CITV Memories – Thomas The Tank Engine.

Thomas The Tank Engine (CITV, 1984-1992)

This is a show that I have wanted to review for a while. I haven’t waited to do it for any particular reason, but I know that it’s a really popular show that a lot of people are fond of. Why has it taken me five years to do this one! This will be one of those pieces where I don’t really need to explain what it’s all about, so instead I’ll share some of my memories of what the show means to me.

You might remember a while ago when I wrote about a few shows featured in the CITV “for younger viewers” strand, that were recorded on to a tape for me by my parents when I was only about three or four years old. Among the shows were Puddle Lane (that I reviewed recently), but this one was really the highlight, I think that I must’ve watched it more than anything else on the tape, and I have been a fan since that young age. vlcsnap-00080

Thomas The Tank Engine was based on a series of books that were adapted for TV. It didn’t feature stop-motion animation as such, but it wasn’t a cartoon either. It was set at a railway station on a fictional island. The way Thomas’s facial expressions used to change as his eyes wiggled round always amused me. As well as Thomas, there were many other trains that used to roll those wheels along those tracks. These included Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, and Toby, they all had enjoyable adventures, and this was all topped off with the narration of Ringo Starr. vlcsnap-00082

This endorsement by a pop superstar really helped the show to gain some publicity and it quickly increased in popularity. It even earned a TV Times cover, and even Rainbow can’t boast that. There would go on to be more merchandise than most shows, including lots of episodes released on VHS, plus annuals and toys. Thomas The Tank Engine would also go on to be repeated rather frequently on CITV for many years. vlcsnap-00096

When watching one edition online a while back, there was an introduction by Tommy Boyd, who did seem to be a fan of the show, and he said that he was trying to learn to play the famous theme music on the mouthorgan. He got it just about right, and he then said “almost!” with a real tone of excitement in his voice, and I’m sure he was right to feel proud. vlcsnap-00088

Thomas The Tank Engine continued long after its original run though, and there have several more series since, with the most recent ones being computer-generated, with lots more people providing the voices. These have been shown on various channels, not only in this country, but around the world (the show was also since been re-titled Thomas And Friends), and there have now been over 550 episodes. vlcsnap-00092

Another indication of the continuing popularity of the show is from when one day I decided to upload an episode that I had on a tape to YouTube. It has now gone on to be by some distance my most-viewed video (and I have uploaded almost 5,000), with almost 750,000 views. I never expected it to do that well, I’m really pleased that Thomas clearly means so much to so many people.

More TV Memories – In Bed With Medinner.

In Bed With Medinner (ITV, 1992-1997)/Still In Bed With Medinner (ITV, 1998-1999)

This is a late-night comedy show that was hosted by Bob Mills (you might remember when I told the story about the time that I was in the studio audience for one of his TV shows, but it wasn’t this one). The idea of In Bed With Medinner was to look back at some of the more unusual moments in TV history, and this was long before Harry Hill’s TV Burp. The opening sequence originally parodied The Prisoner.

The show began with a few one-off editions (I’m not sure if it was only shown in the LWT region at this point?), which Bob would present from his flat (although somehow he was able to fit a studio audience and camera crew into his front room). Bob would sit there with his VCR and comment on some of the bizarre clips. There would also be a few sketches where Bob would wander around London making some more quirky observations, and bands including The Buzzcocks would perform some of their hit singles. vlcsnap-00073

In 1994 (around the same time Bob hosted Games World on Sky One), there was a spin-off special called World Cup Heroes And Villains, where after England had failed to qualify for that year’s tournament, Bob looked back at some classic football moments. Around the same time, Bob also hosted There’s Only One Brian Moore, another late-night LWT show that took a Fantasy Football League-style look through the sporting archive. vlcsnap-00067

Following a few more editions (some of which were extended to an hour), a special compilation of the highlights from the first two series was released on VHS called Wot A Palaver. Then for the final (and re-titled) series, the opening sequence now parodied The Avengers, with Bob playing both the male and female characters, which was a memorable sight. vlcsnap-00065

Some of the more memorable moments that Bob had unearthed from the archive to comment on included LWT’s live 21st anniversary special show which descended into disarray, Chris Searle having a mishap at an Underground station, and also turning out to be a rich source of material were those Disco Dancing Championship shows that took place in the late-70s/early-80s. vlcsnap-00079

Around the time Still In Bed With Medinner ended, Bob went on to host a few other shows including game show Win, Lose Or Draw, which included the excitement of Waistcoat Wednesday, along with turning up on a few panel games where he was always good value. He also co-wrote some sitcoms including Bob Martin (that I reviewed a while back), and in more recent years he has hosted shows on various radio stations where he continued to offer his wit.

More TV Memories – TOTP2.

TOTP2 (BBC2, 1994-present)

In 1994, Top Of The Pops had reached its 30th anniversary and remained the leading pop music show on TV. So it was decided to expand the idea a little, and launch a spin-off series on BBC2. TOTP2 would usually be shown on Saturday evenings, and would complement the main edition (that was shown on Thursdays at the time). Curiously, it also used the TOTP symbol that wouldn’t actually be introduced on the main show until February 1995. vlcsnap-00063

There was no in-vision presenter, everything was announced by a voiceover, who at the start was Johnnie Walker, who was also a presenter on BBC Radio 2. TOTP2 was aimed at a slightly older audience than the main show, and as well as featuring the highlights of what was currently on the singles chart, it also took a look back in the archive at some classic performances.

Most of these were usually shown because it was the anniversary of when the song first entered the chart, or because it was the birthday of one of the performers of the song. It was always good seeing a song on TV for the first time in a while and discovering where they are now. There would also be a few music videos shown, including what was currently hot on the American chart, and what could be about to become a success in the UK.

There would also be some fact boxes which offered more information, and these were similar to what The ITV Chart Show did. After a few years, TOTP2 started to move around the schedule, and the new presenter was Steve Wright (who had moved from Radio 1 to Radio 2), although some viewers thought that he made too many “laughing at people’s clothes in the 70s”-style comments.

The format started to change a little, and sometimes there were themed editions looking back at a particular act or genre, and there were also performances featured that had been specially recorded in the TOTP studio. The fact boxes remained, but they had been redesigned, and they began to get rather annoying, as sometimes the information appeared onscreen at about three words a time.

There were also a few specials where some celebrities picked their favourite moments from the archive. After the regularly weekly TOTP ended in 2006, TOTP2 did continue, and by now the host was Mark Radcliffe (yet another Radio 2 presenter), and it was extended to an hour, although by this point it was only appearing occasionally in the schedule. I think that the show is still active, although there haven’t been any editions for a while.

This wasn’t the only time that TOTP tried to expand their name. In 1995, a monthly magazine was launched, seemingly trying to rival Smash Hits and the like. Somewhat surprisingly, the magazine is still going, as I would imagine that the TOTP name doesn’t mean a huge amount to today’s pop-loving youngsters. Maybe it’s because they love the posters and free gifts of multicoloured poo emojis that come with it.

CBBC Memories – The Ant And Dec Show.

The Ant And Dec Show (CBBC, 1995-1996)

Ant and Dec don’t need much of an introduction really, but here’s where they were in their career when this show launched. They had recently left Byker Grove where they became good friends and launched a pop music career. They would go on to have 15 hit singles which is more than most of the boy bands around at the time could achieve, but the majority of them reached No. 12.

So in 1995, around the time they turned 20, Mr McPartlin and Mr Donnelly were given a show of their own, one of their earliest TV presenting jobs. This was a comedy show to some extent with some sketches, but it was also going to feature a lot of music, games, and general silliness. A lot of celebrities took part, and it seemed to be a bizarre mix of old-school comedians and pop stars of the moment, so you’d be as likely to see Frank Carson turn up as you would Let Loose. vlcsnap-00211

When watching again recently, I noticed that among the writers’ credits was David Walliams (who also appeared in a sketch or two), who had recently hosted CBBC’s Incredible Games, and of course went on to Little Britain, which might explain some of the quirkiness. The Pet Shop Boys also appeared in one edition. Walliams is one of their best buddies (including appearing in one of their music videos), maybe he pulled a few strings and they agreed to take part (having a single out at the time probably helped too). vlcsnap-00221

Also among those taking part were cuddly astrologer Russell Grant, Andi Peters, and of course, the award-winning Peter Simon. Features included Hollywood Hospital, a parody of a badly-acted American soap, and Ring Of Truth, where if you gave the wrong answer you met a hideous fate. A year later, Ant and Dec returned for a second series which caused something of a stir. vlcsnap-00214

There was the usual mix of sketches, but there was a running gag where Dec seemed to be rather in love with Blue Peter presenter Katy Hill and didn’t mind telling everyone about it, and of course there was Beat The Barber, a game where if someone got some questions right, they would win a PlayStation, but it they got them wrong, they would lose their hair. vlcsnap-00219

There were rather a lot of complaints about this, so in 1997 Ant and Dec decided to move on to Channel 4 with a similar show, which was shown in a later timeslot and aimed at an older audience so they could get away with a little more. After this, they then went on to Saturday Morning TV with further success. It’s a shame that they didn’t do a little more comic acting or appear in a sitcom as I feel they had the potential, but then I remember that The Likely Lads revival. vlcsnap-00213

They then went on to host other shows including Slap Bang, and they finally found a successful and long-running format with Saturday Night Takeaway, and have gone on to become and remain Britain’s most popular TV presenters ever (and that’s not that much of an exaggeration really). It was clear from this show that “the cheeky Geordie duo” (as newspapers always call them) were talents destined for bigger things.

The Comedy Vault – Man To Man With Dean Learner.

Man To Man With Dean Learner (Channel 4, 2006)

One of my favourite comedy shows from the 2000s decade was Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. This was a parody of an 80s horror TV show that had supposedly not been shown at the time, it was so ridiculous and overacted, and I really enjoyed it, but there was only one series. Clearly everyone felt that they could get a little more out of the idea though, so a couple of years later there was a spin-off series.

Among the cast was Dean Learner (played by Richard Ayoade, who would go on to further success in The IT Crowd and The Crystal Maze). Learner was a club owner and entrepreneur, and now he had his own chat show, which was going to be very exciting. It would be introduced by a booming voiceover that announced Man To Man With Dean Learner was coming from Learner’s luxury penthouse apartment that overlooked the Thames, a very impressive location. There was only really one choice for the first guest. vlcsnap-00198

Garth Marenghi was supposed to be a horror writer who had written hundreds of books, he described himself as a “dreamweaver”, insisted that each book would be more intense than the last, and went on to get his own TV show. Marenghi was played by Matthew Holness who had previously won awards for the stage version of this show. All of Learner’s guests throughout the series also happened to be good friends of his in the world of entertainment. vlcsnap-00202

Every guest that featured was played by Holness, with others including Steve the boring racing driver, Glynn the science-fiction actor whose head would occasionally catch fire, and Merriman the folk musician who showed off his guitar skills. Randolph the actor who was planned for the final edition became unavailable at short notice, so Marenghi returned for another interview. Learner also had a female co-host who would be at the bar, but didn’t have much else to contribute really. Also making a couple of guest appearances was Matt Berry. vlcsnap-00200

There was only one series of Man To Man With Dean Learner, and it was shown rather late at night on Channel 4. It was much less well received than Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace by critics though, but it was good to see them again, even though it was in a different format, and the comedy chat show had already been successfully done by characters including Alan Partridge and Mrs Merton. vlcsnap-00199

Also, if Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was supposed to be made in the 80s, was this made in the present day, because it would make them 20 years older. And, there was a clip from what was supposed to be this show’s predecessor called Deano’s After Dark which looked like it was made in the 70s which muddied the timeline even further. Holness and Ayoade also wrote the show, and there has been a DVD release, as part of a terrific bumper double-pack along with the original series.

More TV Memories – The Sunday Show.

The Sunday Show (BBC2, 1995-1997)

Something rather unusual happened on BBC2 in the mid-90s. As well as the slot for alternative comedy, which was usually weekdays at 9pm (where several classics including The Day Today and The Fast Show were shown), there was also a slot on Sunday afternoons, between the end of many hours of CBBC, and the start of Sunday Grandstand.

As well as including repeats of Fantasy Football League and Shooting Stars, there were also some new shows tried out in this slot including This Morning With Richard Not Judy (that I also plan to review soon), and this one. The Sunday Show was live and usually 45 minutes long, and it was definitely much livelier that what other channels were offering at the time of the week. vlcsnap-00040

The hosts of the first and second series were Donna McPhail and Katie Puckrik (who had previously hosted The Word). The opening sequence consisted of a shark going round in a fishbowl, which looked suspiciously similar to the one used by BBC2’s Working Lunch. The Sunday Show was a mix of comedy and features, including a look back at some of the more unusual news stories of the week, plus what celebrities had been up to, and reviews of pop music, soaps, and so on. vlcsnap-00062

One of the more memorable moments on the show was Dennis Pennis, someone who had a rather unconventional interviewing style that wrongfooted many a celebrity. After a while, he became popular enough to get some spin-off shows, including Pennis Pops Out, shown rather late at night on ITV and mostly being a showcase for the latest Britpop bands to perform their songs, and Very Important Pennis, looking back at some of his outrageous highlights. vlcsnap-00048

The later series were hosted by Paul Tonkinson (who would go on to host one of the hundreds of relaunches of The Big Breakfast in 2001), and Jenny Ross. For the last series, comedy was provided by Peter Kay, presenting his “World Of Entertainment” in some of his earliest TV appearances, where he looked back at some strange TV moments. Even then he had perfected his “do you remember Bullseye?” routine, and it was clear that he was going to go on and be a big name. vlcsnap-00056

There were also sketches with The Actor Kevin Eldon, and Bez from Happy Mondays took some time off from ‘avin it large in Ibiza to tell us all about the world of science with some zany experiments. There were four series of The Sunday Show (including a couple of Christmas specials), and it is best remembered now for launching some comedy talent and providing something that hadn’t previously been seen on TV at that time of the day.

More TV Memories – Before They Were Famous.

Before They Were Famous (BBC1, 1997-2005)

We’ve all got to start somewhere haven’t we? Even the biggest names in showbusiness made some of their earliest film and TV appearances rather far down the cast list, or in embarrassing adverts, hoping that all those years of practice would come in useful when they had made it. It seemed that there was some potential to tap into this area and make a compilation show looking back at some future stars in some moments that they probably hoped had been forgotten.

Before They Were Famous was hosted by Angus Deayton (an a typically horribly-coloured suit) where he applied his usual style (around the same time he hosted similar shows including Not Another Awards Show that I reviewed recently), and it was usually around half-an-hour long. It was a chance to finally go into the archive and open those cans that many who had long-since gone on to further success hoped would always now remain closed. vlcsnap-00237

Deayton wrote the show along with Danny Baker, and I’m fairly sure that the theme music was the same as Baker’s flop game show Bygones, but so few people remember that one I presume they decided they could recycle it. The show was always going to be in one-off specials instead of a regular series, and it was clear that there had been a lot of research to unearth these moments. vlcsnap-00239

One thing that I found interesting about the show was when they featured people, I thought “as long ago as that?”, and some famous faces seem to have been around for longer than it seems. Ooh, don’t they look young there. Angus also joined in, and some adverts that he appeared in during the 80s were shown, which didn’t make him squirm at all. vlcsnap-00241

The first edition did well, and after this, Before They Were Famous was moved to a late-night slot on Christmas Day, and it was an enjoyable way to end off the festive evening. There were also lots of repeats, and the show returned year after year (and also adopted an It’ll Be Alright On The Night-style numbering system, concluding with Before They Were Famous VIII). vlcsnap-00254

After this, they managed to squeeze one more edition out of the format in 2005 with The Confessions, where people who featured in some of the most memorable moments had the chance to explain exactly what they were up to. I also remember that after a while ITV did a similar (well, it was just about identical) show called The Way They Were, which was good, but this was definitely the best version. Despite its success, I’m surprised to discover that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry.