Eighties Zone

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


JAMIE AND THE MAGIC TORCH (ITV 1976-86)

Second in nostalgia value only to Gideon. The plot revolved around Jamie who, once he had been put to bed by his mother, would shine his magic torch under his bed, and he and his dog Wordsworth would jump down the hole and slide down a seemingly endless helter skelter. Upon reaching the bottom he would come out of a hole in a tree and bounce onto a trampoline, finding himself in a bizarre world - Cuckooland - populated by the likes of one-wheeled policeman Officer Gotcha, and mad scientist Mr Boo. Brian Trueman (see also Screen Test) wrote and voiced the programme. Highly nostalgic opening and closing titles, with a particularly haunting theme tune in the night time 'real world' segments.

Two of the three series were released on DVD in the early 2000s.


JIGSAW (BBC1 1979-84)

Growing out of Vision On; Tony Hart took his art to Take Hart, while the wacky stuff was reborn on yet another Clive Doig show. Jigsaw was a blend of zany sketches, animations and puzzles. The aim was come up with a full six-letter word - the jigword - taking a clue from each sketch. There was a large roster of regular characters - Jigg himself, a floating talking puzzle piece; Biggum, the Scottish giant (of whom we only saw the tartan sock and sandal) and Pterry the pterodactyl (both voiced by Tommy Boyd); the O-Men (one of whom was Sylvester McCoy) and Mr Noseybonk. Then there was a trip to the garden shed to see what crazy inventor Wilf Lunn was up to that week.

Mime artist Adrian Hedley (who did eventually get to speak!) was the main man throughout. His original co-presenter was Janet Ellis, whose job was to bring sanity to this bizarre world. When she left for Blue Peter, Julia Binsted (see also Eureka!) took her place, playing the character Dot. And a pre-Tomorrow's World Howard Stableford joined for the final series, taking over as the voice of Jigg and Biggum, and also as Gregory Growlong the gardener!


JOHN CRAVEN'S NEWSROUND (BBC1 1972-89)

News for children? It'll never work, they said. And perhaps without John Craven, maybe it wouldn't have done. The news may have been made more simplistic for its audience, but it was never patronising.

The Newsround format remained unchanged for most of John's tenure - the start of each edition was heralded by the strange plinkety plonkety theme tune, over which was read the main headline (usually something about panda bears); each story was illustrated by a full screen image behind John; then, as if to remind viewers that not everything in the world was bad, each programme ended with an amusing 'And Finally' story, a terrible pun, and the even stranger closing music.

Until 1986 the programme only ran for four days a week, although the Friday slot was often filled by Newsround Extra. Then the following year JCN received its first proper revamp - a new theme tune, computer graphics and new presenters Roger Finn and Helen Rollason - although only when John was presenting did the programme bear the presenter's name. John finally called it a day in June 1989.


LONDON TO BRIGHTON IN THREE-AND-A-HALF MINUTES (BBC1 1983)

This was a short film made in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the electrification of the London to Brighton line, which was first transmitted one Friday evening in July 1983, just after Nationwide. A modern recreation of London to Brighton in Four Minutes, which dated back to 1952, it was basically a filmed train journey between yes, you've guessed it, London to Brighton, speeded up so it took just three-and-a-half minutes (all right, you're ahead of me here). If only train travel was really that effective...

The soundtrack was a superb synth-pop composition, very reminiscent of the period, accompanied by various train sound effects. It was shown again in subsequent years whenever there was a five minute gap which needed filling, and I have a feeling a London to Birmingham version (taking five minutes?) was made a few years later as well.


LOOK AND READ (BBC1/2 1967-2004)

Look and Read was one of the longest running schools programmes in Britain, and if you're a child of the 80s, the Look and Read stories you're most likely to have watched include 'Sky Hunter' (shown from 1978-82), 'Fair Ground!' (1983-89), 'Badger Girl' (1984-92), and 'Geordie Racer' (1988-95), As far as I'm concerned, it was 'The Boy from Space' (1980-86) and, most memorably, 'Dark Towers' (1981-87) - a ghost story which featured The Dark Knight, the Friendly Ghost, and Christopher Biggins. The theme tune was sung by Derek Griffiths.

In the early 2000s, in a shock move, the CBBC channel wheeled out a number of 70s and 80s episodes as part of its Class TV strand, and after watching 'Dark Towers' for the first time in 20 years, I was struck at how slowly the story seems to progress throughout the ten episodes; indeed the majority of each programme is given over to the straight teaching of language skills from the librarian and long-time L&R stalwart Wordy - and of course the songs. For me, the best remembered song is Bill the Brickie's 'Why Don't You Build Yourself a Word'.

'The Boy from Space' is available on DVD courtesy of the BFI.


MAKE 'EM LAUGH (BBC1 1982-84)

A children's series in which Mark Curry introduced clips from the era of silent films, Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin and so on. We wouldn't see a show like it these days; but in the early 80s it was still thought that children would be interested in black-and-white comedy from the 1920s. And up until the 1970s Laurel and Hardy were still to be found as part of BBC1's children's afternoon entertainment.

In the early 1980s silent comedy shorts like Harold Lloyd were still being shown by BBC2 - but unfortunately they are now long since gone. Now there's something they should bring back.


MASTERTEAM (BBC1 1985-87)

This very 1980s quiz, hosted by Angela Rippon, was one of the attempts to fill the 5.35 slot created by the launch of the Six O'Clock News in 1984 on BBC1, that the BBC were not quite sure what to do with. So we got a variety of programmes, some aimed at children - eg Muppet Babies, The Raccoons, Roland Rat: The Series - and some obviously more adult-orientated shows like this nightly quiz.

The teams of three were usually made up of groups of civil servants, social clubs and the like. A game began with a round of quick fire general knowledge questions, followed by one team member going under the spotlight for questions on a chosen subject. There was also In the Spin, where teams had to make the longest word possible from three randomly selected letters appearing in sequence. Then there were the medals - bronze for two consecutive wins, silver for three, and gold for four, after which the team was retired.


METAL MICKEY (ITV 1980-83)

Ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz turned director in LWT's Saturday teatime children's sitcom about a rather wayward robot named Metal Mickey, built by inventor Ken Wilberforce and designed to perform chores in the Wilberforce household. However Mickey instead spent the whole time cauing as much havoc as possible, with a nasty habit of saying 'Boogie Boogie' most of the time. Veteran comedy actress Irene Handl starred as Granny Wilberforce in the series.

The first two series were released on DVD, now unfortunately deleted.


MICRO LIVE (BBC2 1983-87)

Following on from the BBC's early computer literacy programmes The Computer Programme (see also) and Making the Most of the Micro, this regular magazine show took a wider look at the growing world of information technology in the mid-1980s, inevitably featuring the BBC Micro in full effect. Presented by the official BBC Micro guru Fred Harris, along with Lesley Judd and Ian McNaught-Davis, it began as a four-hour special on a Sunday afternoon in 1983, before progressing to a monthly series on Friday evenings (still transmitted 'live', as the name suggests) and eventually going weekly until its 1987 demise.


THE NOEL EDMONDS LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW (BBC1 1982-86)

The ending of Larry Grayson's Generation Game left a gaping hole in BBC1's Saturday schedule, but the BBC knew there was one man who could fill it. And so The Bearded One, having recently left Swap Shop and Radio 1, launched the first incarnation of his Saturday night extravaganza. However The Late Late Breakfast Show (which actually started over four months before there were even any early early breakfast shows on television) got off to a rather inauspicious start. It wasn't until original co-host Leni Harper, was ditched along with the incongruous John Peel, and Mike 'Smitty' Smith was brought on board on outside broadcast duties that ratings begin to rise.

Regular features included The Hit Squad, in which hidden camera pranks were played on members of the public, television out-takes in The Golden Egg Awards, the annual search for Mr Puniverse, the inevitable burping gnome, and the Whirly Wheel, where Noel would ring up a lucky viewer live on air and invite them to perform a daredevil stunt the following week. And it was thanks to the Whirly Wheel that The Late Late Breakfast Show gained notoriety for ever more - for causing the death of one of its contestants whilst rehearsing the stunt, involving an exploding crate on a bungee rope, the preceding Thursday. And so on Saturday 15th November 1986, instead of introducing that week's programme, the BBC1 announcer instead had to declare that The Late Late Breakfast Show would not be coming back - ever.

But of course Noel himself did come back. In 1988 The Late Late Breakfast Show begat The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow, which in turn begat the mega-hit Noel's House Party in 1991.


NOW GET OUT OF THAT (BBC1 1981-83)

Notable for not having a theme tune. The late Bernard Falk narrated this series in which two competing teams were dumped out into the middle of nowhere, and had to complete a series of challenges, which usually involved getting across rivers.


ON THE WATERFRONT (BBC1 1988-89)

We all remember the great Saturday morning shows Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore, Going Live! and Live and Kicking - but many of the summer versions have been less memorable. Some don't deserve to be remembered (It's Wicked!, Parallel 9); on the other hand there are others that weren't half bad - like On the Waterfront.

Coming from the BBC's short-lived studios in a converted warehouse at Liverpool's South Docks (hence the title), On the Waterfront was a sort of hybrid - on one hand it was a comedy sketch show, Fast Forward-style; on the other it was the usual mix of cartoons, games and pop videos. Presenters were Kate 'Play School' Copstick, Andrew 'game show host' O'Connor, Bernadette 'The Nolans' Nolan and Terry 'who?' Randall; recurring characters included Terry's Mr Cautious, and Andrew and Terry's 'Lard' brothers. However, the show is probably best known for the dubbed, and actually quite funny, version of the serial The Flashing Blade, which had a habit of making references to cotton buds and earwax.

On the Waterfront was the only Saturday morning series on BBC1 to be entirely pre-recorded, and only filled the first half of the summer season; in both years it was succeeded by UP2U, which was only significant for one thing - starting off Anthea Turner's career.


OPEN AIR (BBC1 1986-90)

The test card and Pages from Ceefax were banished forever from daytime BBC1 in October 1986 with the introduction of the first wave of BBC daytime programmes, including Kilroy (originally known as Day to Day), the One O'Clock News and Neighbours.

Presenters included ex-Nationwiders Bob Wellings and Pattie Coldwell, but is perhaps best known for giving birth to Eamonn Holmes's national career. Open Air was essentially Points of View stretched out to one hour each weekday morning, and consisted of angry phone comments about the previous night's television, various behind the scenes features, and television producers and presenters defending themselves against a tirade of viewers, notably Doctor Who writers Pip and Jane Baker getting grilled by future Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall.


THE ORCHESTRA (Channel 4 1986-87)

Channel 4 were keen to push innovative forms of comedy in its early years, and so in 1986 they bought what is still the only Israeli comedy programme ever shown on British television. This ten-part filmed sitcom parodied various aspects of classical music, and although my memory of it is fairly vague I can remember it featuring the orchestra in question playing in various different, and bizzare, locations each week. It may not have been the likely comedic premise, but it was actually rather funny. There was no spoken content in the programme, not surprising since its star Julian-Joy Chagrin (whose role was simply known as 'The Maestro') was an acclaimed comic mime artist.


PAGES FROM CEEFAX (BBC1/2 throughout the 1980s)

Memories of spending afternoons during school holidays with nothing better to do than watch these selections of BBC Micro text and graphics (remember the weather house graphic, and the living room pic which heralded the tv pages?) which took up much of daytime BBC1 and BBC2 in the 1980s before all day broadcasting arrived in 1986. Novel for those of us without teletext, and great music accompanying it as well; by 1985 we had some nice synth tunes, one of which particularly sticks in my mind, Nigel Bates's 'Forward Projection'.


PEBBLE MILL AT ONE (BBC1 1972-86)

Dependable middle-of-the-road lunchtime features, chat, music and cookery from the foyer of the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. Usually watched whilst waiting for the 1.45 See-Saw programme to start. Long-lost names such as Marian Foster, Bob Langley and Josephine Buchan presented, plus Magnus Magnusson joined the team for the final series following the death of Donny MacLeod. Peter Seabrook was in charge of the greenhouse; and wasn't the video for Su Pollard's 1986 hit 'Starting Together' filmed in the grounds of the Mill?!

The series was revived under such titles as Daytime Live and Scene Today, and finally as plain Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh, Judi Spiers and regular contributions from the BBC Big Band. It won't be again, though - especially since the hallowed Pebble Mill building has been bulldozed!

There were several Pebble Mill spin-offs, particularly in the 1970s, such as the late night chat show Saturday Night at the Mill. In 1981 a kind of early evening version called Six Fifty-five Special surfaced during the Mill's summer break, meaning any hopes Donny and Marian had for a summer break as well were dashed when they found themselves presenting it. By 1983 Paul Coia (best known for Debbie Greenwood) and Tiswas graduate Sally James had taken over; the BBC had obviously decided it was no longer anything particularly Special about it, and the title was reduced to merely reflect its timeslot.


PLAY AWAY (BBC2 1971-84)

It really doesn't matter if it's raining or it's fine, just as long as you've got time, to P-L-A-Y, Play Away-way, Play Away, Play Away, Play Away, Play Away...

The comedy-based spin-off from Play School. Aimed at slightly older children, but featuring many of the PS regulars, such as Brian Cant, Carol Chell and Floella Benjamin (Jeremy Irons was also a presenter in the 70s), it was a riot of jokes, comedy, sketches and songs; music always came from Jonathan Cohen at the piano. Typical childish humour - how do cats go down the M1? Meeeeeiiiiooooowwww!!! Well I thought it was funny...

When it ended in 1984, Play Away was succeeded by Fast Forward.


PLAY SCHOOL (BBC2/1 1964-88)

The programme which unintentionally opened BBC2 in 1964.

In the early 80s it used the classic orange house titles, and green-framed windows - round, square and arched - and presenters included Fred Harris, Carol Chell, Floella Benjamin, Ben Thomas, Chloe Ashcroft and many others. There was also the large elaborate Play School clock, which introduced the day's story with something vaguely relating to the story in the lower half of the clock structure. (It was also the cause of the strike which scuppered the recording of the Doctor Who story 'Shada', but that's another story...) No need to mention the toys - we all remember them!

In the autumn of 1983 there was an attempt to move the times with a trendy revamp, which included a new theme tune, new set, new presenters and - horror of horrors - FOUR windows! Play School was replaced by Playbus/Playdays in 1988, and in the 2000s the spirit of Play School was revived with CBeebies' Tikkabilla, complete with windows and clock!


POP QUIZ (BBC1 1981-84, 1994, 2016-17)

Mike Read was everywhere in the early 80s - not only was he regularly presenting Saturday Superstore, Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 breakfast show, but he could also be seen hosting this Saturday teatime mullet-fest. Transmitted in an era dominated by the New Romantics and synthpop, the celebrity teams would invariably feature at least one member of Duran Duran, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet each week. Pop Quiz is probably best remembered, however, for the lyric round - history does not relate whether any of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's songs ever featured in this round...

A revival in 1994 saw Chris Tarrant make a rare foray across to the BBC to host, and another revival at Christmas 2016 saw Mike Read back in the chair for two all-80s specials. More, BBC, more!


PUZZLE TRAIL (BBC1 1980-84)

Children's puzzle game. The first series I can remember was the third, 1982, series with Tommy Boyd, which ran daily for two weeks and revolved around a search for hidden treasure. A year later Howard Stableford presented, and in 1984 ex-Monkee Davy Jones took charge.


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