Eighties Zone

Returning to the internet after a gap of nine years, the Eighties Zone remembers some of the best television from the best decade (with a teensy bit of 70s and 90s). Apart from some amendents, most of the text that appears here was written in the early 2000s - which means that more time has now elapsed since then, then had between the end of the 1980s and when I originally wrote it!

On this page, programmes from A-I; programmes from J-Z are on the next page.

THE ADVENTURE GAME (BBC2 1980-86)

Fantastic series for BBC2 teatimes, this game was set on Arg - a small planet of little consequence - in which C-list celebrities had to work their way through a series of logic games, winning drognas - the planet's currency - as they went. Best remembered for the scary Vortex end game, where the celebs had to cross a hexagon grid to safety, but risk stepping on the ever-moving vortex which would zap the contestant into space. Also there was the ruler of Arg - the Rangdo - who looked like an aspidistra, and his grey-haired butler Gordon. All surviving episodes will be available on DVD from June 2017!


ASK THE FAMILY (BBC1 1967-84, UK Gold/BBC2 1999)

King of the comb-over, Robert Robinson was our host for this incredibly long-running, unthreatening quiz show for the early evening. Based around two teams of middle-class nuclear families, questions would often be aimed at particular members of each family, eg 'this one's for eldest child and father' etc. Best remembered for the round in which some household object was shown close-up and gradually zoomed out until Mr Brown buzzes in to proclaim that it's an egg whisk.

Ask the Family received a makeover in 1999, with Alan Titchmarsh in the chair, and strange back-to-front scheduling which saw it debut on UK Gold before being repeated on BBC2 teatimes, and in 2005 was exhumed once again for an ill-fated revival on BBC2 - this time with Dick and Dom in charge, no less!


BANANAMAN (BBC1/2 1983-99)

First shown in October 1983 - the same week as SuperTed - Bananaman was one of my faves, because it poked fun at the superhero genre. The Goodies reunited to provide the voices for the characters - Eric, who would turn into Bananaman, his right-hand crow, Crow, Chief O'Reilly and the multitude of baddies, from the Weatherman to Auntie, and the Mole to the Snowman. The entire series is available on DVD.


BEAT THE TEACHER (BBC1 1984-88)

Created by 80s kids show king Clive Doig (who is still producing a weekly Trackword for the Radio Times), this was a surprisingly addictive teacher vs pupil quiz show, one playing noughts, the other crosses. The questions were deliberately pitched to give neither an advantage. Correct answers were awarded a number of moves on a noughts and crosses board - "Middle middle two, top left one please, Bruno!"

The up-and-coming Howard Stableford (see also Puzzle Trail, Jigsaw, Tomorrow's World) presented series one in 1984, followed by ex-Manfred Mann star Paul Jones for the next two series, then Bruno Brookes brought with him a revamp and a dreadful new theme tune. The 'running champion' format used from series two meant that the same contestant could carry on winning for weeks on end, and frequently did; and the teachers usually did better than the pupils - Mr Wallin scored a grand total of 1260 in the second series, while aptly named Mr Champion scored 620, but top pupil Sophie Atkinson only managed 370. Now come on, what other website can bring you the results of Beat the Teacher from 1985?


BELLAMY'S BACKYARD SAFARI (BBC1 1981)

I marvelled at the way David Bellamy was able to shrink down to miniscule size and go wummaging frough the undergrowf in his back garden, coming face to face with giant-sized ants and the like. Unfortunately today, it looks like very cheap CSO (blue screen) effect. Later, in its sequel, Bellamy went wummaging around the beach tiny-sized.


BLUE PETER (BBC1 1958-the end of time)

To gauge a person's age, just ask them who their Blue Peter dream team was. Me? Simon Groom, Peter Duncan and Sarah Greene or Janet Ellis in the early to mid eighties

Possibly the most memorable - and perhaps legendary - moment of our decade was the November Scandal of 1983, when the Blue Peter garden was vandalised; it fell to Ellis to impart the news. After Groom left to become their Countryside Correspondent (i.e. was hardly ever seen again), Mark Curry joined and added a slightly comic touch by driving a steam train into the set, and knocking off the head of a lego man.

The theme tune used for most of the decade was the 1979 Mike Oldfield version before it descended into a mess of synthesisers and banging dustbin lids.


THE BOX OF DELIGHTS (BBC1 1984)

One of the most fondly remembered children's dramas of the decade, this dramatisation of John Masefield's novel first shown leading up to Christmas 1984 was guaranteed to put you in a festive mood, particularly with the rather haunting arrangement of 'The First Noel' used as the theme tune. Set in the 1930s, it featured the late Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings, the punch and judy man who lumbers young Kay Harker with the eponymous Box of Delights, which goes on to cause no end of trouble during the six episodes. Unusually, the drama used sequences of animation (which had it been produced today would inevitably have been computerised), and can immediately be dated by the usage of typical BBC mid-80s synthesised incidental music. The series is available on DVD.


BRAINSTORM (BBC1 1988)

The Kenny Everett Television Show having recently come to an end, Kenny's next televisual outing was this so-called 'scientific' quiz, in which contestants were awarded 'watts' rather than points. For losing contestants, Kenny mercilessly activated the 'scrungetron', and they would be evaporated in a puff of smoke. 'Brainy guests' included Queen drummer Roger Taylor, while Kenny was assisted on the show by his long-time cohort Cleo Rocos. It lasted for just one series; Kenny however presented one more game show before his untimely death, 1992's Gibberish.


BRIC-A-BRAC (BBC1 1982-89)

Brian Cant was the sole star of this See-Saw programme, in which he played an old codger rummaging about in his junk shop looking for items beginning with a particular letter.


CAPRICORN GAME (BBC1/2 1981-84)

Does anyone else remember this show? Well you would only if you were at primary school between the above years. This was a BBC schools programme, and was the first instance I can personally remember of the use of cartoon characters on a live-action background, although puppet versions were used in introductory segments.

The series was some sort of mystery - to teach us basic maths - and Mr Capricorn was a short fellow in a pointy hat who carried an umbrella with the handle shaped like a goat's head which would come to life. And that's all I can recall!


CHILDREN'S TELEVISION PRESENTATION (BBC1 pre-1985)

Younger viewers are often surprised to learn that the in-vision children's television presenter is a relatively recent phenomenon. Through the 1970s and early 80s, there was little difference between the presentation of children's and adult television, other than the use of special programme slides. Around 1983/84 BBC Micro computer animations were introduced (later examples were designed by winners to a Blue Peter competition) but still the usual avuncular BBC announcers remained.

My abiding memory of pre-1985 children's presentation was, however, a delight only available to those of us in the South East. Immediately preceding the start of the afternoon's line-up, whilst the regions were whisked off for a local news bulletin, we were treated to five minutes' worth of a caption showing some balloons, overlaid with a menu detailing that day's goodies. Over this was played some standard interval music which, more often than not, would turn out to be the superb Abba medley by the Golden Dream Orchestra. This would allow the young viewer to patiently wait and build up a sense of anticipation in an era when other distractions (other channels, computer games etc) were few and far between.


CHILDREN'S BBC (The broom cupboard days - BBC1/2 1985-94)

The late 1980s was a golden period of Children's BBC presentation. From September 1985 onwards, Phillip Schofield introduced programmes from the Broom Cupboard - in other words the BBC1 continuity suite - and from the end of 1986 was helped by the much-missed Gordon the Gopher (and occasional visits from Glenda and Terry the Gophers), and also Hogan the furry monkey who sat on the back of the chair. When the Schof moved onto Going Live! in September 1987, Andy Crane took over for three years and proved to be as popular as his predecessor, introducing the silent Bobby the Banana and Wilson the Butler, and the very noisy Edd the Duck.

Morning and stand-in Children's BBC presenters during the Schofield/Crane era included Debbie Flint who after finishing her stints in the broom cupboard in 1986 promptly disappeared into obscurity; Simon Parkin who lasted somewhat longer before also disappearing into obscurity; and Simon Potter who, um, later disappeared into obscurity. Andy Crane left in April 1990 to join ITV and then disappear into obscurity, but Edd and Wilson stayed on with his successor Andi Peters; Philippa Forrester was also a regular presenter in the early 90s. The final broom cupboard presenter was Toby Anstis who took over in 1993 - and when the broom cupboard was finally abandoned in the summer of 1994, things would never be the same again...


CHILDREN IN NEED (BBC1 1980-date)

Children in Need was a very different affair in the early 1980s. Starting as a five minute appeal broadcast annually from 1927 to 1979, it exploded into the UK's first charity telethon in 1980 - well, sort of. For the first few years, rather than taking over the entire evening, it was apologetically woven between the night's programmes; indeed, in 1983, the line-up included the 90-minute Doctor Who anniversary special, 'The Five Doctors'. No dancing newsreaders back then - CIN was far cry from today's star-studded extravaganzas, with a set that would have been better suited to Nationwide, with Terry Wogan introducing guests like Henry Cooper, Willie Rushton and Chas and Dave. Even Pudsey the Bear didn't debut until 1985 - the original Children in Need logo depicted a group of, well, children in need.

CIN paved the way for more marathon charity broadcasts - the first Comic Relief night took place in 1988 (see below), while ITV got in on the act the same year with their first Telethon.


CHOCK-A-BLOCK (BBC1 1981-89)

Heralding the brave new computerised world of the 1980s, complete with digital-style typeface used on opening and closing titles. Chock-a-Block itself was a large yellow mainframe-style computer, possibly with a mind of its own? Alternate editions starred Chock-a-Bloke Fred Harris and Chock-a-Girl Carol Leader, both Play School regulars. The show started with the presenter 'checking in' by driving onto the set in a funny little electric convertible. Fred or Carol would then choose a large coloured cartridge to slot into Chock-a-Block to activate various songs and stories, viewed on Chock-a-Block's screen.

At this point, Fred Harris fronted everything on television remotely connected with computers, mainly BBC micros, such as Micro Live and Electric Avenue.


COMIC RELIEF (A NIGHT OF) (BBC1 1988-date)

Comic Relief actually got going in 1985 (launched from refugee camp in Sudan on The Noel Edmonds Live Live Christmas Show no less), quickly followed by three live comedy nights at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, and a comedy record by Cliff Richard and the Young Ones. However it wasn't until 1988 that the BBC launched the first Children in Need-style telethon, and Friday 5th February was officially declared Red Nose Day.

BBC1 gave over the whole of the evening to the event, anchored by Lenny Henry and Griff Rhys Jones, with help from Jonathan Ross. Stavros served kebabs from the Telecom Tower, Jim Davidson searched for the Best Children's Joke in Britain (this wasn't for charity, he was just after some new material...), and there was 73 of a Kind, the world's biggest sketch show. Children's BBC got in on the act by running the Gunk Tank vote - Andy Crane, Sarah Greene, Gordon the Gopher and Phillip Schofield all found themselves in the running, along with the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Paul Daniels.

Red Nose Day 2 was held in 1989, and since then has been a biennial event.


THE COMPUTER PROGRAMME (BBC1 1981)

The earliest of the BBC's computer literacy programmes was the inventively-named The Computer Programme, for which the BBC decided they needed their own computer. So they teamed up with the British company Acorn whose latest home computer, the Acorn Proton, would instead be born as the BBC Micro. The series, which used Kraftwerk's 'Computer World' as its theme tune, would prove to be a very hands-on, for example Chris Serle being shown by presenter Ian McNaught-Davis how to load a computer program from tape. The Computer Programme was succeeded by Making the Most of the Micro, which then grew into Micro Live.

It was far from the end of the BBC Micro's career once The Computer Programme had ended - aside from being a great success in homes and schools, it would also see service providing graphics in programmes such as Doctor Who, The Adventure Game and Tomorrow's World - all featured here in the Eighties Zone!


CRACKERJACK (BBC1 1955-84)

"It's Friday - it's five to five - it's Crackerjack!!" Well actually, by the 1980s it was more likely to be five past five, but nonetheless the Crackerjack fun remained well into the 1980s. It had already become one of the longest running childrens programmes of all time - but likes of Leslie Crowther, Peter Glaze, Don Maclean and Ed Stewart were now distant memories, and Stu 'oooh I could crush a grape' Francis was now running the show. Comedy geniuses The Krankies, along with magician The Great Soprendo (aka Geoffrey Durham, whose main claim to fame was being married to Victoria Wood), became mainstays in the show's final few years

But some things never changed - the yells of 'CRACKERJACK!!!' from the audience, the generous giveaways of Crackerjack pencils, and the frantic 'Take a Letter' game which ended each programme. And by now Crackerjack was putting people in gunge tanks - long before Noel Edmonds got in on the act!


DOCTOR WHO (BBC1 1963-89, 1996, 2005-date)

The greatest television programme of all time? According to the number of internet sites devoted to it, it may well be.

Doctor Who entered the 80s with new titles and a new theme tune - in my opinion the best, though many would disagree. My memory stretches back as far as 1981's Logopolis when Tom Baker's Doctor fell off a radio telescope and regenerated into the fresh-faced Peter Davison. (That Christmas saw the spin-off programme K9 and Company with Lis Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), but this never progressed to a series). Davison brought a more dynamic edge to the role; but controversially the show was moved in 1982 from Saturdays to a mid-week slot. Some of his best stories included 'Mawdryn Undead' and 'Black Orchid'. In 'Earthshock' Adric became first companion since 1965 to die. In November 1983 the memorable 20th anniversary special 'The Five Doctors' was shown, with all the surviving Doctors participating except Tom Baker - a waxwork dummy took his place in the photo call; while Richard Hurndall took the part of the late William Hartnell.

1984, and Colin Baker took over, adding a touch of arrogance which many disliked. It was intended that this approach would be toned down as Baker progressed in the role. But he was never given the chance, being ditched after just two-and-a-bit seasons, the last of which consisted of one great long story, the awful 'The Trial of a Time Lord', not helped by the inexplicable casting of Bonnie Langford. Things slowly began to improve when Sylvester McCoy became the seventh Doctor in 1987. But with a much reduced episode count, reduced budgets and being scheduled up against Coronation Street, the BBC were clearly determined to kill the show off. They did sso when the final story of the original series, ironically titled 'Survival', ended its run in December 1989. But as we all know, that was far from the end of the story...

Unsurprisingly, every surviving classis series episode can be had on DVD, fully restored and packed with extras.


EUREKA! (BBC2/1 1982-87)

Another show created by Clive Doig (see Beat the Teacher, Jigsaw) which illustrated how things we now take for granted were discovered or invented, eg the vacuum cleaner, the roller skate, the crisp etc, by use of short, light-hearted sketches acted out by Clive's informal repertory company which included Sylvester McCoy, Julia Binsted, Mike Savage and Madeline Smith. (They regrouped in 1987 for another Doig creation, The Album).

The first series in 1982 on BBC2 was introduced, bizarrely enough, by Jeremy Beadle, at that time also appearing in ITV's Saturday night extravaganza Game for a Laugh (see also). A year later, Sarah Greene and Newsround's Paul McDowell presented. Series 3 in 1985 saw Paul go solo, while the final series in 1987, switching to BBC1, saw the actors do the show on their own.


EVER DECREASING CIRCLES (BBC1 1984-89)

Six years after the ending of The Good Life, Richard Briers was reunited with writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey for this surburban sitcom in which he starred as the interfering busybody Martin Bryce. Penelope Wilton appeared as his long-suffering wife Ann, and Peter Egan played their neighbour Paul, who was despised by Martin for being 'Mr Perfect' but adored by everyone else. The high point of the series, though, must be the delightfully twee Howard and Hilda Hughes, who were always seen in matching jumpers.

Most episodes revolved around Martin's dedication to the local community. One episode featured the inevitable Neighbourhood Watch storyline; a repeat of this instalment in 1988 had been immediately preceded by a Terry and June repeat with an identical plotline. As a correspondent to Radio Times wrote: "If we must suffer repeats could they at least be on different topics - on BBC1 on 8 August we were treated to repeats of Terry and June at 8.00 and Ever Decreasing Circles at 8.30 - both with the storylines of Neighbourhood Watch schemes being conned by bogus policemen. The stories were identical down to the militant behaviour of the male leads..."

All four series are available on DVD. Other domestic BBC sitcoms of the same era include William Gaunt-starring No Place Like Home, the Ronnie Corbett vehicle Sorry! ("language, Timothy!") and, rather less successfully, Wyatt's Watchdogs with Brian Wilde, which took the Neighbourhood Watch theme and stretched it out to an entire series.


THE FAMILY NESS (BBC1/2 1984-99)

The first result of the Peter Maddocks school of animation (later productions included Penny Crayon and Jimbo and the Jet Set), this cartoon was about children Elspeth and Angus who lived by Loch Ness, and one day discovered there was not just one monster living in the Loch, but a whole family of Nessies. And so there was Ferocious-ness, Clever-ness, Forgetful-ness, Her Royal High-ness - you get the idea. The children could summon any one of them by blowing on their secret 'thistle whistles'. One episode consisted entirely of an extended version of the closing theme tune, 'You'll Never Find a Nessie in the Zoo'.


FAX! (BBC1 1986-88)

Back in the mists of time, before Neighbours had parked itself into the 5.35 slot on BBC1, Fax! was a show that aimed to settle family arguments by answering questions such as why do we drive on the left? Fax!'s main claim to fame, however, is reducing John Noakes to tears when asked about his dear departed dog Shep. The presenters with all the answers were Bill Oddie (Goodies/birdwatching), cheeky chappy Billy Butler (Radio Merseyside/early Chucklevision) and Wendy Leavesley.


FAST FORWARD (BBC2/1 1984-87)

Sort of successor to Play Away, a children's comedy sketch show with Floella Benjamin, Nick Wilton and others. Regular characters included the alien Milton Keenze from the planet Zymatron, and the explorer Indian Rubber Jones and his sidekick Cheeseplant. Incidentally, as if you could care less, the 1984 series features my own one and only television appearance, as an eight year-old, sitting in the audience.


FILM FUN (ITV 1982-83)

Well it must have been good, if it got me to switch from BBC1's children's line-up to the other side on Friday afternoons. Derek Griffiths was the sole star, and the show was basically a chance to see some old Warner Brothers cartoons. Set in an old-style cinema, Griffiths played all the roles - commissionaire, projectionist, usherette etc.


FINDERS KEEPERS (BBC1 1981-85)

Richard Stilgoe presented this inter-school quiz for the computer age, which was basically a game of battleships. The theme tune used for the latter two series was written and performed in the studio by the man himself - alfa, bravo, charlie, delta, roger and out!


FIRST CLASS (BBC1 1986-88)

Another inter-school quiz for the computer age. The title not necessarily a reference to the quality of the programme, First Class was hosted by Debbie Greenwood (best known for Paul Coia) and a computer called Eugene. Most people will remember it for the keyboard-bashing BBC Micro-style arcade games, such as Paperboy, hurdles, and 'spring and vault'; other regular items included the Spinning Gold Disc, hidden behind which would be some current pop stars, no doubt like someone from Five Star. The theme tune was Mike Oldfield's 'Platinum'.


THE FRIDAY FILM SPECIAL (BBC1 1985-89)

For a time, Friday afternoons simply weren't Friday afternoons without a Friday Film Special, courtesy of the Children's Film Foundation. Mostly made throughout the 1970s and early 80s, they already looked dated when shown on CBBC in the late 80s, with all characters sporting long wraparound haircuts, using phrases totally alien to 80s children such as 'hey daddio!', and driving Austin 1800s as getaway cars. But that was their charm.

Many of the films followed a similar theme of the children thwarting the baddies, with action, kidnappings and chases. Good inevitably came out above evil, and there was plenty of moralising, and plugging of the virtues of law and order. There were also a few serials made by the CFF, notably Professor Popper's Problems, shown on BBC1 in 1984, starring Charlie Drake as the eponymous professor who invented some shrinking pills.


GALLOPING GALAXIES! (BBC1 1985-86)

After Rentaghost and Grandad, writer Bob Block turned his attention to this children's comedy about the 25th century merchant spaceship Voyager led by Capt Pettifer, who were being pursued by Space Pirate Murphy and his crew of Robots 7, 20 and 35, but is probably best remembered for the temperamental computers SID and Junior, both voiced by the late Kenneth Williams. Other recurring characters included the dome-headed Dinwiddy Snurdle, and back down on 20th century Earth, in Chipping Norton to be precise, the Morris Minor-driving Mabel Appleby who frequently got mixed up in the crew's shenanigans. Melvyn Hayes of It Ain't Half Hot Mum fame also put in an appearance as 'Superbeing'.

The show never had the same staying power as its predecessors; it ran out of steam after just ten episodes.


GAME FOR A LAUGH (ITV 1981-85)

Pre-Blind Date, your typical Saturday evening fun on the commercial network would probably comprise Bob Monkhouse or Max Bygraves's Family Fortunes, Leslie Crowther's The Price is Right, Ted Rogers and Dusty Bin's incomprehensible 3-2-1, or Game for a Laugh, LWT's banal entertainment show, which wins the Eighties Zone award for worst show of the 1980s. In the first instance, Game for a Laugh is noteworthy for managing to get four of television's most annoying personalities - Jeremy Beadle, brothers Matthew and Henry Kelly (yes, I'm joking!) and Sarah Kennedy - all on the same show. Perched on stools, they would introduce, in That's Life! fashion, crazee people doing crazee things - daft pranks, silly stunts, tasteless challenges and so on, killing off the BBC's Larry Grayson's Generation Game in the process.

As the incumbants moved onto bigger and better things (not difficult, really), later incarnations saw the likes of Rustie Lee and Martin Daniels join the team.


GIDEON (ITV 1979-84)

This wonderful lunchtime cartoon makes my eyes mist over with nostalgia more than any other programme. In past experience I had always found that few other people remember it; but judging from the considerable number of e-mails I received on the subject, it would seem that in fact I am far from the only one to recall with it with some fondness! This fairly basic animation centered around Gideon, who was a duck with an unusually long neck. My personal memories are very vague, but it seems Gideon's abnormality was the subject of cruel taunts and jibes from the other ducks - who all had normal length necks - but good always came out in the end.

Gideon originated as a series of French storybooks, written by Benjamin Rabier in the 1920s. In the 1970s French television produced the cartoon series, which then appears to have been sold to the UK and made into an English-language version. Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor narrated the series, as well as providing all the voices - he estimated he had to do around 57 voices in all for the various characters, which included Winston the circus dog, Cornelia the tortoise, Stalker the poacher and even flying rabbits.

In one episode I can specifically remember, Gideon, for some inexplicable reason, dreams about a conveyor belt with a line of duplicate Gideons on it! In another episode, Gideon snaps a rope with his beak and traps a gang of robbers, and in another he was apparently eaten by a crocodile - but got out again all right. I have also been told about the opening titles in which Gideon sticks his neck out across a babbling brook and the other ducks use it as a bridge.

One thing I remember in particular was that the tone was unusually melancholic for a cartoon, and it seems I was certainly not the only one who burst into tears whenever it came on! (Well I was very young...)


THE GOLDEN OLDIE PICTURE SHOW (BBC1 1985-88)

An oddity from the 80s. Pop videos were now ubiquitous, so it was inevitable someone would come up with the idea of making new videos for the hits of the 60s and 70s. Dave Lee Travis presented the show from his DJ farm in Hertfordshire. Invariably the videos bore no resemblance to 'real' pop videos, often being very literal interpretations of the song.


THE GOODIES (BBC2 1970-80, ITV 1981-82)

Mainly a seventies show, to be honest. But I had to include it as it was possibly one of the best, and certainly the wackiest, comedy series of all time - and the biggest joke is that how little it has been repeated on terrestrial telly.

There were no rules in The Goodies - it was a free-for-all of bizarre plots, camera trickery and speeded up film, with most earlier editions containing mock advertisments. In many ways it was a like a live action version of a cartoon; the shows relied on a lot of visual comedy and used a higher proportion of film sequences than on most sitcoms. The three goodies - who would do anything, anytime, anywhere - played exaggerated personalities of themselves: boffin Dr Graeme Garden, royalist Tim Brooke-Taylor and hairy environmentalist Bill Oddie.

By the time we reach our era, the trio had perhaps begun to fall out of favour with the BBC, who had decided they would rather make The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy than a new series of The Goodies. This led to them jumping ship to LWT, where they made one further series. Subsequent repeats have always been thin on the ground; a few compilation DVDs have been released, but a complete DVD box set is said to be on its way - we wait in anticipation!


GRANDAD (BBC1 1979-84)

Clive Dunn revived the 'Grandad' character that gave him a no 1 hit in 1971 for this children's sitcom by Bob Block, best known for creating Rentaghost. In the series Dunn played Charlie Quick, the doddery old caretaker of the Parkview Rehearsal Hall, who had frequent run-ins with the council, and in particular Mr Watkins. Grandad also had two pets - Captain the parrot, and the never-seen Nero the dog.


GRANGE HILL (BBC1 1978-2008)

One of the chief drawbacks of acting in a programme like Grange Hill is that your shelf life is limited to just a few years before you are forced to move on. However this did not prove a problem for Grange Hill pupils in the early 1980s - a teenage Todd Carty won his own spin-off series on BBC2, Tucker's Luck, while EastEnders provided a new home for about half of the cast when it began in 1985.

Although many familiar Grange Hill faces were still around in the mid 1980s, such as Roland Browning, Stewpot Stewart, Pogo Patterson, the grumpy bearded PE teacher Mr Baxter, and headmistress Mrs McClusky, a new generation was beginning to emerge. Amongst the new starters were wheeler dealer Gonch Gardner, scouser Ziggy Greaves, school hunk Ant Jones, and the spiky-haired bully Imelda Davis.

Grange Hill was not afraid to tackle important issues in the 1980s, such as Zammo McGuire's drug addiction (cue the Grange Hill Gang's no 5 hit single 'Just Say No'), but on the other hand the programme was developing a tendancy to veer into comedy, such as caretaker Mr Griffith's ill-fated attempts to hide a donkey called Harriet in the school, and the long-running battle between toupee-wearing demon deputy head Mr Bronson (who became something of a cult figure) and Danny Kendall, although this ended in tragedy when Kendall was found dead in the back of Bronson's car.

Come 1990, the classic theme tune was ditched, and things never seemed quite the same again - or maybe I just got too old...


THE GREAT EGG RACE (BBC2 1979-86)

Best remembered for mad German inventor, Professor Heinz Wolff who was the regular judge in the earlier years of this serious but entertaining 'design and build' game show, and then progressed to presenter. Each week saw three teams - the reds, the yellows and the greens - being set a task to use their ingenuity and build something suitably daft - a hovercraft out of a lawnmower, a bicycle that will ride on water etc, a device to play the piano etc. And how we loved watching them fail.


HAPPY FAMILIES (BBC1 1985)

Who remembers this? One of at least three completely different programmes with the same title. This one was a six-part black comedy serial, written by Ben Elton, and starring Jennifer Saunders as the four Fuddle sisters and their grandmother Edith. Their hopeless and naive brother Guy, played by Adrian Edmondson, was set the task by his dying grandmother to find and reunite his missing sisters, who had become a soap star in America, a jailbird, a nun and a French belle.

This was a very unusual comedy series, with a decidedly dark undertone; it is difficult to imagine it being scheduled pre-watershed on primetime BBC1 today. Shot entirely on film without a laughter track. I mostly remember it for its theme tune; and also the incidental music which used Elton John's haunting instrumental 'Song for Guy'. Perhaps issues with music rights might explain why a DVD release has not been forthcoming?


HENRY'S CAT (BBC1 1983-94)

Who was Henry anyway?

Creator Stan Hayward joined forces with animator Bob Godfrey for this cartoon, which was very much the successor to Roobarb (see also), using the same basic animation techniques. On the face of it a very simplistic cartoon, repeated viewings have shown it to possess a surprisingly dry and witty sense of humour. Henry's Cat was the feline star whose main two interests were eating and sleeping. His best friend was the hyperactive Chris Rabbit; other regulars included Denise Duck, Pansy Pig, Douglas Dog etc etc.

The popularity of the show allowed it to progress from 5 minute to 15 minute programmes with more involved, and ludicrous, storylines and the introduction of a baddie - Rum Baa Baa. It also managed to get through three different theme tunes, the third being an appalling vocal version. Sing along at home:

Henry's, Henry's, you must know Henry's Cat.
You must have seen the movie
You must have read the book
He's a mellow yellow feline
So take a second look
He knows everything about nothing
And not so much about that
So if you know someone who knows what he knows
Then you must know Henry's Cat
You must know Henry's Cat

A complete DVD boxset, including episodes never shown in the UK, is available.


IMPORTED CARTOONS (BBC1 1985 onwards)

From the mid-80s onwards a number of seemingly never-ending dubbed cartoon serials were bought by the BBC, which hoovered up vast amounts of airtime in the afternoons on Children's BBC. First up was Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, a canine-based retelling of the famous Alexandre Dumas story. Ulysses 31 debuted later in 1985, and was the only one of our quartet of cartoons that was set in the future (in the 31st century, as indicated by the title), but based around the Greek legend of Odysseus. (This wasn't the only time this mythology was turned into a Children's BBC programme, as just one year later Tony Robinson performed his own telling of the legend).

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was the most epic series of the lot. It went on for a whopping 39 episodes, and followed the characters Esteban, Zia and Tao as they searched for the lost cities of the Incas. Finally, Around the World with Willy Fog saw the title character transformed into a lion, who, along with his trusty companion Rigodon (and not forgetting Tico the mascot!) endeavoured to travel across the globe in order to win a bet. Andy Crane declared the date of the final episode as National Willy Fog Day, and even all these years later, people across the country still celebrate the occasion on 28th April every year!

Each of these serials had well-remembered theme tunes. The single of the Dogtanian theme even made it into the UK Top 75. Phillip Schofield memorably sung along to the Ulysses 31 and Cities of Gold theme tunes, and personally wrote and sent out songsheets for viewers to take part in as well, while Andy Crane did the same for Willy Fog. The latter, performed by the Spanish group Mocedades who appeared in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, is my favourite, and the full three-and-a-half-minute version is well worth a listen!


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Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters