The ITV Chart Show

In many ways this was ITV’s answer to top of the pops or perhaps a way of capturing the MTV experience in an hour on Saturday Mornings.

The programme featured music videos from the various chart toppers if the week. There was on screen information alongside which when I was younger only the animations were of interest but as I grew older the information contained within was somewhat of interest.

The on screen graphics and information from the mid-90s straight from an Amiga computer.

The programme was a constant throughout my childhood as my Dad was a big music fan and missing it was probably unthinkable. Even as I got older and watched Live and Kicking it was rare I ever got to see the phone-in at the end of the programme.

The chart show is the kind of programme I would probably appreciate more now than I did then only with the same songs they used to play. As a child music was not so important to me, least of all chart music.

As well as the main singles chart – it was the Saturday Chart and therefore often differed from the main chart on Sunday, there were other charts like the Indie Chart and Album Chart.

The graphics would often change but the format was stellar. Top of the Pops 2 owes a lot to the programme. Eventually it was Ant and Dec and a live music programme, CD:UK that would see the programme end.

Just incase you couldn’t tell with the Twix logo all over the title sequence.

Bonus points for the well integrated Twix sponsorship at the start.

Currently remembering things one at a time on Sunday Evenings.

Bugs

In the nineties Casualty didn’t air all year long and there was a drama shaped hole in the Saturday night schedule. Bugs was one of the shows made to plug the gap.

It was about a secret team of law-enforcers. They weren’t police and weren’t MI5 but somewhere in between. They used technology to crack down on various bad guys.

The series was probably one of the first to use ‘modern’ technology as the main plot device and perhaps the first recognise cyber crime as being the future for criminals.

There was a pretty strong cast although they all came from soap(ish) series. Jay Griffiths previously in the Bill played Ros, Jessie Birdsall previously in Eldorado played Beckett and Craig MacClaughlan who had been in neighbours played Ed.

As a general rule Beckett was the one who took charge and only got his hands dirty when it really called for it. Ed was the dare-devil who took on various stunts and Ros was the computer nerd who generally used technical knowledge to hack systems and crack codes.

At the time it all seemed fast-paced and cutting edge but if you get the chance to see it now.. as I did when London Live started repeating in – random programming choice!

It doesn’t really hold up. The 90s computers running pre-Windows operating systems is fine but in one scene they were trying to crack a code on a Speak and Spell – ET had one of those in the early 80s! Spraying it silver did not disguise the fact!

Aside from the dodgy technology the programme struggled to gain the audience it needed for a Saturday night. A cliff hanger at the end of the second series was enough to get it a third but the same trick didn’t work for series 4.

Bugs will mostly be remembered for… well it probably won’t be remembered by most at all.

Comedy Corner: The Smoking Room

BBC Three, 2004 – 2005

The notion of there even being a room for smoking in a workplace is now nothing but a memory. This sitcom came just a couple of years before smoking indoors at work was outlawed.

The Smoking Room was a weird lounge with yellow walls and old files in an office building, the exact nature of the business was never really revealed but its staff gave glimpses of the world beyond the smoking room, we never saw outside of its four walls for the whole series.

The cast were the smokers. Robert Webb played Robin. He was the only character to remain in the Smoking Room for almost the entire time, exactly what his job was isnt clear but he obviously didn’t spend much time doing it, although he would often state that he would finish off his cigarette then he really must go back to work.

There was also one more thing about Robin. He was (probably) gay, in the closet and obsessed with Ben from the Post Room. He’ll try and drop him into conversations but usually gets little response. Everyone else in the smoking room is pretty much clear on the reality when it comes to Robin.

So who else was in the smoking room? There was Sally who could be sarcastic but probably the most down to earth of the lot. Her friend was Annie who was over dramatic about everything and Barry who was your typical loser, he was always struggling with a crossword.

Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?
Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?

Also popping in were Clint the handyman, who was fairly hapless at fixing things and Len the security guard. He tended to leave most of the work to his junior Ranjit, who is never seen. In season two Heidi popped in, she wasn’t a smoker and was definitely weird.

Occasionally popping in for a fag was Sharon, the manager of the business – nobody liked her but she tried small talk because she had been on courses suggesting she should. Her assistant Janet had no confidence and would often talk about standing up to Sharon, but never did.

The Smoking Room could easily have been a radio comedy as there is very little visual humour and everything takes place in one room. It is also set in real time and while episodes have some threads running through them most are self-contained.

I don’t think you could call it laugh out loud funny but there are enough jokes in there. The bulk of the humour comes from the scenario and pictures painted by the cast.

The series came to an end with a Christmas episode set during the office party. It concludes with an excited Robin being greeted by Ben from the postroom. There were no further episodes made, partly as Smoking Rooms became outlawed.

Being tucked away on BBC Choice this programme probably didn’t get the audience it deserved. It was well observed and full of dry wit and I really enjoyed it. Coming out around the same time as the Office it probably deserved more recognition as there haven’t been many sitcoms set in a single location.

A few extra useless details I remember from the BBC website of the time, the theme tune was Close to Me by The Cure. Also the majority of the cast were non-smokers and so low-tar cigarettes were used which apparently smelt worse than normal ones.

Dennis the Mennace and Gnasher

I’ve already covered the Beano and described how, for a brief time it was my comic of choice as a kid. Naturally when it’s cover star was made into an animated series I was all over that.

The characters were straight from the Dennis and Gnasher strip, Dennis was the rebel kid, Gnasher was in on it but spoke only in ‘Gnash Gnash’. Mum was slightly mad (just like my own mum) and Walter was as soppy as ever.

Most episodes were standard Dennis fare, he would come up with some sort of rebellious plan and eventually pull it off.

One episode that sticks in my mind particularly was the one featuring the then presenters of Blue Peter Katy Hill and Stuart Miles. The making of was also featured on the programme itself.

This episode sticks in my head particularly because they used a previous Blue Peter theme tune, probably as the dustbin lids of stomp would have jarred a bit amongst the cartoon music.

The series stands up well and the more recent animated series probably owes a lot to this one, personally I think traditional animation suits Dennis best but then he is straight out of a comic book.

The BBC didn’t own the series and it was often repeated on the Fox Kids channel, to the point where it was almost the only thing on the Fox Kids channel. Thesedays all episodes are avaliable on YouTube.

To Me… To You…

BBC 1, 1996 – 1998

So someone had the idea of creating a gameshow for the Chuckle Brothers and you know what, it wasn’t actually that bad.

Set on Chuckle Island (you better there were lots of Chuckle names in this show), it was actually more like a board game than a gameshow (roll the Chuckle dice).

The game board was semi-circular with the start space in the middle. The Chuckle Dice would be rolled by each team and then move the prize trolley. Any prizes won, either by answering a question or playing a mini game stayed on the trolley until a team reached the home Square and won all the prizes.

That wasn’t the end of the game everything was reset and more prizes would be earned. Along with this Coconuts were earned and the team with the most at the end won. All good fun.

For a show named after the Chuckle’s most famous catchphrase you bet there was plenty of the usual shtick with Paul and Barry… oh dear oh dear. There were also some new gags like the space on the board where you could steal a coconut, Knickers naturally.

Each show featured a CBBC celebrity and at the time there was a huge pool to choose from. There were one or two sketches but on the whole it was done as a straight forward kids gameshow.

While ChuckleVision will be remembered by many as a bit cheesy and naff, although we all at one point must have found it amazingly funny, I think it is a shame more people won’t remember this.

It’s three series do the fact that Paul and Barry held it together no justice at all. To support kids, present a quiz show and never break character is no mean feat.

Comedy Corner: Look Around You (Series 2)

Welcome into my Comedy Corner, where I write about lesser-spotted television comedy programmes most people have forgotten.

You have probably worked out that I like television and I like nostalgia. That is fundementally what this entire blog is about. Look Around You was a comedy based on the same things. The first series was a set of short ten minute episodes parodying old schools TV progammes from the 1970s. I may write about that series at a later date, today however I want to go into detail about the second series.

The simple reason for my reverse order is that I saw the second series first, but it was very different to the first running for six half-hour episodes and being a parody of Tomorrow’s World. The writing team of Peter Serafenowiz and Robert Popper were the same but there were aditional reoccuring cast members in the shape of Josie D’Arby (who I grew up watching as a Children’s BBC presenter) and Olivia Coleman, who is a massive star these days.

Each episode had a theme, sport, music etc. The show was presented by the cast who were all suitably attired and in a very brown studio which you’d typically find in the 1980s along with the theme tune which was brilliantly synthasied as you would expect.

While I am critiquing the attention to detail on making this look like a genuine archive programme I should mention that the show (which aired on BBC 2) was preceded with a period BBC 2 logo. To keep things looking authentic, the programme wasn’t even broadcast in widescreen – which almost all new programmes were by this point.

The comedy was slightly wacky and off the wall. The various ‘Inventor of the Year’ inventions were basically ridiculous. There was a gender swapping machine and a spray on skin spray. There was a Music 2000 competition which resulted in one of the hosts, Robert Popper launching a music career.

Thank’s Ants… Thants.

Peter created Portmanu to thank the guests every episode.

The culmination of the series came with the final episode and the Inventor of the Year. This episode featured Prince Charles – not a look alike – the real deal, pasted in from a genuine Tomorrow’s World episode and redubbed by Peter Serafenowiz. He is always refered to as H.R.H. Sir Prince Charles, which of course is incorrect.

In keeping with the general humour of the series overall, things go awry when one of the hopeful inventors goes mad, which results in Prince Charles face being completely removed with the spray-on skin. The programme goes ‘off the air’ and is replaced by what looks like a genuine schedule filler from the time about birds (It’s actually a film that was made for the first series DVD) before returning to the studio with sombre voices and faces.

While most of the content was ridiculous the attention to detail was amazing. If I was to pick on one bit that was a letdown it would be the giant ‘air-lock’ space age entrance that guests entered through which was clearly CGI, but I honestly think that over-the-top look was all part of the joke.

After watching the second series, I then bought the first series on DVD. Having seen how both were completely different I hoped for a third series, maybe with Look Around You being a parody of a regional news programme or something similar – but sadly there were no further Look Around You’s, but thanks guys… thuys.

Bucky O’Hare

This was one of those cartoons that were ten a penny. Vague superhero, possibly a mutant to sponge off the hero turtles success. Bucky waw a hare, or perhaps a rabbit I was never sure.

There was a tie-in toy range. I don’t know if the toys came first, I had some and undoubtedly the cartoon was designed to sell toys. Typical of tons of animations, it’s funny what sticks and makes a success of it.

Chances are Bucky would have passed by the audience had it not had a really catchy theme tune/rap (90s style not very good rap). Catchy enough that Andi Peters sang the theme tune on more than one occasion following on from his broomcupboard predessors habit of singing badly live on air.

Even if you remember Bucky, do you remember what it was all about? I barely do. Bucky was the captain of a spaceship in a universe where humanoid animals were at war with toads. Cue the usual adventures at scuppering the bad guys plans.

That’s about all I remember so I did a bit of Google research and it turns out that the animation was based on a comic book (funnily enough so was Turtles). It was made between 1991 and 92 but the comic was ten years older.

Bucky was there for only a short while, the one or two toys I had soon found their way into the box full of other toy tat and Bucky largely left my memory and probably most others, largely insignificant children’s cartoons.

To quote the theme tune “He’s the funky-fresh Rabbit (sic) who can take care of it!” Er… OK then!

Fun House

It’s Wacky, It’s Fun, It’s outrageous! What kid didn’t want to get up close to Pat Sharp’s mullet and play Fun House.

Usually airing on CITV on Fridays, you knew it was the weekend when Fun House was on. The main draw of the show was meant to be the big fun House (think of a giant soft play centre) but as far as I was concerned it was the Fun Cart Grand Prix.

But before either of those rounds were reached there were various games, they usually involved gunge and sliding about in ridiculous costumes – classic children’s gameshow stuff, seach separated by general knowledge questions.

There were always two teams, sometimes it was girls vs boys. The team colours were yellow and blue. Something a little unusual was that there were two cheerleaders, one supporting each team. The kind of over the top American bubblegum cheerleaders that could only come out of the late 1980s, along with Pat’s mullet.

Had they just been pure cheese then the cheerleaders could have easily been ditched after a couple of series. But their bubbly personality, coupled with them being twins gave Melanie and Martina something unique.

They worked well with Pat and did play a semi useful role supporting the contestants in the games and helping with the ‘pit-stop’ changeovers during the Grand Prix.

Pat was an over enthusiastic host. If you ever get a chance to see the show as an adult then I think you will find his jokes terrible but it was marginally less cheesy back then.

Just before the final round came that Fun Cart Grand Prix. Basically petrol go-carts but it was the most exciting bit of the show, for me at least. The kids would have to go round and pick up tokens or in later series hit buttons. Each token was worth either 50 or 25 points.

Like so many gameshows with this kind of game it kinda rendered everything that went before it pointless as you might get lucky and get more tokens, i think some series let the team in the lead start first. As a kid though it was exciting to watch.

As I’ve already mentioned, for me the Grand Prix was the best bit but the final game was the Fun House itself. The idea was to play in the Fun House and collect tags which had prizes on it.

The majority of the prizes were as I remember, fairly pants. I’m pretty sure they even gave away a school stationary set once. There were some better prizes in the mix too and a power prize which when grabbed (it always was even though the kids never knew which prize it was) gave them the chance to win a really big prize like a trip to America etc.

As kids gameshows go it was definitely fun. To me it always felt like a short show, maybe only 20 minutes long but seeing how much they crammed in written down it must have been longer. Running for a decade with virtually no changes – minus the mullet going – it has to be up there as one of the greatest.

It was based on an America show but I guarantee that won’t have lasted as long and certainly won’t have had as good a themetune.

Comedy Corner: Keeping Mum

BBC 1, 1997 – 1998

Welcome to my Comedy Corner, the bit of this blog where I gather up my memories of long forgotten Comedy programmes.

Previously I wrote about the Sitcom Dad, so it seems appropriate that I follow that up with a sitcom about a Mum, specifically one played by Stephanie Cole.

Airing on BBC One around the turn of the Millennium, Keeping Mum was the story of Peggy who at best could be described as forgetful but probably more accurately was suffering from some form of dementia – although that is never specifically mentioned.

She lives at home with her son Andrew played by Martin Ball – one of those actors you recognise but not exactly where from, almost certainly a dodgy advert. I digress…

He is charged with looking after her whilst trying to juggle a freelance journalism career and any hope of a relationship. Ultimately his ambitions are never realised due to his ties to his Mum.

Meanwhile Andrew’s brother Richard played by Haig Gordon had a successful career as a dentist (to the stars, no less) and a happy family life with his wife Tina played by Meera Syell. They rarely help with the care of Peggy but are quick to judge Andrew.

Two series were made, the first series largely slipping under the radar but the second series courted controversy before it even aired due to its making light of dementia.

It’s hard to deny that the show did that but most of the laughs come from the performances. The accent that Stephanie Cole uses, particularly when calling her sons name Andrew with emphasis on both syllables is funny in itself.

Sometimes the humour is purely based around Peggy’s absent-mindedness, like trying to heat an electric iron on a stove or wandering off but sometimes its just the wit that Peggy still possesses or how Richard thinks he knows it all and has it all but clearly isn’t as great as he makes out.

Two series was probably enough. While I dont agree that the show was just making fun of a series health condition there are only so many dodery-old-lady-forgetting-things jokes that can be made.

In the course of trying to find some pictures to add to this post (I failed) I discovered that the show was a loose remake of an Australian sitcom called Mother and Son. So there you go.

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