Challenge Anneka

This was great Saturday night entertainment in the nineties. Anneka Rice running, using an enormous mobile phone and driving round in a beach buggy – what’s not to love?

Anneka was previously best known from Treasure Hunt but I was just a tad too young to remember that. However the running around was replicated here.

Anneka sat outside of her massive truck. Nice helmet.

Each week Anneka was set a challenge, initially they were feasible – refurbish a community centre, resurface a road riddled with potholes – yes prime time entertainment. Later challenges were more epic, constructing bridges across water or even kitting out a Ukrainian orphanage for example.

The premise was that Anneka had no idea of what she would be up against until the challenge started, usually delivered via a cryptic clue which would then quickly resolve itself.

The real challenge was to organise the manpower and equipment needed to take on the challenge. All provided for free. Anneka using her giant mobile phone to request items like P-L-Y (cue infamous blooper).

Anneka and crew in the beach buggy. Actually on a beach too!

At the time it was all very tense and believable, constant updates on how many days, hours or minutes were left and occasionally Anneka failed.

However believable it seemed, it was later confirmed much of challenges were pre-arranged. Imagine the scandal if that happened today!

The themetune was a classic too as was the title sequence with Anneka whizzing round a cartoon world fix problems.

According to the reliable source of Wikipedia Anneka attempted to pitch a show twenty years after the original started but by the BBC reckoned that the show had slipped away from public memory by then.

However Anneka did revive the show very briefly on ITV. Same format, same theme tune but very little promotion. It faded with little trace and the suggestion that with health and safety being much tighter making a programme like that would be much harder now.

We do however have DIY SOS which morphed from being another makeover show to being along similar lines to Challenge Anneka or the Challenge programme as she always referred to it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

T4

Sunday Mornings, Channel 4

T4 successfully filled a television void around Sunday lunchtimes. Filled with children’s programmes and teen dramas I was probably right in its demographic during the early years.

I remember T4 launching back in 1998. There were lots of promotions for it although they didn’t explain what T4 was going to be and they felt heavily geared to a teenage audience. But T4 wasn’t just for teenagers, not originally at least.

All of Channel 4’s kids and youth programmes came under the T4 banner originally with a notable step-change when Ben Shepherd turned up just before Hollyoaks. There was a presenter earlier on who I dont even remember as I didn’t bother to tune in for those shows.

T4 got good when they focused solely on teen programming and we’re firmly split from kids programmes by way of the Waltons, which had been airing on channel 4 for years but always seemed out of place.

New hosts Margharita Taylor and Dermot O’Leary made the perfect team, plus I was older and they ditched presenting from the studio to presenting around the Channel 4 HQ which appeared to me because of my growing interest in television.

Dermot and Margharita the hosts I remember most

That was my era of T4. Planet Pop, Hollyoaks, Dawson’s Creek, The Real World all shows I watched in my bedroom instead of doing my homework, or socialising or whatever I should have been doing with my Sunday afternoons.

Others will remember Vernon Kay, June Sarpong or Nick Grimshaw but I had moved on from the kind of shows and television they were making by the time they all became involved with T4.

Andi Peters had been the presenter of kids programmes when I was smaller and became the producer responsible for the programmes I watched when I was older. In later years he had a job in a CD factory and more recently has been trying to flog prize draws.

Comedy Corner: Dad

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

BBC 1, 2 Series, 1997 – 1999

George Cole starred in this sitcom which didn’t quite gain widespread popularity and hasn’t really been repeated on UK screens but my quest to find it a few years ago revealed it was released on DVD in Australia.

George Cole played ‘Dad’ Brian

Written by Andrew Marshall, who also wrote 2 Point 4 Children. That show was undoubtedly popular throughout the 1990s, even if its not so well remembered today.

Both shows were set in bog standard family settings but they were not conventional sofa sitcoms. Instead the plot would go down a surreal route. Dad was a bit tamer in this respect but I still remember it being extremely funny.

The sitcom was set primarily around Alan, played by Kevin McNally, the son of Dad Brian, played by George Cole. Brian was a source of constant embarrassment for Alan who himself embarrassed his son Vincent, despite his best efforts to do the opposite.

Alan, his finger is glued up his nose in this scene

Alan’s wife is Beryl, played by Julia Hills, whose character was completely the opposite of Rhona who she played in 2 Point 4 Children. Beryl was a straight laced librarian – the kind of person Alan would probably find embarrassing to have as a parent, but of course she comes across as down to earth and normal.

That was the bulk of the main cast, Alan’s Mum is rarely mentioned and its assumed she died when Alan was young. Alan is also an only child so no sibling rivalries to be spoken of.

Instead Alan is seemingly at war with everyone but in reality at war with himself and his desperate bid to not embarrass Vincent. Much hillarity ensues. In one scene Vincent is berating Alan’s taste in music by listing various genres of music like Trance, House, Handbag.

“I don’t think you want to do that Alan…”

Brain typically advising Alan, who is doing something risky to prevent his Dad being put at risk.

There is genuine sencerity. Brian has a heart condition which Alan is constantly anxious about. It’s something Brian plays on if Alan is getting a bit too much.

Brian has the most unlikely catchphrase ever, a simple ‘Hello…’ which is enough to irritate Alan. Worryingly I sometimes find myself replicating it when I am greeting people in am insincere way.

As with 2 Point 4 Children, Andrew Marshall writes ridiculous but almost believable situations. Like Alan getting locked in a greenhouse with a faulty irrigation system, he’s saved by the opera music blasting out of speakers as a cat deterent shattering the glass.

Alan trapped in a greenhouse full of water.

As with a lot of genuinley funny comedies sometimes the best laughs come from the smaller incidental scenes, like Beryl being on hold on the phone. She hums along with Raindrops keep Falling on my Head but is belting it out by the time the other end picks up.

There were two series, every episode played on the word Dad, like ‘Holidad’, ‘Securidad’ etc. The final episode a Christmas special broke with that tradition as the BBC reportedly felt ‘Feliz Navidad’ was too obscure for a title.

That final epsiode also marked a possible change in direction had the series continued with a rival childhood friend returning to haunt Alan. But the series ended there to the surprise of the cast and the writer.

I was a big fan of the show when it first aired. While it has been written that the writer Andrew Marshall was certain of a third series I didn’t really like the change in direction that the Christmas episode showed but it is a shame that the series has never been released or repeated.

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