Eighties Zone

More classic eighties television. On this page, programmes from F-I; we also have programmes from A-E, J-P and R-Z.


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; but the complete DVD boxset is now available!


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