looking back at these magazines grants us a wonderful peek into the culture which was bubbling up at the time. It's almost as if they were custom made for the world of Curious British Telly. And, rather magnificently, around a year ago, I was sent a pile of mid- 1980s issues by a kind fan of Curious British Telly.

Aside from the nostalgic blast offered up by the gleaming smiles of Wham! and Paul Young's knitwear, the issues also brought a number of intriguing and enigmatic shows to my attention. Naturally, I'll be investigating them in more detail in the future. But what also caught my eye was the What's Your View? section. This allowed readers to write in and give their views on television. These opinions are decades old now, but I feel they represent an interesting glance at how children viewed television in the mid 1980s. And that's why I've decided to stick several of these features up here.

Week Ending: 15/09/84

Some fine points raised here, especially from Cathy Wood as Dramarama certainly deserved to be on twice a week. Or have double the amount of episodes at the very least. Katy Innes, meanwhile, isn't happy with the state of children's programming on the BBC. A rather harsh view given the quality of programming at the time - the Zammo era of Grange Hill had started and Captain Zep - Space Detective was also on. Mind you, she's right that Children's ITV had plenty of fantastic shows on as well, I dare say more than five or six. The Sensible Show, trumpeted here by Donna Martin, is completely new on me, so that's another one for my 'to investigate' list which now stretches to the moon and back several times.

Week Ending: 22/09/1984

One of the doyens of British television in the mid-1980s, Roland Rat, is up first for a somewhat mixed review of his holiday programmes from young Johanna Holmes. I've watched numerous clips of Rat on the Road (and somewhere on YouTube there's a clip I uploaded from an ancient VHS tape) and they certainly are short, but still fun. Roland Rat Goes East is one I haven't watched before, although I may have clapped eyes on it as a toddler. Moving on, I'm immensely proud to see Mark Emsden sticking up for the quality of British programming. Mark also mentions Splat which, after a little research, I can confirm stands for Soap, Puzzles, Laughter and Talent. It aired as part of TV-am's Saturday morning programming for children and, again, goes on my "to investigate" list.

Week Ending: 27/10/1984

It's a rather controversial view from the opinionated Lynne Davies as she lays into the children's series Towser. It's an almost universal given that, in children's television, the protagonist will succeed, so I'm not entirely sure what else she was expecting. My memories of Towser are vague, but I remember it being mildly enjoyable and harmless. Another obscure show from the TV-am stable in the form of Database is praised by Steven Field and, ooh, it's a series which looks at contemporary computing (another one to look into). And there's time for a mention from Donna Succar of Pop Quiz, a fine and entertaining quiz show that featured an endless stream of fully fledged pop stars - who wouldn't want to watch the heavyweight clash of Spandau Ballet vs Duran Duran?

Week Ending: 10/11/1984

Roland Rat's popularity is underlined with yet another mention and this time it's a bright and cheerful appreciation from the undeniably young Robert Page. And Roland Rat's genius still holds up all these years later, just go and sample some of the delights housed on YouTube for irrefutable evidence. Debbie Jones is also on hand to give props to the little known Saturday morning series The Saturday Starship. Presented by Tommy Boyd, Bonnie Langford and Nigel Roberts, it only ran for one series. It's a curious oddity of the genre and pales in comparison to the recognition reserved for shows such as Saturday Superstore and TISWAS.

Week Ending: 17/11/1984

Paul Cahill reveals that he is a Cannon and Ball fanatic with this gushing praise of the much loved comedy duo. I can't say I'm much of an authority figure on the work of Cannon and Ball, but if the whole Cahill family love them then maybe I should watch an episode or two. There aren't too many mentions of British programmes in this edition of What's Your View? but On Safari is an intriguing one. I've heard mentions of this before, but not really looked into it. However, a quick Google reveals that it's hosted by Christopher Biggins, always excellent value for money, and a young Gillian Taylforth. Might be worth a quick ganders. And Coventry's finest, Christopher Nolan, is certainly in favour of it.

Week Ending: 23/03/1985

Striding into 1985 and Hayley Selcot wastes no time in taking issue with Bob Holness' presenting style on Blockbusters. Ludicrous to the extreme, Hayley, but I'll let you off as you were only 10 at the time and perhaps didn't appreciate the suspense building approach of Bob. Cameron Miles is more positive in his review of Brookside which he deems "the best programme on television" and you can't argue that Phil Redmond's cul-de-sac wasn't flying high by 1985. Finally, there's time for another 'against the grain' view from Rachel Axon who is appalled by the mere existence of Super Gran. Well, although I haven't watched it in well over 30 years, I can, hand on heart, say I loved it back in the day.

Final Thoughts

Children are as opinionated as anyone. And that's a good thing. We need alternative viewpoints and, age doesn't necessarily equal authority, so the insights of the youth are a valuable commodity. Given the age of the Look-in readers, their opinions and viewpoints are never going to be weighty or academic, but the one thing they are is wilfully honest and shot straight from the hip. 

And the general impression of television in the mid-1980s is that it was a hit and miss affair. We all look at the past with rose tinted glasses, but the truth is that it's never quite as magical as you try to remember. Ask the children of 2021 to give their opinions on television today and you would get the exact same responses - some good, some bad. But, as an exploration of a bygone era, these Look-in clippings make for fascinating time capsules.

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