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.
* * *
Here endeth the bellyaching, now for the Forgotten Gems of Children’s ITV:
- Marmalade Atkins;
- Hold Tight;
- Young Krypton;
- Seal Morning;
- Super Gran;
- Gus Honeybun;
- Round The Bend;
- Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It;
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.
* * *
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.