This weekend, I spent a huge chunk of my time reliving my childhood watching CITV’s Old Skool weekend, staged to celebrate the 30th birthday of ITV’s children’s TV strand. Some of the shows that I sat in front of the television for back in the 80s and 90s were shown on the channel throughout the weekend, thus bringing joy to twenty and thirtysomethings everywhere while showing today’s kids just how good we had it back in the days before iPods, multichannel telly and the internet
As a child, I was very much a CITV viewer. I did watch CBBC too, but there was something about ITV’s children’s output that I liked more. It had Dangermouse for one, Super Gran for another. CBBC had Gordon the Gopher and Edd the Duck among its star puppets. CITV had Scally the dog, Nobby the sheep and a snotty alien called Gilbert. Neil Buchanan gave us an Art Attack, while we all thought that recording How 2 and pausing it to read the datablast at the end of it was the very height of technology (to be honest, it might have been better if they printed a fact sheet). We watched Press Gang thinking that Dexter Fletcher really was an American (you can tell now it wasn’t that good). And who could forget Knightmare, with its state-of-the-art-for-its-time computer graphics?
If there’s one thing I learned this weekend, it was that I watched a lot of television as a child. A hell of a lot. While I enjoyed seeing the likes of Button Moon, Fun House and Woof! on my tv screen again I realised that the channel’s controllers had shown only a handful of its amazing archive. For every classic they showed, there were plenty of others that had been omitted. There was no Cockleshell Bay, no Trap Door, no Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It, no Zzzap! Worst of all, there was no sign of Round The Bend. How I’d have loved to see that back on screens if only to show kids the sheer brilliance that was False Teeth from Beyond the Stars.
(Round The Bend is not to be confused with Round The Twist, an Aussie made children’s drama that was on CBBC and was also a pretty awesome show).
I was also pretty disappointed that CITV showed the later episodes of Knightmare (when Treguard was not as scary and Pickle had been replaced by an annoying woman), and Fun House, (when Pat Sharp had lost his legendary mullet). Of course they were still great, but they were never as good as the early series. And I was really sad to find out that the bits of Fraggle Rock filmed for the UK that featured Fulton Mackay with Sprocket (and later John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien) had all been lost.
What also struck me was how the shows of my youth had aged. Dangermouse, Count Duckula and Sooty for example are still capable of raising a laugh to both young and old today, while the only dated parts of Fun House and Finders Keepers aside from the fashions, were the prizes on offer. Out of all the shows broadcast during the weekend, it was Dramarama that appeared to have aged the worst. The standard of acting in those one-off dramas seems very poor nowadays, (I know you don’t expect it to be of the standard of a Shakespeare play, but still). On another note, Rosie and Jim are still pretty creepy. Were they meant to be boyfriend and girlfriend or brother and sister? Either way, it didn’t seem right.
Watching the programmes this weekend reminded me just how good TV was back when I was young, but it also told me just how poor a lot of children’s programming today is in comparison. From the time I’ve spent watching CITV and CBBC’s “new skool” programming with my nephew, nothing in today’s schedules could be given classic status, except Horrible Histories, which would have most likely been a huge hit if it had been on TV 25 years ago. I think that the state of kids tv today also says a lot about how the major broadcasters have treated it over the last few years. Gradually, both ITV and the BBC have appeared to believe that quality children’s programming isn’t as important now as it once was. Both broadcasters have virtually stopped showing kids television on their main channels and shifted it all to their designated children’s stations. Budgets for such programmes have also been cut. They point to the rise of the digital, multichannel era, computers and the internet as their reasons for doing so. And yet, the kids of today are not much different to the children of my generation. Sure there’s more technology around, but kids are just as eager to be amused and inspired as we were. They are just as curious and have just as vivid an imagination. And if given the opportunity, they would just love to get gunged.
I hope that ITV do another weekend of retro CITV programming at some point, or maybe even create an entire channel just for the classics from their archives. Not just so that this (nearly) 32-year-old can enjoy regular nostalgia trips, but also so that a new generation can be entertained by the shows that their parents, aunties and uncles ran home from school to tune into all those years ago.
I’d like to end this blog post by posting the aforementioned False Teeth from Beyond the Stars from Round The Bend. They really don’t make them like this anymore, folks.