CITV Memories – Danger Mouse.

Danger Mouse (CITV, 1981-1992)

London. Home of the Cockney, the winkle stall, the Thames Gas Board, and the world’s greatest… vlcsnap-00139

…detective of course, it’s Danger Mouse! This was the cartoon with a distinctive animation style produced by Cosgrove Hall that featured the adventures of the super secret agent Danger Mouse (voiced by David Jason, who deserves to celebrated as much for his cartoon voice work as he is for his sitcom work), and his hapless hamster sidekick Penfold (voiced by Terry Scott). They both lived in a secret postbox somewhere in Mayfair. vlcsnap-00144

Whenever there was a problem anywhere in the world (or beyond) they would be contacted by the rather bumbling boss Colonel K who gives them their instructions and then they would be on their way in the Mousemobile because seemingly they were the only ones who could come to the rescue for all of us because we were reassured that wherever there is danger he’ll be there. Crumbs! vlcsnap-00147

The baddie in the show was the hoarse-voiced Baron Greenback who was always planning something. He was accompanied by an odd little furry caterpillar-type thing that sat on his desk (once again, it’s strange how things like that stay in your mind) which it seems was called Nero, and his useless henchman Stiletto. Also occasionally appearing in the show was Count Duckula who would get his own spin-off cartoon on CITV which was equally enjoyable and I’ll review that soon. vlcsnap-00145

Danger Mouse eventually ran for ten series over a decade and it became one of the most popular shows in the history of CITV, and it was also shown across the world. Throughout the 80s there was also lots of merchandise released featuring the characters including comics, games and books, and DM even appeared on the cover of Lookin, what an honour that is. vlcsnap-00146

I only really remember watching the later episodes but I found them to be very enjoyable and still fondly remember them. I recently got the DVD boxset of Danger Mouse which is great because not only does it contain every episode over ten discs, but there are also a few interesting extras, including behind-the-scenes looks on how the show was put together on CITV shows CBTV and Splash, and also the unaired pilot where the characters are voiced by different actors! In more recent years our hero donned the old eyepatch again for a revival, this time on CBBC, with DM now being voiced by Alexander Armstrong. Although I haven’t watched this version myself, it’s good to know that our hero has won over a new generation of viewers.

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More TV Memories – Futurama.

Futurama (Fox, 1999-2003, Comedy Central, 2008-2013)

The Simpsons was one of the most successful TV shows of its era, so when it was revealed that its creator Matt Groening was working on a new cartoon, a lot of people including myself were wondering what he would come up with next. It turned out that his new show was a science-fiction cartoon set 1,000 years in the future called Futurama.

I can still remember the first time that I saw a picture of the Futurama cast at the beginning of 1999 and I was rather excited. They looked like characters from The Simpsons… but there was something different about them! There was a huge buzz around the show when it finally launched later that year, and Futurama made its debut on TV in this country on Sky One around the same time as Family Guy so I can’t help but always group those two shows together. 

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Futurama is one of those shows that is very well documented online, so there isn’t much need to explain the plot in huge depth, but I’d just like to add my views on the show to the many already out there. It begins at the end of 1999 when we meet our hero of the show, the ordinary pizza delivery boy Fry (who was voiced by Billy West of Ren And Stimpy fame among many other animated shows). vlcsnap-00132

Fry manages to get himself locked in a freezer, and when he finally awakes in the year 3000… it is fair to say that things on Earth have changed somewhat. We then follow Fry’s new life in the future as he gets a new job as a delivery boy on the Planet Express spaceship, and like all good shows there are a small amount of very enjoyable regular cast members, the main ones being the purple-haired one-eyed Leela, and Bender the talking robot. vlcsnap-00135

Also featuring was Fry’s elderly relative Professor Farnsworth who was always inventing things, Amy, Hermes, and Dr Zoidberg. I remember being particularly amused by Zapp Brannigan, especially his difficultly with pronouncing the word “champagne”, which really upset him. There were also lots of other good touches in the show including a title sequence which changed every episode, and a chance to spot secret messages. vlcsnap-00136

I remember watching the early episodes of Futurama on Sky One in the late-90s/early-2000s when there was something of an animation boom on TV which brought the genre into a new era. Some episodes were also shown on Channel 4, but these were in some odd timeslots and the show never really managed to get as big a following in this country as The Simpsons but it still had a huge amount of fans. The DVDs also feature a good amount of extras looking behind the scenes of the show. vlcsnap-00134

As time went by Fry and co. visited several planets and encountered a wide range of creative aliens, technology, robots and so on. After a few years though Futurama was cancelled by Fox, but then it was revived a few years later by Comedy Central before being cancelled again, and there have been constant rumours ever since about its return. I also remember that there was a lot of merchandise for the show including comics, and I also had the PlayStation 2 game. There were so many great episodes over the years and I still enjoy watching the show.

The YouTube Files – The Krypton Factor USA.

The Krypton Factor (ABC, 1981)

If you are a regular you will know that The Krypton Factor is one of my favourite game shows, and wondering how many variations have been made over the years, I was interested to discover that an American version was made in the early-80s. It was hosted by Dick Clark, a veteran presenter who appeared on TV for decades, and the show was described as the ultimate test of mental and physical abilities. vlcsnap-00105

Four contestants from across the country took part in five rounds (or “phases” as they were called here). Phase one was the reflex test. The contestants had to complete a challenge on an Atari computer game that was impressive technology at the time, which was a test of hand-eye co-ordination. If they were successful they scored five points. Phase two was mental agility. Two questions were asked about various words and numbers. Get the first question right and score four points. Get it wrong and they are eliminated from the round. Get the second question right and score six points for a maximum of ten. vlcsnap-00104

Phase three was physical ability. This was the assault course round and the obstacles were very tough to complete, possibly even more so than the British version. Every contestant started at the same time, there were no head starts, and the winner of this round scored 20 points, with 15 points for coming second, 10 points for coming third, and five points for coming fourth. vlcsnap-00109

Phase four was observation. Contestants had to watch a film clip, and then they would be asked two questions about what they saw and heard, with four points for getting the first question correct, and six points for the second. There would then be an identity parade where contestants would have to spot an actor who appeared in the scene from a line-up of six for a bonus of ten points. vlcsnap-00110

Phase five was general knowledge. Questions were asked on the buzzer, with two points for a correct answer, and two deducted for an incorrect answer. At the midway point in the round, this increased to four points for a correct answer, four points deducted for an incorrect answer. When time was up, the contestant with the highest score won $5,000 and was invented to return for the final at the end of the series. vlcsnap-00114

There were four heats, with the four winners going into the final, with the star prize being $50,000. Also in 1981, two of the finalists in the US version played two contestants from the UK version in an international special. It seems that this version of The Krypton Factor wasn’t a huge success though, it only ran for five editions. In 1990 there was a second attempt at an American version featuring younger contestants but again this didn’t do very well.

The YouTube Files – The Mysterious World Of Danielle Dax.

When I remembered that this year is the 25th anniversary of “Stay” by Shakespear’s Sister’s epic run at Number One on the singles chart in the UK, I decided that I wanted to do a blog piece sharing my memories of that song and give the group a reappraisal. Whilst putting the piece together I discovered something about Siobhan Fahey that I couldn’t believe and I ended up writing about that remarkable story instead. I then started to wonder if there were any other women with an extrovert personality who made similarly spooky or just plain weird records around the same time, and I was very pleased when I discovered someone who just about perfectly fitted the criteria of what I was looking for.

When I decided to review the Channel 4 interview show Star Test recently, I was very pleased when I discovered that Siobhan had appeared on the show as a guest. Whilst trying to find some other editions to watch on YouTube, I found one which featured a musician called Danielle Dax. I must admit that I knew nothing about her beyond remembering seeing a couple of her videos played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart in the late-80s on YouTube, but seeing her on this show finally made me curious to discover more about her, and I was very surprised by what I discovered. It seems that Danielle could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in British music in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax was born (in the same month as Siobhan in an almost interesting coincidence) in Essex and throughout the 1980s she made several creative albums. She was also in total control, writing her songs (which sometimes featured rather hard-hitting lyrics), playing a wide variety of rather unusual instruments, and she even organised her tours and interviews, not settling for any interference from record labels or anybody else on the direction of her career. In the articles that I found about her work online, words such as “unique”, “experimental” and “cult” turned up several times, and she was often compared to the likes of similarly out-there singers Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux. However, despite her obvious talent, pioneering work and interesting personality being acknowledged, she had precisely zero hit singles and albums in this country, before she dropped off the scene, and a lot of people still can’t believe that she was never a huge success. This piece will take a look back at the small amount of Danielle’s TV appearances and music videos that I have found on YouTube as I wondered why she never hit the big time… dax

1983: After leaving the Lemon Kittens, Danielle released her first solo album “Pop-Eyes” (which had a famously grotesque cover) and made one of her earliest TV appearances on the BBC2 music show Riverside shown on Halloween where she was simply described by Radio Times as “mysterious” and performed her song “Pariah”. I must admit that my jaw almost dropped the first time I saw this. Not only because it’s a very odd song featuring strange squeaking and buzzing noises with bizarre lyrics that showed off her remarkable vocal range (“walking sick sick they walking the town“), but I was also surprised by Danielle’s distinctive look with her massive red hair and heavy make-up which made her look like a long-lost cast member of post-apocalyptic drama The Tribe, or maybe pop group Strawberry Switchblade (ask your dad), which is a great thing of course. It was a fascinating performance and it was the moment that I realised what an intriguing talent she was. Who knows, maybe in a parallel universe somewhere “Pariah” spent eight weeks at Number One on the singles chart. vlcsnap-00010

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The “mysterious” Danielle Dax appears in Radio Times in October 1983 (image courtesy of @woodg31 on Twitter)

1984: Danielle made a brief but memorable appearance in the horror film The Company Of Wolves. Although she only appears for a couple of minutes and has no dialogue, you certainly noticed her. She played a wolfgirl who is taken in by a priest (played by the old boy in early-90s sitcom Waiting For God, I’ll never look at that show in the same way again). She spent four hours in makeup! According to the IMDB this is Danielle’s only acting credit, I wondered if I would ever see it on TV, and then the film turned up recently late at night on the London Live channel, which was an odd coincidence. vlcsnap-00064

Also in this year, Danielle appeared on Channel 4’s music show The Tube where she was interviewed by Paula Yates and performed her song “Hammerheads”. The only article about Danielle in Smash Hits that I have been able to track down is a paragraph from a November 1984 issue about “Jesus Egg That Wept” including the fact that she likes to play the honkytonk piano. Described as “weird“, unsurprisingly. vlcsnap-00011

1985: Danielle performed a concert at The Camden Palace, which in 1986 was shown on LWT as part of their Live From London series (I haven’t been able to track down when exactly, but probably rather late at night and only in the LWT region). I was rather surprised to discover that this concert has been released on DVD, where she entertained the crowd by playing 15 songs including such bangers as “Here Come The Harvest Buns” and “Yummer Yummer Man”, and it was a great experience to see one of her shows and be in her company for an hour. vlcsnap-00052

1987: Danielle made a video for her single “Big Hollow Man”. She also performed this song on a German TV show. vlcsnap-00058

Also in this year Danielle also appeared as a guest on ITV’s late-night entertainment show Night Network, where she reviewed the latest singles alongside snooker champion Steve Davis which made for an unlikely pairing. And Danielle performed a concert in Tokyo which was shown on Japanese TV. I’m not sure how successful she was in other countries but it seems that she has fans all over the world. vlcsnap-000081988: Danielle’s single “Cathouse” which featured some fancy visual effects was played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on Channel 4. Also around this time, Danielle was interviewed in various music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, although I’m fairly sure she never appeared on the cover of any of them. vlcsnap-00063

1989: Danielle appeared on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on ITV with her great single “White Knuckle Ride”. vlcsnap-00084

Also around this time, Danielle made what must be one of her most high-profile TV appearances when she was a guest on Channel 4’s prime-time interview show Star Test and she faced the computer’s probing questions. She introduced herself by saying “I write and record all my own music, I produce it, I paint, I design record covers, I make clothes”. She revealed some interesting things about herself, for example when asked “which is your best physical feature?”, she said “ooh, my hair!”. Also, when asked “what’s the one thing you don’t have in your life that you would really like?”, she said “a cat”. According to her website, Danielle now owns four cats, so I suppose it is sometimes possible to get what you want in life. vlcsnap-00062

1990: In what was seemingly a final attempt to push Danielle into the big time, she signed to a major record label and released the album “Blast The Human Flower”, which featured a psychedelic cover of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was fairly mainstream by her standards. Her look in the video was somewhat toned down by this point, although she still had a rather large red beehive hairstyle. It seems that also around this time she appeared on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury but that doesn’t appear to be online. However, once again this wasn’t a success and Danielle missed out on fame. She was then dropped by her record label, and about a decade after her first album was released, she practically vanished off the music scene altogether, but it was also rumoured that around this time she became ill. Intriguingly, although there was a best-of album released in 1995 called “Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Career Of Danielle Dax”, there seems to be almost zero audio or visual evidence online of Danielle’s existence post-1991, which just adds to her mystique. Danielle is most certainly still with us though and the story doesn’t end here… vlcsnap-00080

After that..: In more recent years after leaving music behind Danielle’s career took an unlikely swerve and she has gone to have some success as an interior and garden designer, with her Brixton home which she designed herself featuring in several magazines. In May 1997 Danielle featured in BBC2’s interior design show Home Front when she was one of the three finalists nominated for the Radio Times/Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year award. dax0001

The finalists were challenged to decorate a room on an estate in Nottinghamshire. They had 48 hours, a limited budget, and four of their own items to decorate the room. The winner was determined by a judging panel of the show’s presenters, along with a phone vote that was open to viewers to choose their favourite. “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas” said judge and Home Front presenter Anne McKevitt. As it turned out, Danielle won the competition and appeared on the show a few times, and her work in this area has gone on to be much acclaimed.

Game Show Memories – Happy Families.

Happy Families (BBC1, 1993)

This isn’t a review of the mid-80s BBC1 comedy series, nor is it a review of the late-80s CBBC series either, Happy Families was a short-lived 45-minute long game show that was shown on Saturday nights on BBC1 in 1993 which was hosted by Andrew O’Connor and Sarah Greene. This review is a little different as I have no memory of watching this show at the time (I don’t know where I was in 1993), so why am I reviewing it?

The reason is because if you are a regular you will know that I have enjoyed a lot of shows hosted by Andrew O’Connor over the years, such as the children’s shows and game shows that he hosted throughout the 80s and 90s before he went on to have further success behind the scenes as a producer and director, and I’ve no idea why I would have never watched this at the time, so now I have finally seen an edition on YouTube here’s what Happy Families was all about. vlcsnap-00086

Happy Families featured two family teams of 11 taking part in various games in a big arena, Andrew and Sarah would also commentate on these games. One odd element to the show was that the granny from the family would sit in a cage on a crane, and every point scored by winning a game would crank the granny up one notch (leading to the show’s remembered by nobody catchphrase “crank up your granny!”). Every week a different celebrity (such as Keith Chegwin) would keep the score and also be the granny cranker (is that a word? I think so). vlcsnap-00079

Rounds included The Podmobile, where one team member was in a pod, and then had to move along to hook the next pod on and then go back, until ten pods had hooked on to one another and then they all had to race to the finish line. There was also Remote Control, where someone was in a car and gave instructions for another team member to drive it, and the team that hit the most bollards against the clock won. vlcsnap-00082

There was also Sticky Mountain, where team members wearing Velcro had to climb a wall, and the first one to plant their flag at the top won, which started giving me flashbacks to the 1995 series of The Krypton Factor somewhat. A game played more than once was Terrorball, where a team member was strapped in a rotating ball and then had to answer Mr & Mrs-style questions about the rest of their family. vlcsnap-00083

After a few more games, then came the final challenge. Teams had to get some gunge and fire it out of a cannon. For every opposing team’s target they hit, the granny went up another notch, so winning a lot of the earlier games would come in useful as it would mean they’d need to hit fewer targets to win. The first team to 15 notches released their granny and won the game (did the losing team’s granny have to stay in the air?). An added incentive was that the teams who reached their target in the quickest time went through to the next round, with the overall series winning family receiving a big trophy. vlcsnap-00085

Gladiators was a show that was very popular on ITV at the time, and it seems that this is the closest that the BBC ever got to having their own version, with Happy Families coming across as sort-of like Gladiators with teams, or a prime-time version of Run The Risk. However, the show was something of a failure and seems to be completely forgotten now, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but it was definitely an ambitious and somewhat unusual show, a curious one-series wonder if ever there was one. Oh well, at least because it never came back grannies across the country were well relived. vlcsnap-00081

Game Show Memories – a tribute to Bruce Forsyth.

After I had competed reviewing all the game shows that I wanted to on this blog, I planned to take a look back some of my favourite hosts too and some their best shows. I decided that I might as well do this one now as we still come to terms with the fact that we are now living in a post-Brucie world. Here’s a quick look at ten memorable shows which featured the great talent of Bruce Forsyth throughout his long career.

The Generation Game. (BBC1, 1971-1977, 1990-1994) One of the best shows that Bruce ever hosted, he was the original host, before he came back in the early-90s to host the era that I remember. Just about all of his famous catchphrases were in use and I remember really enjoying this entertaining show. vlcsnap-00289Bruce’s Big Night. (ITV, 1978) This is a curious one. After leaving the BBC, Bruce went to ITV and was given his own big-budget Saturday night ITV entertainment show. Despite lots of things being tried it wasn’t a big success.

Play Your Cards Right. (ITV, 1980-1987, 1994-1999, 2002-2003) Another one of Bruce’s classics which he ended up hosting three versions of. Again, I remember the 90s version which was always great to play along with and this show is definitely up there with Bruce’s best. vlcsnap-01396

You Bet(ITV, 1988-1990) Although Matthew Kelly is the best-known host of this show, Bruce hosted the first three series, where people tried to complete extraordinary challenges. Bruce would also begin every show with “the You Bet! rap”, hopefully he didn’t realise that as a single. You Bet 10

Takeover Bid. (BBC1, 1990-1991) This was a rather short-lived game show that I haven’t got round to reviewing yet but it was much inferior to The Generation Game. If the highlight of the show is when Bruce comes on at the start and tries to throw a hat and cane on to a hatstand then the actual game might not be so great. Takeover Bid 4

Bruce’s Guest Night. (BBC1, 1992-1993) This was an entertainment show where Bruce would interview various guests such as comedians and musicians.

Bruce’s Price Is Right. (ITV, 1995-2001) Another game show revival. Bruce replaced Leslie Crowther as the host of this classic show where a lot of big prizes were won. vlcsnap-01496Tonight At The London Palladium. (ITV, 2000) Viewers are always saying that they should bring back variety to TV, so who better to do it than the man who hit the big time hosting a show at the Palladium in the late-50s? Lots of variety acts joined Bruce, and he even revived his famous Beat The Clock game. Also around this time on ITV Bruce starred in an edition of the An Audience With series, and also took part in a special show celebrating his 70th birthday.

Didn’t They Do Well. (BBC1, 2004) This was a short-lived game show that I don’t remember seeing much of myself unfortunately, but it seems an interesting idea. I’d sooner watch this than that bloomin’ dancing show he started hosting around the same time!

Bruce’s Hall Of Fame. (BBC1, 2014) Bruce hosts another show at the Palladium where he looks back over his career and is joined on stage by various guests. This one is interesting because not only were my parents in the audience for this and they had a great time in his company, but it also turned out to be just about the final show that he ever did.

Beyond these shows, Brucie made a huge amount of TV appearances, and he also appeared on stage, in films, and in various adverts in a career that spanned decades. TV will never really be the same without him. He really was a terrific presenter and a real star, thanks for the great memories.

More TV Memories – Look And Read.

Look And Read (BBC2, 1967-2004)

Look And Read is one of those long-running shows that was watched by a lot of children, but it was never shown as part of CBBC, this is because it was a schools TV show which was designed to help improve reading skills with various stories and songs. I remember watching the show in my first and second year at junior school (1990-1992).

And yes, we really did all go and sit in a small room which had a TV in it to watch Look And Read live on BBC2 (although we did have a video recorder too, honest). The novelty of being able to watch TV at 10am even though I was actually at school! There were four ten-part stories that I remember watching, although some of them were repeats, and the year that they were first shown on BBC2 will be in brackets, along with a brief analysis of what I can remember about the story. vlcsnap-00065

Badger Girl. (1984) This is the first one that I remember watching. It featured some children who visited a farm and noticed that something was happening with the badgers and ponies. vlcsnap-00067

Geordie Racer. (1988) This was a story about a boy who liked to race pigeons and had to solve a mystery, while the rest of his family were in training to take part in the Great North Run. vlcsnap-00069

Sky Hunter II. (1992) A sequel to an earlier story from 1978, this one featured a lot about bird-watching and peregrine falcons and I found it rather dull compared to the other stories. vlcsnap-00070

Through The Dragon’s Eye. (1989) Now this was definitely my favourite one, I remember really enjoying this. This was a story which begins when three children paint a mural at their school which features a dragon that suddenly comes to life! They then go on an adventure in a magical land with a very odd range of characters, there were orange people and everything! I still remember this one fondly all these years later. vlcsnap-00072

Also along the way were helped by our old friend Wordy and there were also lots of memorable animations and songs (which all seemed to be sung by Derek Griffiths which is great). Look And Read eventually ran for almost four decades, and some classic stories were also repeated in the early days of the CBBC Channel. This really is one of those shows that is fondly remembered by generations of children, and I’m sure that just about everyone who went to school throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember watching at least one of the 20 stories that were produced throughout that time and were encouraged to build a word. vlcsnap-00066