The YouTube Files – Art Attack unaired pilot.

Art Attack (unaired pilot, 1989)

Here is my first review of an unusual clip that I came across on YouTube. Unaired pilots are always rather odd things. It’s often strange seeing shows that would go on to be popular before they become properly defined. They may feature different cast members or theme music, and try out different ideas.

One of my favourite CITV shows is Art Attack. I noticed that about nine minutes worth of an unaired pilot made in 1989 had been uploaded to YouTube by a member called “TheMeakers” who has uploaded a lot of interesting clips from the TVS archive. I decided to watch this as I was interested in how it all started and I presumed it would be very familiar to the version that started on CITV in 1990. I was way off, it’s really weird.

It is hosted by Neil Buchanan, who would go on to host Art Attack until 2007, but that’s about the only similarity to what eventually ended up on CITV. First of all, the show oddly is hosted from a disused pool in Gillingham. No studio with big pencils and paintbrushes here. It starts with Neil squirting some red blobs of paint on to a piece of paper accompanied by some gunshot sound effects. Neil then appears in shot. He is not wearing his usual red jumper, but a cap and suit which would constantly change colour thanks to some bizarre visual effects. Neil tells us that he is here to create some visual excitement, and we should prepare for our eyeballs to have a shock… vlcsnap-00125

Then we get the title sequence, which is totally different to the “pencil and paper alert” that we know, with a lot of thumping and buzzing in the theme music too. vlcsnap-00126

Neil then does his first Big Art Attack, which is unusual as it is accompanied by some out-of-place didgeridoo music and has Neil talking us through what he is doing. Neil then goes outside (his suit having changed colour again) to frighten some people on the street and draw their caricature. vlcsnap-00127

We then get the first of a rather bizarre series of animated interludes. Neil then tells us that he likes to do that thing where you can cut pictures of people out of magazines and then stick the wrong heads on the wrong bodies for a cheap laugh, fantastic! vlcsnap-00128

Neil then does this. Who knows. vlcsnap-00129

Then Neil tells us what a great idea this is by turning into a photograph himself, which is followed by another interlude. vlcsnap-00130

Then there is a very odd sequence where there is a piece of card with some dance steps on it which Neil starts to rearrange which makes some dancers contort as they try to continue to follow the moves that have now been changed before they explode in a big pile of paint. An art critic then comes on to give their opinion of this work who is played by Richard “he’s dead silly” Waites. vlcsnap-00132

After another interlude, Neil then tells us about his schooldays. He used to find art classes really boring and the teacher was so dull. We then have a short sketch of a boring art teacher, again played by Waites. vlcsnap-00133

After one more interlude, there’s a baffling sketch, then Neil closes the show by telling us to get out there and do it ourselves whilst being swept away. There’s definitely no famous “try it yourself” catchphrase or bottles of PVA glue to be seen here. vlcsnap-00135

I’ve never really seen anything like it, maybe it would have got on to the screen in those days if it was going to be on BBC2 or Channel 4 at around 11pm, but there is no way that this surreal style could have been suitable for CITV viewers. When it did come to the screen it was as a much more straightforward art show, although there was a slight streak of oddness with the Head character. That’s why I found this video of a popular show in its earliest days fascinating.

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