CBBC Memories – Monster Cafe.

Monster Cafe (CBBC, 1994-1995)

Following on from Space Vets that I reviewed on here recently, this is another enjoyably quirky CBBC sitcom from the 90s that I remember watching, although rather than dealing with science fiction, it is closer to the horror genre. Monster Cafe was set in a old castle and centred around a cafe that was run by three very odd people… well I say people, they were more monsters really.

They were the Frankenstein’s monster-style Frankie, who was rather outrageous. There was also Mummy, who was someone wrapped in bandages and mumbled everything that they said. And then there was Igor, who was a rather large odd-job man who had a pet bin called Vinny. The other main character was the Baroness, who owned the castle and often turned up to make sure that everything hadn’t descended into chaos, but of course, this being a CBBC sitcom, it usually had. vlcsnap-00687

Also occasionally appearing were some rather spooky-looking customers (this was another show that had some rather creative costume design), and often vampires and the like would turn up to try the rather horrible-looking slimy food that made steam come out of people’s ears, along with the main characters getting themselves caught in some very bizarre situations. “TV cook Kylie has been turned into a jar of pickled gherkins. Who can replace her?” was a typical episode description. Well it made me laugh… vlcsnap-00677

Every episode of Monster Cafe was 15 minutes long and there were a couple of series. Once again, I’m fairly sure that there has been no VHS or DVD release, but there are a couple of other interesting things about the show. Firstly, all 30 episodes were written by Simon Davies who contributed to a few other CBBC shows around this time including the crossword puzzle game Sick As A Parrotvlcsnap-00678

I’m fairly sure that Davies also voiced some of the regular puppet characters including a skull that often commented on what was happening. In more recent years I think he was also a presenter on the award-winning Bid TV, and seemed to think nothing of doing five hours straight of warehouse clearances and technical faults, and I know I’ve done this joke before but I wouldn’t be surprised if “voiced a puppet skull” ranks much higher than “hosted on Bid TV” on his CV. vlcsnap-00681

Also, Monster Cafe was repeated a few times on CBBC after it ended, it also featured in the CBBC On Choice strand, the early days of the CBBC Channel, and on BBC2. The show also unexpectedly hit the headlines in 2007 when there was a repeat run (over a decade after it had ended) on CBeebies, the BBC’s channel featuring programmes for the under-sixes, when it was abruptly pulled from the schedule when parents started to complain that it was too frightening for their children. Monster me!


CBBC Memories – Space Vets.

Space Vets (CBBC, 1992-1994)

This is a rather bizarre science-fiction sitcom that was shown on CBBC in the early-90s. Space Vets centred around the adventures of a spaceship called the Dispensable, which contained the Intergalactic Animal Health Service, whose aim was to help all types of ill alien animals wherever they were in the universe. It really did happen. And there was a rather memorable cast on this show. vlcsnap-00672

The main cast were Captain Pubble (who was about 12 years old), although he was later replaced by Captain Skip Chip (Mark “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label” Arden). There was also Mona the receptionist (Ann “Philadelphia” Bryson, who went on to star in flop 90s ITV sitcoms Sometime, Never and Days Like These), who was rather fond of chocolate, and the dreadlocked second-in-command was called Number Two (how funny!). vlcsnap-00674

Oh yes, and there was also a hat-wearing puppet dog with an American accent called Dogsbody. Each episode was 15 minutes long and there were a lot of odd moments, along with a lot of creative puppetry and costume design, which was all the more impressive considering that the show’s budget was probably about three shillings. “Will the Dispensable escape the Great Black Hole of Nauphragia?” was a typical description of what happened in an episode. Who needs Red Dwarf when you’ve got this. vlcsnap-00665

Space Vets eventually ran for three series and 39 episodes on Tuesday afternoons, but that wasn’t the end of it. In 1997, Dogsbody (still voiced by the same actor) had beamed back down to Earth and turned up in a totally different CBBC show called Cartoon Critters, to introduce a collection of mouldy old cartoons that featured animals, assisted by a female dog puppet called Fleur. vlcsnap-00675

I’m fairly sure that Space Vets wasn’t featured as part of the CBBC On Choice strand. However, it was repeated in the early days of the CBBC Channel in 2002, and it was also repeated on BBC2 as late as 2005, over a decade after the series ended. Five series two episodes were released on VHS, but there has been no DVD release, I feel that it deserves one as this was an enjoyably odd show.

CITV Memories – The Joke Machine.

The Joke Machine (CITV, 1985-1989)

This is a comedy show that was shown on CITV in the 80s that went through a few formats. The Joke Machine was usually around 15 minutes long and it was a Border production (making it one of their higher-profile bigger budget shows for ITV, ha-ha). The show featured a host and a machine that along with some children would try to tell as many jokes as they could.

In the first series in 1985 the machine was called Fearless Fred, and the hosts were the double-act The Krankies. I must admit that I don’t remember this version, but I have no doubt that it must have been Fandabidozi. In 1987 the second format launched and that was the one that caught my attention. The machine was now called Charles and it was able to talk, and there was a new host.

And that host was only Andrew O’Connor! This was something of a surprise though because he is so silly, he was once asked why don’t bees hum and he said it was because they don’t know the words. As you might know by now I have enjoyed a lot of Andrew’s TV work over the years, so it was good to see him doing this, and I’m not even joking when I say that he’s also one of my favourite game show hosts and is a regular feature in my Game Show Memories series. vlcsnap-00458

This meant that I got a little overexcited when I found one of his editions of The Joke Machine online, and he really packed a lot into the time and showed off his various skills. As well as telling some groan-worthy jokes, Andrew also sang the opening theme, did some impressions, performed some magic tricks, and he would even do a little dance if needed. There were a few regular features, including Tag The Gag, where Andrew would have to guess how a joke ends, and he usually got it wrong. vlcsnap-00468

Another fun feature was The Magic Circle where Andrew would perform a trick and nobody could work out how it was done because he was clever like that, and he would also help some children perform a funny sketch. There were some amusing credits too, such as the producer being credited as “Man With Headache”. There was also a Christmas special in 1987. vlcsnap-00463

But for the third and final series in 1989, the format changed again. Andrew had gone, and the host was now wellie-wearing jokester Jimmy Cricket, who was occasionally assisted by Jim Bowen for even more quickfire gags, how marvellous. I wouldn’t know how many viewers remember watching The Joke Machine, and I’m not sure how many people out there would ever admit to having been on it, but it was very entertaining.

The YouTube Files – The World According To Smith And Jones.

The World According To Smith And Jones (ITV, 1987-1988)

Here’s a look back at another curious comedy show from the 80s. Comedy double-act Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones first appeared together on TV as part of the team in BBC2’s sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News, after this ended they stayed together and in 1984 their new show Alas Smith And Jones launched. By this point they had become rather successful and were also appearing on stage, and in films and adverts, so in 1987 ITV decided to poach them to host a comedy show. Having enjoyed some of their work but not remembering this one, I was pleased to see that the majority of the 12 editions are on YouTube.

The World According To Smith And Jones was shown in the ITV Sunday night slot usually filled by Spitting Image, and when it launched in January 1987 it was a big enough deal to appear on the cover of TV Times. This was a show that was an attempt to try and tell the entire history of the world in just six shows, each one looking back at a different era, such as the Romans, the Tudors, the Victorians, and so on, all illustrated with clips from forgotten dodgy black-and-white films. vlcsnap-00440


The first edition of The World According To Smith And Jones is promoted in TV Times in January 1987

As the series progressed we learned many things including Queen Victoria was a vacuum cleaner, and some of the sillier observations couldn’t help but remind me a little of Harry Hill’s TV Burp. There would also be a running gag where every week Jones would point out some random person in a clip and say that he looks like Smith and must be one of his ancestors, at which point Mel would always say “oh, he looks nothing like me!”. vlcsnap-00442

Writers on the show along with Smith and Jones included Colin Bostock-Smith (who contributed to every other 80s TV comedy show it seems), Clive Anderson, Geoffrey Perkins, and Jack Docherty and Moray Hunter, later of Channel 4’s Absolutely and Mr Don And Mr George fame (and of course Docherty’s ill-fated Channel 5 comedy show). However, the show seemed to receive a rather average response from critics and viewers. vlcsnap-00435

Seemingly realising that it probably wasn’t such a good career move, when they returned to BBC2 for a fourth series of Alas Smith And Jones in October 1987, one of the sketches was a parody of the show as A Collection Of Old Jokes According To Smith And Jones, even sending up the “he looks nothing like me” routine. But then, something rather odd happened. 


Spot the difference…

In January 1988 after the parody, ITV decided to show a second series (this time in a Saturday late-night slot), making it seem even more like Smith and Jones only decided to do it because a bigwig at LWT waved a big cheque under their noses. The format was slightly different in that every edition now concentrated on a single topic, and these were medicine, war, law, education, arts and science. saj2

Although it definitely wasn’t the peak of their careers, it would be unfortunate if the legacy of this show is “Smith and Jones defect to ITV to make some corny jokes and hang around just long enough to get their money” (“ker-ching” indeed) because there were some funny moments. The World According To Smith And Jones hasn’t been seen on TV for about 30 years now, and there has been no DVD release either.

Game Show Memories – Remote Control.

Remote Control (Channel 4, 1991-1992)

This is a game show that was shown on Channel 4 in the evening in the early-90s, it was based on an American format shown on MTV which might explain its rather rowdy mix of comedy and questions which made it rather cult viewing with younger viewers. The host was Anthony Wilson who was usually assisted by Phil “Gilbert” Cornwell or none other than Frank Sidebottom who provided the laughs. vlcsnap-00411

Three oh-so-crazy contestants took part who wanted to show off what they knew about pop culture, and the first round consisted of them pressing the buttons on their remote control to select one of the nine channels that was concealing a rather quirky question on categories including “How Stupid Can You Get?”, which were worth either one or two points for a correct answer. If they got it right they could choose the next channel. Also above the contestants was a big finger that lit up when they buzzed in. vlcsnap-00416

There was also some woman playing the keyboard along with all this, and when a contestant chose a channel that contained a question about something on Channel 4, she rather appropriately would play the “Fourscore” theme music which was a rather good touch. Also, one channel contained a question that would be asked by Frank Sidebottom. vlcsnap-00414

Round two had quickfire questions on the buzzer for one point each. Round three went back to choosing channels. At the end of this round, the lowest-scorer was eliminated by vanishing off the style in a similar style to BBC1’s Brainstorm that I reviewed recently, and a similar effect was also used in Channel 5’s Topranko! that was also hosted by Wilson about a decade after this. vlcsnap-00419

Then there was a rather hard question, and during the contestants’ thinking time there were some more comedy sketches, Caroline Aherne, Brenda Gilhooly, Sean Lock and John Thomson were among those who joined in. They had to bid some of their precious points on whether they got the right answer, usually they didn’t. The final round was multiple-choice questions on the buzzer for two points each. Again the lowest scorer was eliminated and Phil started doing his Mick Jagger impression for a nice change. vlcsnap-00421

The remaining contestant goes into the final where they are strapped to a wheel. They then spin round for 40 seconds and they have to look at nine screens. If they can correctly identify the images on all the screens, they win the fancy star prize of something like a shed. Remote Control ran for a couple of years and was an Action Time/Granada co-production. There’s no doubt that it contained plenty of anarchic fun that definitely livened up a Tuesday evening. vlcsnap-00420

Game Show Memories – Wordplay.

Wordplay (Five, 2009)

After Channel 5’s long-running daytime game show BrainTeaser ended with something of a scandal, it was decided to launch a new show that was very similar which also featured various word puzzles but without the damaged reputation. Wordplay was shown live in the afternoon in a 50-minute slot, and there were two hosts who alternated who were Jenni Falconer and Jenny Powell.

Four contestants took part in six rounds, with games that were rather similar to ones in shows including Catchword, Chain Letters, and even Cryptogram that was shown on Channel 5 about a decade before this. Contestants had to buzz in if they knew the correct answer, get it wrong though, and they were frozen out of the next question in the old Bob’s Full House style. vlcsnap-00173

Round one (along with the endless background music) is Word Jumble, simply unscramble the word (the category is given as well) and score one point. Round two is AKA, now things have to be guessed from being described as synonyms, with two points for a correct answer. The contestant with the lowest score at this stage is eliminated (for the moment at least, as will become clear). vlcsnap-00174

Round three is Word Smuggle. The scores are reset to zero, and a word has to be spotted in the phrase, with one point for a correct answer. Round four is Hangman. This time the clues are revealed one letter at a time, with two points on offer. Again, the lowest-scoring contestant is eliminated, and around this point there’s yet another plug for the viewers phone-in competition. vlcsnap-00176

Round five is Invisible Link. The scores are reset to zero again and the two remaining contestants have to spot the one word that can go before or after the three others for one point. Round six is Word Ladder. This time the contestants play individually, there are 60 seconds on the clock and they have to add or take away letters based on the clues to create a chain, with two points for every correct answer. The highest-scoring contestant at this point goes into the final. vlcsnap-00358

The eliminated contestants do have another go though on Wordplay Extra, a shorter version that is shown later in the afternoon, presumably if they have run out of films or editions of Neighbours. The winner of this can return the next day to try again. The final is called Safe Cracker. There are 90 seconds on the clock and the finalist has to play one example of all of the previous six rounds (this time in an order that they can choose). vlcsnap-00361

Giving a right answer stops the clock, wins them £50, and gives them one number of the seven-digit code to open the safe which contains the star prize. So if they get all six right, they win because there is only one place they can put the seventh digit in the code. Get five right and it becomes a 50/50 decision, and so on. Also, the jackpot rolls over for every day it isn’t won, but it’s usually around £2,000, plus the money won in the final. vlcsnap-00364

Wordplay looked like it was going to establish itself in the daytime slot, but it ran for only one series, and rather disappointingly in the decade since it ended Channel 5 have just about given up on making game shows for any timeslot. It wasn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it was a good effort which tried out a few ideas and must have kept a few people watching.

CITV Memories – Cone Zone.

Cone Zone (CITV, 1995-1997)

This is a sitcom that was shown on CITV in the mid-90s. Cone Zone starred Hayley (Natalie Morse) and Zandra (Victoria Hamilton), two teenage girls who had both just left school and they have decided to open their own ice cream shop in the local shopping mall. And suddenly, it becomes the place for all the trendy people to hang out, especially the ones that want a banana fudge sundae or a milkshake, so they better not run out of wafers. vlcsnap-00653

Cone Zone also featured a big pink neon sign which reminded me of the ones that used to appear on Top Of The Pops in the 80s which I always like seeing and definitely would make me want to pay a visit. Also working with them is Leo, although he is rather useless, and is often to blame for most of the mishaps. Also appearing in the first two series was Mr Bassett who owned the mall and made sure that everything was going well, and Rick, who sets up a rival shop nearby to try and get their customers. vlcsnap-00659

There were some major changes for the third series though. Hayley and Zandra had both departed, and Cone Zone was now run by Corrie (an appropriately-named character for Debra Stephenson who would go on to appear in Coronation Street), and Leo’s sister Loretta (future EastEnders star Kacey Ainsworth who had picked up a Birmingham accent from somewhere). They were good but I think that I prefer the original double-act. They didn’t really feature ice cream in the show though because the real thing melted under the studio lights. vlcsnap-00660

Most of the Cone Zone episodes were written by Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro, who had also worked on the 90s CITV sitcoms Mike And Angelo and Spatz, which seem to be more fondly remembered by viewers than this one, although it definitely had some fun moments that were up there with anything those two could offer (it also seemed to contain the same canned laughter as those two shows). vlcsnap-00654

Cone Zone eventually ran for three series, but it doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry and just like the majority of 90s CITV shows there has been no DVD release which is rather disappointing because I’m sure that there is a market for them. I do remember watching the show at the time, and I think that looking back it was another one that deserves more credit.