Happy Families (CBBC, 1989-1990)
This isn’t the first show that I’ve reviewed called Happy Families (there was also the 1993 game show), and it may not be the last (I might also review the 1985 sitcom). Around the end of the 19th century, there was a traditional card game invented called Happy Families. I also remember that there was a card game called Old Maid, what was that all about?
I have never been that particularly skilled at playing card games, I could just about grasp how to play Snap when I was younger. The Happy Families game also influenced a series of books in the 80s by Allan Ahlberg, and in 1989 some of the stories were adapted for TV. There were several characters featured, including Mrs Wobble The Waitress, and Mr Tick The Teacher. Every episode was 15 minutes long, with the stories being split into two parts.
It was something of a comedy-drama series, and the set and costume design made it seem that it was supposed to have been set about a century earlier, it definitely came across as more 1889 than 1989. There was also a memorable opening sequence which featured a lot of the characters. And, this was another show that featured a pantomime horse, it wasn’t just Rentaghost at it.
There was a regular cast of adults and children who played various roles throughout the series. One of them was Milton Johns, who had appeared in a few other TV shows at the time. Not long after this show ended, he went on to appear in Coronation Street as Brendan Scott, where he replaced the long-serving Alf Roberts as the owner of the corner shop. He didn’t last long though (I don’t know if there was a “Bring Back Alf!” campaign from viewers, of it was always the plan), but not long after he keeled over in the shop, which I remember gave the younger me something of a fright.
Also regularly featuring was Elizabeth Estensen, who had also been in CITV’s T-Bag. Another good thing about the show was the ending, where everyone was credited as “The Radiophonic Music Man: Mr Richard Attree”, “The Videotape Man: Mr Ian Williams”, and so on. There were 24 episodes (featuring 12 stories) in two series on CBBC, and these were repeated until as late as 1993.
But then, oh yes, there was another repeat run around 2000 as part of the CBBC On Choice strand, Happy Families being yet another show that was given a run-out about a decade after it was made. What a flashback that was, it was a pleasure to see it wobble back on to our screens. I don’t think that there have been any VHS or DVD releases of the series though.