Friday 17 February 2023

The Life of a Runner on The Children's Channel in the 1980s

Around a year ago, I published an article about The Launch of The Children's Channel in 1984 and, in one of those wonderful this-is-why-I-started-this-website moments, it caught the attention of Charlie Bushell, who had worked as a runner on the channel in the late 1980s. Naturally, Charlie had plenty of insights of what it was like working for a channel which was still relatively young. Therefore, I decided to share his experiences and bring a little more backstory to the history of The Children's Channel.

Six Months at The Children's Channel in 1989

I was 17 and on a media YTS with a work placement for six months as a runner in 1989. I was very excited as it was my first experience of a TV studio.

I was lucky enough to be flown British Airways to Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow with the Children's Channel team and Mick Robertson (stood at the back of the crew pic) to film Roustabout in some local schools. I believe this was Trudi Dance's first big gig too as a female presenter. The Roustabout set was made of basic sprayed scaffolding and very dangerous (definitely wouldn't pass H&S now!)

Most of my days in the studio in London were spent working on the Steve and Danny Show, which was supposed to be filmed with a live audience but, in reality, a group of school kids were just brought in for half a day and filmed cheering and shouting answers. The studio was relatively small and half of it taken up with the set for Huva (the links puppet operated by Ronnie Le Drew). All the sets were handmade, mostly by the floor manager out of thin wood and paint. All very basic! Kids audience voices were recorded and then fed into a keyboard for me to hit 'Yes' or 'No' or 'Cheers' when Steve and Danny asked the 'audience' questions.

The atmosphere was very businesslike, but they had no time for people's personal issues. One young producer was having a hard time at home and they booted her out after about a week. Most of the crew were thirtysomethings. Although they were relatively young, there wasn't much of an element of fun - while on location in Glasgow, we were allocated a host from the cable station, who was to look after us and show us the sights and sounds of the night life. We went for a curry and the host excitedly told us about the cool clubs we could go to next - all paid for. She was aghast when the crew just wanted to go back to the hotel for an early night! I was gutted!

I remember Steve and Danny summoning me to their dressing room to collect some things, while I was making them drinks, and before I could go fetch the drinks they asked "Is this tea Quickbrew?/Is this coffee instant?" A friend of mine came to visit the set and he told me Mick put his arms on his shoulders and moved him aside in the gallery without saying a word! The Children's Channel seemed to be a stepping stone for most of the crew.

I think the atmosphere was summed up when Spike Milligan came in to promote something (can't remember what - I think he brought in some marionettes?) and the director kept asking him to promote other programmes and give sound bites he hadn't previously agreed to. He stormed off set in front of me and was swearing under his breath as he passed me in the gallery. They tried to get him back but he refused.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you both for sharing!
    I turned 6 in 1989 and was a big fan of The Children's Channel at the time. I would have imagined it would have been loads of fun to work there and so it's a surprise to learn it was more business-like!
    It's quite hard to find much footage from The Children's Channel from this era, but there's a video of links (including out-takes and bits where you can see the pupeteers) of Huva, the monkey puppet, mentioned both in this article and in Charlie's comment on the previous article on YouTube.
    Thanks again for these articles.

    Here's the YouTube link with the Huva footage: