The YouTube Files – The Exuberant World Of Fuzzbox.

After looking back at the careers of Danielle Dax and Strawberry Switchblade, I thought to myself are there any more women with strange-coloured hair who made terrifically quirky records in the 1980s… and there are! (We’ve Got A) Fuzzbox (And We’re Gonna Use It) formed in Birmingham in 1985 and originally consisted of frontwoman Vickie “Vix” Perks, along with Jo Dunne (1968-2012), Maggie Dunne and Tina O’Neill. They didn’t have any Top Ten hit singles but they made lots of great songs which brightened up pop music in the mid/late-80s. This is a piece telling their story through their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube (plus some magazine covers) from 1986-1990. fuzzbox0

In April 1986 they had their first hit single, an EP featuring “Rules And Regulations”, “XX Sex”, “Do I Want To?”, and “She” which reached no. 41. They made one of their earliest TV appearances on a show in Belgium. This consisted of an interview where they were sat on the floor, followed by oddly-framed performances of “She” and “XX Sex” where one of them was up a ladder and another one was down a hole. vlcsnap-00174

Before I started putting this piece together, I would never have had any idea that they appeared on TV in Belgium, never mind it being as odd as this, YouTube really is the gift that keeps on giving. And also, if my maths is correct it seems that most of them including Vickie would only have been 17 years old at the time of this performance, and I didn’t realise that they started out as young as that. vlcsnap-00177

Also around this time the video for “Rules And Regulations” was played on the first-ever Indie Chart on Channel 4’s The Chart Show, and they were also interviewed on CITV’s Splash and CBBC’s Lift Off, as we’ll discover they seemed to be very fond of appearing on children’s TV shows. Also around this time they appeared on BBC2’s Whistle Test where they were described by Radio Times as “exuberant” and performed a couple of songs including their cover of “Spirit In The Sky”. vlcsnap-00264

In May 1986 they appeared on the cover of music magazines Record Mirror and Melody Maker. Fame at last!  fuzzbox1

In July 1986 they took part in the single “Rockin’ With Rita (Head To Toe)” as part of the Vindaloo Summer Special, a supergroup consisting of various acts on that record label which reached no. 56. They performed this on CITV’s Razzmatazz, part of the 1980s Tyne Tees music show trilogy along with The Tube and The Roxy, and afterwards they were interviewed by David Jensen. Also around this time they played at the Glastonbury festival. vlcsnap-00211

In November 1986 their next single was released which became their first Top 40 hit, another EP featuring “Love Is The Slug”, “Console Me”, “Spirit In The Sky”, and “Justine”. It reached no. 31 and earned them their first mention on Top Of The Popsvlcsnap-00312

They also performed “Love Is The Slug” on TV-am’s Wide Awake Club, where they were then interviewed by Tommy Boyd as Garfield looked on. In December 1986 their first album “Bostin’ Steve Austin” was released but this wasn’t a hit. Also in this month they performed a lively concert at the Astoria Theatre in London which has turned up on YouTube. vlcsnap-00188

In February 1987 the final single off the album “What’s The Point” was released which reached no. 51. They also performed this song when they appeared on German TV and American TV’s The Late Show where they were interviewed during the brief time that their frontwoman was Christina Aguilera (well not really of course but Vickie really does look like her there don’t you think?). They never really made the breakthrough in America though. vlcsnap-00274

They also performed this song on CITV’s No. 73 and none other than Neil Buchanan could be seen clapping along in the crowd to their performance, you only see things like that happen on children’s TV. “What’s The Point” had a great video too. vlcsnap-00234

After a break in 1988, Fuzzbox returned in 1989 for what would turn out to be their most successful year. They also had a new look, no more pink hair for these ladies, and frontwoman Vickie had become something of a flame-haired sex symbol. In February 1989 the first single off their second album was released, the Thunderbirds-influenced “International Rescue” which featured Adrian Edmondson in the video and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 11, and this earned them their first Top Of The Pops appearance. vlcsnap-00261

Also around this time they were interviewed on CITV’s Motormouth. Most excitingly though, in April 1989 they appeared on the cover of Lookin magazine for the first time alongside the likes of Kylie Minogue and Scally the dog! fuzzbox2

In May 1989 their next single “Pink Sunshine” was released which reached no. 14, and although it’s a tough decision I would have to say that this is my favourite single of theirs. I remember watching the video to this on the “Hits 10” VHS compilation, and I also enjoyed their Top Of The Pops performance. vlcsnap-00208

They also performed this song on ITV’s My Secret Desire and live on CITV’s Ghost Train which featured something of a mishap when the backing tape began to rewind that revealed that they were miming and they laughed for about the final two minutes of the performance. Also around this time they were interviewed on BBC Midlands Today in a report about the Birmingham music scene, and they also appeared on CBBC’s On The Waterfront and met Andrew O’Connor! vlcsnap-00254

In August 1989 the next single “Self!” was released which earned them another Top Of The Pops appearance and reached no. 24. Also in this month the second album “Big Bang!” was released which made the Top Five. They also appeared on CBBC’s The O Zone where they were interviewed by Andi Peters at a fairground, and we found out some great facts about them including “Jo thinks that Tom Jones is the best-dressed man in pop!”, “Maggie’s favourite book is Simon And Schuster’s Guide To Cats“, and that they are big fans of the Reynolds Girls, but then who wasn’t at the time? vlcsnap-00002

Also around this time they appeared on lots more magazine covers including NMEJackieLookin and Record Mirror again, and Smash Hits for the first and only time. fuzzbox3

In November 1989 the final single released from the second album was a cover of “Walking On Thin Ice” which reached a very disappointing no. 76. They performed this on TV-am’s WAC ’90 (and again they were interviewed by Tommy Boyd), plus CBBC’s The Satellite Show and CITV’s The Disney Club. The video was also featured on the “Monster Hits” VHS compilation (essentially “Hits 11”) although it wasn’t a monster hit. Indeed, it wasn’t a hit at all. vlcsnap-00310

In June 1990 what was planned to be the first single from the third album “Your Loss My Gain” was released. They performed this on ITV’s The James Whale Show and Cannon And Ball’s Casino, along with appearances on CBBC’s The 8:15 From Manchester and CITV’s Ghost Train where they met Nobby the sheep. However, it reached a miserable no. 100, and after this disappointment work on the third album (which was to be called “Out Of This World”) was abandoned and Fuzzbox split, and they didn’t perform together again for 20 years, although in 2004 a best-of album was released called “Look At The Hits On That” which featured all their big ones.

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Game Show Memories – Cheap Cheap Cheap.

Cheap Cheap Cheap (Channel 4, 2017) 

After the successful and long-running Deal Or No Deal ended, Noel Edmonds returned to Channel 4 with a new show that he created himself. Noel is someone who is known to like to try something a little different in TV, and we were promised that Cheap Cheap Cheap would be a unique cross between a game show and a sitcom, where contestants played the game while various comedy characters looked on and interacted with them. 

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The response from viewers to this idea was rather predictable really, with most comments on the show from people after one edition just consisting of “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, I turned off after five minutes”, and “Noel has really lost it this time”, causing the ratings to slump very quickly. I watched to the end of the run though and I just feel that I want to defend this show and reveal why I became a fan, although I am clearly in the minority. vlcsnap-00206

Noel opened his new store in Somerset and he was joined by Barry the manager (played by Alex “not the one who used to be in Hurricane #1” Lowe), plus Marijana the health and happiness guru, Kelly the sales assistant, and Brian the odd job man. Although it seems that some of their material was scripted, I’m not entirely sure if Noel knew what they were going to say, and this made things a little unpredictable. Teams of two take part and they have to determine the lowest-priced item of the three on offer, that’s it really. vlcsnap-00190

If they get stuck they have three tools that were on offer to help them. They could take a look at the next question before deciding to play, they could have the most expensive item removed, or they could have the price of one item revealed. Only one tool can be played per question though. After they make their choice, Noel reveals the prices of the items, and if they have correctly chosen the cheapest, they move one step up the money ladder. vlcsnap-00192

If they decide to play and get it wrong however, they lose all their money. There are eight steps on the money ladder, each question is in theory supposed to be more difficult than the previous one, and the star prize was £25,000 for getting eight right in a row. Barry always looked forward to opening the till for the successful contestants. Shows also straddle so if it’s time for Barry to close the shop for the day they can resume their game in the next edition. vlcsnap-00198

There were a few other odd elements to the show. First of all, there was no live studio audience as such, only the other contestants waiting to play were watching on, so most jokes met with little response, I feel that it would’ve worked better with a bigger audience, and whether you got the style of humour on offer made a difference too. Also, there were lots of guest appearances from old school 1980s celebrities including Bobby Davro, Lionel Blair, Russell Grant and Dennis Taylor who took part in sketches that ranged from amusing to cringe-making. vlcsnap-00203

Perhaps the oddest thing though was how the show ended. By the end of the run, the actress who played Kelly was absent and it wasn’t clear whether it was part of the story or if she had walked before work on the show was completed, and there was also what some people felt was a rather contrived jackpot win in the final edition that left them wondering what exactly was happening behind the scenes. vlcsnap-00199

Cheap Cheap Cheap did reach the end of its six-week run without being moved from its daytime slot, although the ratings were very bad by the end and it was a big failure, and even though it only ended last month I imagine there is no chance of it returning to the screen. If this really does turn out to be the end of Noel’s long TV career then that is very disappointing. Maybe for a second series they could relaunch the show without Noel in a late-night slot, call it Barry’s Bargain Bin and just have him shouting at contestants as they play for terrible prizes. It couldn’t do any worse.

The YouTube Files – The Preventers.

The Preventers (ITV, 1996)
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Here’s a look at another strange and little-remembered comedy show. In March 1996 a comedy series on BBC Radio 4 launched called Fab TV which featured spoofs of various shows, one was called The Preventers which was a spoof of the various cult action and espionage drama series of the late-60s/early-70s such as The Persuaders and The Avengers. In December 1996 The Preventers came to TV when a one-off episode was shown late-night on ITV. 

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An article on Fab TV in Radio Times in March 1996

I didn’t see the show myself at the time, although I have seen a trailer, and I wondered if it was on YouTube in full because it seemed like a show that I might enjoy. Indeed it was, so credit goes to the Curious British Telly website which uploaded the episode. Of the little that has been written about The Preventers online (there isn’t even a Wikipedia entry), it is fair to say that the reviews from critics and viewers is “mixed”, but I wanted to judge for myself. vlcsnap-00185

The main characters were the elegant Penelope Gold (played by Morwenna Banks, who also starred in the great sketch show Absolutely, and indeed this show was an Absolutely Production for Carlton for ITV), the sophisticated Craig Sturdy (Robert Harley), and… the other one, Mike Stallion (Chris England, these three were also the writers of the show). The trio were put together to create an elite team of international troubleshooters who work for a mysterious top-secret organisation called The Movement. vlcsnap-00187

At the start they are given their mission by The Controller (played by William Gaunt who starred in The Champions, one of the old series that this show was spoofing) where they had to thwart a plan from the Australian Roger Mordick who was the head of The Consortium and wanted to take over the world, and they had to work together because of course they’re the only ones who can save the day for all of usvlcsnap-00186

The episode takes a very odd turn, mocking a lot of the cliches in these type of series such as exploding cars, rather dodgy blue-screen effects and weird gadgets, and there is a lot of amusing dialogue which isn’t too far away from the Police Squad!-style which I enjoyed. The episode ended with a “To be continued…” caption, but again, this could have been a joke in itself as our terrific trio never returned to the screen. vlcsnap-00189

I’m not sure if The Preventers was an intentional one-off or if there were plans for a series, but it wasn’t seen on TV again after this episode. Maybe this was an idea that could have worked better on either BBC2 or Channel 4. I definitely feel that it had the potential for a full series, but we’ll now never know what would have happened next and whether the show would have been a success.

The YouTube Files – Atlantis High.

Atlantis High (Channel 5, 2001-2002)

One of the things that I wanted to write about on here and really make people more aware of when I launched the blog was the shows for teenagers that I watched on Channel 5 on weekend afternoons in the late-90s/early-00s because there were lots that I really enjoyed that deserve more appraisal and information about them online, including Daria, Harry And Cosh, Our Hero, and so on.

One of my favourites was the New Zealand post-apocalyptic drama series The Tribe. Another show that was made by the same production company was the rather strange spoof sitcom Atlantis High which was shown on Saturday afternoons. Now I have no recollection of watching this show at the time, but I just thought to myself, I really like The Tribe, and I really like strange sitcoms, so the combination of the two, how could it possibly fail? vlcsnap-00180

I decided that I finally wanted to see Atlantis High for myself, and I was very pleased to discover that all 26 episodes have been uploaded to YouTube officially by the production company so I could now enter this world. It’s one of those shows where it’s rather hard to describe what happens in it exactly, but here’s the idea. The main character is 16-year-old Giles (Michael Wesley-Smith, who also played Jack in The Tribe), and he is essentially the normal one who responds to the clearly unusual characters and situations that are going on around him. vlcsnap-00177

In the first episode along with his mother and granddad, Giles moves to the town of Sunset Cove, where the sun is always shining, and everyone seems to be rather attractive, but everything isn’t as it first seems. Giles then attends the Atlantis High School, where he meets such people as Octavia who becomes the girl of his dreams and he doesn’t know that she is actually a secret agent, the blue-haired Jet, the rather odd Beanie, and Josh the superhero. vlcsnap-00179

We also meet the crazy principal at the school Violet Profusion, and Mr Dorsey the science teacher who it seems might be an alien. As the episodes progress Giles finds himself in ever more unusual situations as he struggles to fit in alongside these oddballs. The school is also prone to the occasional alien invasion, and by the concluding episodes even shows like The X Files seem to come across as straightforward by comparison. vlcsnap-00174

I was pleased to discover that Atlantis High was indeed something that turned out to be the kind of show that I really enjoy watching and it was as great and strange as I hoped it would be. However, there has been no DVD release, I imagine that it was watched by not many people, and it’s not been seen again on TV since it ended 15 years ago. It’s a lost gem and I really have seen little else like it. I definitely recommend it. vlcsnap-00184

The YouTube Files – Goodbye To All That.

Goodbye To All That (ITV, 1992)

A while ago I wrote about my memories of the TV news coverage on the day in 1991 that it was announced that Thames had lost their licence, and also their final programme before they went off air at the end of 1992. Another ITV company that came to an end on that night was south and south-east of England franchise TVS, and thanks to YouTube user “TVSProductions82”, I have been able to see their final programme now too.

Goodbye To All That was a special 75-minute programme that was hosted by Fred Dinenage (who has hosted various programmes over the past five decades for the ITV companies Southern, TVS, and Meridian) and Fern Britton, taking a look in the archive to recall the highlights of the programmes that TVS had made for ITV in their 11 years on air. Continuity announcer Malcolm Brown introduced the show which took place in front of a large studio audience. vlcsnap-00158

First there was a look back at some comedy programmes, including etc…, a late-night show which gave some early TV exposure to Paul Merton, the sitcom That’s Love, sketch show Five Alive which featured Brian Conley and Doon Mackichan among the cast, and Kelly’s Eye, a sketch show starring Matthew Kelly who was then interviewed, and he then stayed around to interview some studio audience members himself including Police 5‘s Shaw Taylor. vlcsnap-00159

Then there was a look back at some news and documentary programmes, followed by some drama series including CATS Eyes and an interview with Jill Gascoine. This was followed by a look back at some childrens’ programmes including Do It, How 2, The TelebugsMr Majeika, and Fraggle Rock, and there was also an interview with good old Neil Buchanan who starred in such goodies as No. 73, Motormouth, Finders Keepers and Art Attackvlcsnap-00162

There was then a look a look back at some cultural programmes and some more drama series including Perfect Scoundrels which starred Peter Bowles and Brian Murray who were also interviewed. This was followed by a look back at some game shows, including Jeopardy!, The Pyramid Game, Tell The Truth, which was followed by an interview with Roy Walker who hosted the great Catchphrasevlcsnap-00164

Then there was one more look back at some award-winning drama including The Ruth Rendell Mysteries and an interview with George Baker who played Inspector Wexford, plus a look at some regional programmes including the local news Coast To Coast and TVS’s contribution to the three ITV Telethons. And just before the end there was a chance to see some amusing moments where things went wrong including Bobby Davro falling over. vlcsnap-00167

Goodbye To All That was definitely a poignant send-off for TVS, which was much more dignified than the end of their predecessor Southern in 1981 which came across as rather bitter. When the end finally came Fred and Fern thanked everyone who had worked for TVS over the years along with the viewers for their support to much applause, and the show concluded with the message “Thanks for watching”. vlcsnap-00170

Although I don’t live in this region I imagine that a lot of people watching that night felt similar to how I did when Thames left the screen at the same time. I did enjoy a lot of programmes made by TVS, but unfortunately their archive is now in something of a mess, with almost no chance of anything they produced ever being repeated on TV or released on DVD. Preserving shows like this online though means that people can still see some of their best programmes.

Game Show Memories – Takeover Bid.

Takeover Bid (BBC1, 1990-1991)

When I put together my tribute to Bruce Forsyth a while ago, I realised that I still hadn’t reviewed his game show Takeover Bid, which was the first show that Bruce hosted after he returned to the BBC in 1990, so here it is. One of the highlights was the opening of the show which was as fun to watch as the actual game. Bruce would come on and try to throw a hat and umbrella on to a hatstand. Sometimes he would succeed, and sometimes he wouldn’t, and wondering what would happen was rather enjoyable. vlcsnap-00003

Bruce’s store was now open and three contestants took part, hoping to bag themselves some bargains, because there were plenty of prizes on offer. The first round was called Fact Or Fib. The contestant was given a choice of one of four prizes worth different values to bid, with the the four star prize being rather decent, and the one star prize being rather daft and useless. If they got the true or false statement right, they keep the prize which would help them in the next round, and they get a bonus prize too! If they got it wrong, they lost the prize that they bid, which could be to their disadvantage. vlcsnap-00148

The second round was Crazy Cryptics. The contestants now answer quirky questions against one another with six categories available, to earn the chance to steal prizes from their opponents. Bruce always encouraged them to be ruthless with their choices at this point, as owning the better value prizes really was worth it. This was because the contestant whose prizes had the highest value of stars at the end of the round went into the final. To help them out, at the start of the final, they are given a bonus ten stars, with their stars total then being rounded up to the nearest five. vlcsnap-00149

The final was Star Spin. There was a wheel with ten categories on it. The five-pointed star was then spun, and the five categories that the points were at when it stopped would be the ones that questions would be asked on. The contestant picked a category and could bid an amount of stars on getting the question right, winning them for a right answer, and losing them for a wrong one. If they had got at least 100 stars by the time they reached the final question, they could gamble for the star prize, which was usually a holiday, plus keeping all the prizes that they had already won. vlcsnap-00154

A couple of months after Takeover Bid launched, Bruce hosted his first edition of The Generation Game for 13 years, which turned out to be much more successful, because it was definitely the better of the two shows. However, although Takeover Bid wasn’t a huge success it still ran for a couple of series in the early-90s and it was always a pleasure seeing Bruce do his thing.

The YouTube Files – The Polkadot World Of Strawberry Switchblade.

After having a look back at the careers of Shakespear’s Sister and Danielle Dax, I wondered if there were any more charismatic female singers with a distinctive look who made some unusual songs in the 1980s. I then remembered that there was a group who I felt fitted that description who turned out to be one of the more extreme examples of how quickly fame can come and go.

Strawberry Switchblade were a female duo who consisted of Rose “the black-haired one” McDowall and Jill “the red-haired one” Bryson who were both born in Glasgow in 1959 and 1961 respectively. They both had an interest in punk music in the late-70s and formed the group in 1981. They wrote their own songs and had some of their earliest exposure in 1982 when they recorded some sessions for various BBC Radio 1 programmes, and their first single “Trees And Flowers” was released in July 1983. It wasn’t a hit but it was well received. Around this time they also moved to Muswell Hill in London. It wasn’t until their next single was released a year later that there started to be a buzz around them. This piece will look back at their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube because it’s a story worth telling. Strawberry1

The decision was made to give their new single “Since Yesterday” which had been released in October 1984 to a quiet reception a big promotional push, and this started when in December 1984 they appeared on the cover of fortnightly music magazine Smash Hits for the first and only time. This was something of a surprise because also in this issue there was a behind-the-scenes article on Band Aid, and the fact that the pop music exclusive of the decade was passed over for the cover in favour of an almost unknown band does seem something of a curious editorial decision. It did give them a boost though, little did these self-described “scabby witches from Scotland” know that 1985 would be their year, they wouldn’t be unknown for much longer. 

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“Since Yesterday” eventually peaked at No. 5 in its 11th week on the chart and in January 1985 they made two appearances on Top Of The Pops. Unfortunately, both of these editions have been “Smithed” so it seems that they won’t be repeated and viewers will miss the chance to see their three minutes of fame on TV again, although these performances have been shown in more recent years on TOTP2 and the Goth At The BBC compilation. vlcsnap-00173

They were now famous and suddenly they were everywhere, being interviewed on various TV shows including The Paul Coia Show, TV-am’s Wide Awake ClubBBC Breakfast Time, and many others, and also frequently performing this song, including one where they seemed to be stood on a snooker table for some reason. Also around this time they featured in various other music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, plus Lookin and Jackievlcsnap-00170

I was only 18 months old when “Since Yesterday” made the Top Ten, my first memory of seeing the video was a while ago on The Hits Video, a VHS that was released in 1985 which featured 23 music videos of the biggest hits of the year, Hits being a rival to the Now compilation series at the time. The video has also had about two million views on YouTube so clearly some people out there remember them. Of course, I do have to refer to their famous look. They both had rather long hair with multicoloured bows in it along with heavy makeup and lots of fancy jewellery, and they both wore polkadot dresses. You certainly couldn’t mistake them for anyone else, and their music stood out just as much. Because I enjoyed this song, I thought it would be a good idea to find out more about them and was I pleased to discover that I liked their subsequent singles. 

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How could they follow the success of “Since Yesterday”? In March 1985, the next single “Let Her Go” was released. In the same month they appeared on the cover of weekly music magazine No. 1. Although it was seen by some as simply “Since Yesterday Part Two”, this was another good one with a fun video. They also performed this on CBBC’s Saturday SuperStore, but it reached just No. 59 on the chart. In April 1985, their self-titled debut album was released which reached No. 25. vlcsnap-00154

In May 1985 the next single “Who Knows What Love Is” was released, which was a ballad with a nice video where the ladies were featured in a strange dreamy world. They performed this song on various shows, they were also interviewed on CBBC’s The Saturday Picture Show, and they even appeared as contestants on Sandi Toksvig’s Sandwich Quiz on CITV’s No. 73! However, this song reached a rather low No. 84 on the chart. vlcsnap-00181

In September 1985 there was still hope that they would have another big hit when their next single “Jolene” was released. This was a cover of the Dolly Parton song. Now I must admit that Country music isn’t one of my favourite musical genres, but this electropop reworking was much more to my taste, and this was accompanied by a video that was made in Paris. They also performed this song on Channel 4 music show Bliss, CBBC’s Cheggers Plays Pop and BBC1’s Pebble Mill. “Jolene” reached No. 53 on the chart to become their second-biggest hit, but it was still rather disappointing. vlcsnap-00148

Although their fame in the UK was just about over, the ladies did have some success in other countries. Although they never broke America, they were rather popular in Japan, where they released a couple more singles exclusively in that country, made a few more TV appearances, and for a short while a lot of young Japanese women liked to dress like them. By the start of 1986 though, just a year on from their breakthrough, it was all over. vlcsnap-00234

It was another case of the all-too familiar story in pop music of a up-and-coming group at the beginning of the year being eager and looking forward to success, and then after having it a year later being left frustrated and with a broken friendship. After the split, Rose and Jill went their separate ways and haven’t worked together since, although they have continued to perform in various bands in more recent years, and a best-of album was released in 2005. vlcsnap-00166

They are both still around and nowadays also have something of a presence online with various fansites dedicated to their work. Although they are all but forgotten now and they only had one Top 50 hit over 30 years ago I do think that Strawberry Switchblade were something terrifically different and their brief moment in the spotlight is one of the more interesting stories in 1980s pop music.