Bertha (CBBC, 1985-1986)
This is a show that was originally part of the CBBC afternoon strand in the mid-80s, but I don’t actually remember watching for the first time until it appeared in the BBC2 “See-Saw” lunchtime slot for younger viewers in the late-80s, where for a while it was frequently repeated. And watching it again recently to put this piece together really was one of those moments, lots of memories came back, and for a brief moment it felt like the last 30 years hadn’t happened.
Bertha was a show that had a stop-motion animated style similar to Postman Pat (another one of my favourites from around this time that I plan to review soon). It’s a show that had a rather odd premise, but the basic idea was that it featured people who worked in a factory alongside a big machine called Bertha which had worked without fail for 50 years (just about). “We can depend upon you” went the memorable opening theme, let’s see if that’s the case.
Bertha (which was designed to look like it had a big face along with lots of flashing lights and beeping noises) was a sort-of glamorised conveyor belt at a place called Spottiswood And Company. Lots of buttons were pressed, and then it would manufacture an extraordinary variety of items (boxes, clocks, gnomes, springs, and so on), the workers all had to keep up with the fast-moving pace as they all whizzed off the production line.
It also amused me that the opening sequence seemed to consist of the staff putting labels on the boxes that featured the names of the cast. Most of the voices were provided by Roy Kinnear, who had a lot of TV work around this time, including several sitcoms like the ill-fated Hardwicke House. Most of the staff tried their best to deal with Bertha, but sometimes it was rather difficult.
Most of the staff seemed to walk around with pieces of paper making sure everything worked properly. These included Ted who is the main operator of Bertha along with his assistant Roy, Mr Sprott the designer, and Mr Willmake the manager who had a very impressive moustache. I also realised that none of the cast ever moved their mouths when they spoke, which was a little odd.
It was decided that the team needed a little help with all of this work, so in the first episode, Mr Sprott and his assistant Tracy built a robot called TOM (Talk Operated Machine) which ended up being more smart than most of the team put together, and the way the little thing used to run around the factory and make noises was always one of the highlights for me.
Bertha was shown a lot, which makes it a surprise to realise that only 13 episodes were ever made. They were repeated on BBC1 until 1988, and on BBC2 until as late as 1998. The show was successful enough for there to be merchandise that extended beyond the usual area of just books and tapes. There was also an album released that featured the songs from the show, an annual, and even a board game that now seems to be something of a collectors’ item.