Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Pipkins down at Cockleshell Bay with Mr Spoon (Part Two)

So where did we get to then? Its the early 1980's and it all change with the new ITV franchises coming into effect and even over at the BBC where Watch with Mother is phased out for something new and a new raft of programmes as well.

In late 1980, the new ITV franchises were announced with the biggest being ATV changing into Central Television. With that came new ideas and for Hartley Hare, the end of the line... 

Let's Pretend which used both former Pipkins puppeteer Nigel Plaskitt and also former Pipkins producer Michael Jeans and deviser of Let's Pretend as well, was unique in that it used what it found around to make stories and also letting children use their imagination to create their own stories following on from the programme's end. First broadcast in January 1982, parents were disappointed to see Pipkins being replaced by a new programme but over time the programme grew in people's conciousness not only for the theme but also the puppet caterpillar which would move across the screen in the titles. For some people it would seem almost surreal with the puppet making a squeaking noise as it moved along, with its montage of what had happened during the programme at the end. It lasted nearly seven years until 1988 when once again new shows were brought in to replace it.

Meanwhile over at the BBC, the Watch with Mother strand has changed into See Saw. The See Saw branding was first used in 1980 introduced Pigeon Street, King Rollo and The Flumps to programmes for the under five's. Originally like Mr Benn, King Rollo had been a series of books  for children written by David McKee published in 1979. Seeing the potential once again, the BBC commissioned the books to be animated creating 13 episodes made by King Rollo Films 
which was set up by McKee in 1978. 

The tales of King Rollo, The Magician, Cook and his cat Hamlet were one of the young king exploring through life much like the young viewers at home whilst entertaining them as well. By using the same animation technique as Mr Benn, it gave the programme a bright look almost like a parent would have drawn for their child. With the walking aspect, the characters legs rotating outwards as they walked gave it charm and a look of something which had taken time to create. Much like the simple animations of Firman and Postgate did before this, enabling simplistic animation to become the norm which would used again in Peppa Pig at the start of the 21st century. 

After the 13 episodes had been broadcast, King Rollo Films found a niche area for producing animations for younger children. Towser made in 1982 voiced by Roy Kinnear, Victor and Maria broadcast by ITV in 1983 and The Adventures of Spot made in 1987 adapting Eric Hill's books for television very much like had been done to McKee's one nearly twenty years before that. Such was the success of the animation studio, that it still makes programmes for the under fives, even reviving Mr Benn for Nickelodeon's Nick Jr channel in 2004 with a brand new adventure following McKee writing Mr Benn - Gladiator as a book in 2001. 

Pigeon Street which like Mary, Mungo and Midge was set in an urban settting. Where as Mary's flat was a penthouse, Pigeon Street was more like an ordinary urban estate with terraced housing and tower blocks. Much were the norm of social housing at that time, Alan Rogers and Peter Lang made the animation who were later to make Rub-A-Dub-Dub for Tv-am. It showed an urban landscape which was real for most children in early 80's Britain. Using the character and their mixture of them allowed something different to what had been seen before, by taking Long Distance Clara and Hugo the Cook, who were cohabiting partners showed that people lived together who might not be married but this was balanced out by Mr Macadoo, his wife and  their twins Molly with an 'M' and Polly with a 'P' as their song went when ever they first appeared on screen during the episode. 

But not only this, the use of ethnic characters as well meant that these programmes were showing that Britain was changing and so the characters in these programmes had to as well. Reflecting the world outside the young viewers windows meant that seeing this changing Britain that they could recognise.

Meanwhile up at Yorkshire Television, they had been invaded by the cat from outer space... Get Up and Go featured Beryl Reid and Stephen Boxer assisting Mooncat in adjusting to his life on earth explaining his new surrounds to him much like a parent or guardian would do to a young child. In a similar vain to earlier shows such as Hickory House, the exploration of a young child's  world. With a tried and tested format of filmed inserts, stories and songs kept the series going for four years even with a change of title to emphasize Mooncat's role in the show and allowed Mooncat to finally dump the Moon Machine in which he saw life outside on and get out into the wide world. Though Beryl Reid wasn't available to film the 1984 series after being offered a role in a major ITV drama, meaning the setting was changed to Mooncat and Boxer living in a junk shop that Boxer was supposed to own. 

The role of Reid was filled by various celebrities playing different roles when they popped in the junk shop such as Pam Ayres, Wilf Lunn, Patsy Rowlands, Kenny Lynch and Pat Coombs later to have her own programme with Ragdolly Anna. Boxer eventually left as well with former Opportunity Knocks winner Bernie Flint taking over Boxer's role with Mooncat even though Boxer's face was on the opening credits still.

With Claridge's move with Roland Rat to the BBC in late 1985 meant Mooncat ended but the format of celebrities playing roles in a shop would be seen again though...

By the mid to late 80's, shows for the under fives were changing with more animations and puppet based shows becoming the norm each trying to compete with Rainbow which by 1987 had been on the air for fifteen years. In the mid to late 80's though two comedy stars were on both sides of the airwaves lending their voices to animated shows. From the BBC came Bertha  
with Towzer's own Roy Kinnear lending his vocal talents to the show, the show made by Woodland Animations came from a line of shows such as Postman Pat made by Ivor Wood. Bertha's purpose was to manufacture varying items but whenever there was a problem, Bertha would solve it. Bringing out teamwork and helping people in the show to the children.

On ITV, a man who had links with Monty Python was already performing in Puddle Lane for Yorkshire Television. Neil Innes, who had previously worked along side the Pythons and Eric Idle in Rutland Weekend Television narrated, voiced the characters, performed and composed the music as well. Where are Pigeon Street reflected a different Britain at the start of the 1980's , The Raggy Dolls encouraged young children to think about people with disabilities and also teaching them about humility as well. With Sad Sack being gloomy and cynical but with a heart of gold, Dotty with paint split on her and being the leader of the Raggy Dolls, Hi-Fi having a stammer after being dropped when being tested, Lucy having limbs which were poorly stitched,  Back to Front having his head round the wrong way, Claude who was dropped out of a box of French Dolls heading for export over the channel and finally of the original dolls comes Princess who is made up of left over material. 

The vast majority of the dolls in their own ways represent different disabilities both physical and mental as well. Hi-Fi having a speech impediment, Sad Sack having a mental illness Lucy having weak joints, Dotty having a birthmark and Back to Front having mobility problems etc. But this is a difference in these types of shows, at the time it doesn't seem obivious like most of  these shows, they are dealing in social issues behind the background of animations and songs.  

Where as The Raggy Dolls brought an understanding of physical disabilities to the screen, Granada's Tickle on the Tum brought the everyday local shop to the screen, familiar to any young child or parent who would go shopping locally. Ralph McTell who had come from another Granada programme for the under fives, Alphabet Zoo along with Danuschia Harwood in the first series and Jaqueline Reddin from the second series onwards worked in their shop where a local person came in recalling something which happened to them during that week, allowing McTell to play a song on the guitar or either play a song which would be related the story in that week's episode. 

Similar to Mooncat and Co. performers played the local residents who came into the shop, such as Tim Healy playing Barney Bodger, the local handyman or Kenny Lynch, playing the local milkman. Plus Penelope Keith playing the local school bus driver or the late, great John Wells playing a local farmer. These characters helped the plot along interacting with Ralph, Danuschia or Jaqueline, it was a fun series always seeing familiar faces coming into the shop and making good use of performers as well who were established at that time and especially good comic people as well. Before the end of the final series in 1988, McTell went back to his recording career leaving Jaqueline in charge of the shop and to sing the theme tune that McTell did previously. 

By the end of the 1980's lead to the ITV franchises changing again in 1992, meaning saying goodbye to another lot of shows, but with new franchises came new shows such as Meridian getting in on the slot with Wizadora. Wizadora, the trainee wizard performed the usual role of being the main performer with her friends Stan, the local shopkeeper played by Brian Murphy and Tatty Bogle, a scarecrow who was more bumbling then dim witted played from 1993 to 1994 by Joe Greco  and from 1995 to 1998 by later to become the main anchor of CITV and future Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow producer Steve Ryde, himself a alumni of the Central Television Workshop in the early 1980's. 

Taking elements from other shows meant that Wizadora followed in a long line of shows which is continued by both Cbeebies and Mini CITV for the terrestrial channels as well as plenty of other digital channels. 

Television for younger children maybe seen by some people as stunting their growth, its also a part of growing up no matter what their age is. From the grandparents of The Woodentops, the parents of Pipkins, the Uncles and Aunties of Pigeon Street and King Rollo to the children of Wizadora. Thanks to DVDs, that we no matter what our age can still see them and show them to the next generation too...

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