Grim Tales (CITV, 1989, Channel 4, 1991)
The much-missed Rik Mayall appeared in a lot of memorable comedy shows over the years, but did you know that he also contributed to a lot of children’s TV, despite having a reputation for being rather anarchic. It was clear that he had a talent for storytelling after brightening up CBBC’s Jackanory with his enthusiastic take on George’s Marvellous Medicine, he featured in shows about poetry including Wham Bam Strawberry Jam, and also voiced several characters for cartoons including King Arthur’s Disasters.
His storytelling style was put to the best use though in this series, that was first shown on CITV. Grim Tales featured Rik in pyjamas and a dressing gown (that wasn’t on his eye), and he sat on a rather unusual chair that had paws and big ostrich legs, so it could run around, but it didn’t talk (there was another children’s show around this time that did feature a talking chair called Helping Henry, but I don’t remember that one).
Rik told stories that were loosely based on works by the Brothers Grimm from the 19th century, often featuring animals, children, and all kinds of other strange things, among the most famous of these being Hansel And Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin. These stories were also accompanied by a wide variety of animation and puppetry which along with the theme music and silly noises definitely added to the rather weird vibe of the show.
There were 22 editions of Grim Tales in two series, and they were all about ten minutes long. The first series on CITV did well enough for the second to be promoted to a Sunday evening slot on Channel 4, where it carried on in the usual style and of course it was always very entertaining, I can’t think of many other TV shows that have made a channel hop like that.
There was also a VHS of Grim Tales released, along with some cassettes, so you could listen to Rik tell these stories to you all day if you wanted to. One other thing that is notable is that Rik returned to quirky storytelling with his contribution to Dave’s comedy parody Crackanory, this turned out to be just about the last TV work that he did, and it ended up being shown posthumously.