Forgotten Gems of Children’s ITV: The Not So Perfect Ten

In response to ITV’s documentary on CITV, East of the M60‘s head honcho released a few glaring omissions…

I enjoyed ITV’s documentary on Children’s ITV’s 30th anniversary, but I felt that the programme was more suitable for existing CITV viewers – and viewers born after 1986 – with televisual nostalgia leanings. Though Funhouse and Danger Mouse were quite rightly mentioned, there were such other gems which – in my opinion – were the embodiment of Children’s ITV.

Underplayed was Central Independent Television’s role, by means of the Central Junior Television Workshop. From there spawned some of CITV’s most original programming and a chunk of its dramatic input . Each of the ITV franchises also produced one-off dramas under the Dramarama banner.

There was also a glaring error; it seemed as if within the documentary, children’s programming’s year zero was 1983. There had been children’s programming on the ITV franchises since the start in 1955, though no targeted children’s slot in the daytime till 1981. That was ITV’s ‘Watch It!’ strand. Saturday mornings were allocated to children’s programmes from the late 1970s. Moreover, Look In! magazine, launched in 1972, also carried listings for child/family friendly programmes (which included Black Beauty as well as World of Sport and Coronation Street) – outside what would be CITV’s slot.

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Here endeth the bellyaching, now for the Forgotten Gems of Children’s ITV:

  1. Chocky;
  2. Marmalade Atkins;
  3. Hold Tight;
  4. Young Krypton;
  5. Seal Morning;
  6. Super Gran;
  7. Gus Honeybun;
  8. Round The Bend;
  9. Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It;
  10. Dramarama.

1. Chocky (Thames Television, 1984): Chocky was a dramatisation of the 1963 John Wyndham novel. The main character, Matthew, received telepathic messages from another planet, by a supposedly imaginary friend. It spawned two spin-offs, Chocky’s Children and Chocky’s Challenge.

2. Marmalade Atkins (Thames Television, 1981 – 1984): Another dramatisation, this time based on the 1979 book Marmalade and Rufus. Played by Charlotte Coleman, the lead character had been thrown out of many a school, even taught by a circus performer at one stage. The hyperactive auburn haired child got into many scrapes throughout its three year run. The series was transferred with further episodes written for television by Andrew Davies. He would later find fame as the writer of the House of Cards.

3. Hold Tight (Granada Television, 1982 – 1988): Set in Alton Towers, this programme had a mix of silly games and pop music, with the centrepiece a giant Snakes and Ladders board. Presented by Bob Carolgees and Pauline Black (then late of The Selector), it would include performances from pop acts of the day. Key moments included the censorship of Erasure’s Sometimes and a toy duck attack in We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going To Use It’s 1986 minor hit Love Is The Slug.

4. Young Krypton (Granada Television, 1987 – 1989): As a spin-off from its already successful adult equivalent hosted by Gordon Burns, Young Krypton was aimed at under-14s, with great emphasis on an adventure playground style assault course. Hosted by Ross King (later presenter of The 8.15 From Manchester on the other side), it was set at the now closed American Adventure theme park near Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

5. Seal Morning (Central Independent Television, 1986): In a slot once occupied by End of Part One in 1979 and A Little Princess the year after, was Seal Morning. Adapted from the Rowena Farre novel, it is set in Sutherland and recalls her experiences in a croft in the Scottish Highlands. For seven years, Rowena and her auntie had a number of pets, including a seal called Lora.

6. Super Gran (Tyne-Tees Television, 1984 – 1987): A Billy Connolly penned signature tune and surreal antics with a geriatric superhero: what is there not to like? Super Gran was a creation of Forrest Wilson and adapted for television by Jenny McDaid. The 59 year old Gudrun Ure, who played the titular character, did most of the stunts herself. Each episode was narrated by Bill McAllister and included guest appearances by the likes of Geoff Capes and George Best.

7. Gus Honeybun (Westward Television/Television South West, 1962 – 1992): Some of East of the M60‘s more southern readers may have been rueing the absence of Gus Honeybun on the aforementioned retrospective. Less anarchic than Sooty, Gus’ role involved assisting Westward/TSW continuity announcers with birthday announcements. Gus would hop a given number of times depending the child’s age (up to 12). The loss of TSW’s franchise also meant the end of South West England’s favourite grey rabbit. His last episode saw Gus reunited with the rest of his family.

8. Round The Bend (Yorkshire Television/Hat Trick Productions, 1989 – 1991): Created by Hydonian cartoonist Tony Husband and Patrick Gallagher, it was a children’s sketch show. There was spoof features like False Teeth From Beyond the Stars and the odd joke or three. It was seen as a spin-off from the Oink comic (also associated with Tony Husband) with Uncle Pigg substituted by Doc Croc, and similar sense of humour to the publication (though slightly toned down).

9. Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It (Central Independent Television, 1985 – 1988): One of the great joys of early Children’s ITV was the Central Junior Television Workshop, a televisual repertory company of young actors. As well as providing dancers for Rod Hull and Emu’s The Pink Windmill, they would turn their talents to satire and impressions in Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It. Anarchic, it poked holes at contemporary TV programmes – a la End of Part One minus John Tribe’s graphics – and spawned a spin-off series which lampooned Grange Hill. Known as Palace Hill, it had the Windsors attending a bog-standard comprehensive school in a rough part of the Midlands.

10. Dramarama (various ITV franchises, 1983 – 1989): For our final entry, a collective effort by each of ITV’s franchises. Though Children’s Ward saw four of its actors appear in Coronation Street, the former programme started off as a spin-off from a spin-off of a Dramarama episode. An episode of Bonzo, Dodger and the Rest (Thames Television) entitled ‘Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night’ would spawn Children’s Ward. Kay Mellor, Paul Abbott and Anthony Horowitz submitted scripts and went onto bigger things.

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More Honourable Mentions:

If you watched the documentary on ITV1 tonight (or wish to watch it on ITV Player), feel free to bounce off any other forgotten programmes from the Children’s ITV/Watch It! years. Then again, if you’ve yet to see it, comment away anyway, or add something to the existing list of programmes.

Before you comment, time for me to say goodnight and remind you all to switch off your set.

S.V., 29 December 2012.

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9 thoughts on “Forgotten Gems of Children’s ITV: The Not So Perfect Ten

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    1. Hi Lee,

      I can never forget ‘Hold Tight’. As well as Peter Kay mentioning it in relation to Bob Carolgees, I always fancied a stab at the giant Snakes and Ladders board, or the off chance of seeing Kim Wilde and the like on the stage. Alas it wasn’t to be, I never got to go to Alton Towers (I still haven’t been!) and had to be content with two trips to Gulliver’s Kingdom with my then local primary school.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

    1. Hi Eveline,

      I couldn’t find her on the documentary either. Some sloppy research from our fellows who made the programme, not least the fact it could have covered more ITV franchises’ programming. I wonder if there’s any alternative histories of Children’s ITV on YouTube, something along the lines of the ‘ITV in The Face’ series documentaries by Frank Coleman [Applemask]?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  1. Round the Bend!!! I’d almost forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder, Stuart. I’m sat in a room with Doc Croc locked in a chest. I must get him out – it’s been a long time. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your mentioning of him and the show. Either that or he’ll eat you.

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    1. Hi Patrick,

      I can never forget Round the Bend on account of its surrealistic nature. False Teeth Beyond The Stars; the spoof sports reports from a potato; and of course, Doc Croc himself. I also remember it as one of Hat Trick Productions’ first programmes. Six years on they produced Father Ted and the rest was history. Little did we know six years earlier they would introduce Dermot Morgan and Ardal O’Hanlon to UK audiences with great success, in a Fawlty Towers sense.

      Of note, it is the only one of our ten to spawn a spin-off computer game. Released for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in 1991, the eponymous game was rereleased by Zeppelin as Doc Croc’s Outrageous Adventures. The Oink comic (which Round the Bend owes a debt to), spawned a computer game for the C64, Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC formats (CRL, 1987).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

      1. Hi Stuart,

        Nice to hear back from you.

        Funny you should mention Father Ted.

        After Oink! and Round the Bend, I then worked on Radio One with Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley (I employed Marc Riley on Oink!. Marc created Harry the Head and also appeared as Snatcher Sam in photo form. We were old friends who met at secondary school). Anyway, during my time with Mark and Marc we were invited to a promotional event organised by Hat Trick where I was introduced to Graham Linehan, co-creator and co-writer of Father Ted. I was in awe of the guy but when he heard I was involved on Oink!, the tables turned. He told me how much he loved the comic and said it was a major influence on his comedy writing career.

        The thing is, when you’re actually producing something, whether it be a comic or a TV show, the last thing you’re thinking about is how it might influence somebody for their future.

        We even employed a young Charlie Brooker on Oink!. I think he was 15 at the time.

        Thanks again for the mention in ‘The Not So Perfect Ten’. I thought the entire piece was brilliantly written.

        Patrick

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      2. Hi Patrick,

        Many thanks for your prompt reply. When I was eight, I was a staunch Beano reader, but on odd occasions, I was also an Oink! reader. My favourite strips were Psycho Gran, Horace ‘Ugly Face’ Watkins (one of Tony Husband’s strips) and Harry the Head.

        I also remember your Ray of the Rangers strip in Shoot! magazine (again with Tony, around 1991) and noticed its roots in ‘Herbert of the Rovers’ (The Oink! Book 1988) which I picked up in a car boot sale.

        With the exception of anything by Harry Hill or Leigh Francis (as Keith Lemon), there seems to be a lack of surrealism on the television. For children, even less so it seems, and we are all the poorer. In such drab times we need more, not less, daftness.

        Thanks again,

        Stuart.

        Like

      3. Hi Stuart,

        With hardly any outlets for my daftness, I keep my surreal thoughts in my head these days.

        It’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

        Patrick

        Liked by 1 person

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