CBBC Memories – Sebastian The Incredible Drawing Dog.

Sebastian The Incredible Drawing Dog (CBBC, 1986)

There have been a lot of rather strange ideas for CBBC shows over the years, and this is definitely one of them. Sebastian is a dog (and a puppet) who has a rather unusual talent, because he can draw. And this wasn’t the only thing that he could unexpectedly do, because according to the opening sequence, he could play various musical instruments as well.

In every edition he would be at home, and some scenario would play out that would lead to a story on that theme being told from a rather large book that supposedly contained many. For this, Sebastian would go and sit at his desk and get his pens and paper out, and then he would draw various images that would illustrate the story as this was being told.

Among the exciting stories that were featured were “The Man Who Made Custard” and “The Man With Big Ideas”. And in “The Funny Story Man”, there was the story of Percy Brightside, who thinks up the world’s funniest joke. Now wait, he’s not the Mr Brightside is he? As for Sebastian’s drawing ability, well he was no Bill Tidy, but he was still rather good.

I’m sure that the other memorable canine character Dogsbody did something rather similar to this in the later CBBC series Cartoon Critters, so maybe there are more incredible drawing dogs out there than we could’ve previously possibly ever imagined. Oh, and I should say too, just when you thought that it couldn’t get any stranger, Sebastian lived with none other than Michael Barrymore, which must’ve been an experience.

There was only one series of Sebastian The Incredible Drawing Dog, maybe there weren’t any more because they had to save some money and make some space in the schedule for more episodes of Jolly Farm Revue. There were 13 episodes, that were all not even ten minutes long, and there really were only about three people in the credits.

The repeat runs continued until 1988, and I don’t think that this was shown as part of the CBBC On Choice strand. There were also some books released that were based on the stories told in the series, all drawn by Sebastian I presume. In 1990, by which time he was much more famous, Barrymore appeared in the CBBC comedy show Mick And Mac, which might be worth a review too.

CBBC Memories – Pigsty.

Pigsty (CBBC, 1990-1991)

This is a CBBC show that was a combination of comedy and music. Firstly, the writer of Pigsty was Paul Mendelson, who also worked on various sitcoms for the grown-ups around this time including May To December and So Haunt Me. This was also going to be a show that featured a lot of porcine japery (I think I went to school with someone called Porcine Japery).

In Pigsty, the main characters were a family of pigs (who I think were siblings), Troyboy, Pinks, and Little Pig, who had American accents, and were described as “humans in pig outfits obviously” (“obviously”). Well no, I mean I thought that they actually were real pigs who have had a lot of training. Well they say that pigs are some of the most intelligent animals, so maybe they were. Honestly, who could tell.

Episodes were set at the Pizza Café that they ran (presumably this was the place where people would go before the Monster Café launched). Indeed, this was where all of the trendy people wanted to be seen, especially pop stars. And as this was the early-90s, there were lots of jokes about the big acts of the era including New Kids On The Block and Rick Astley.

The other main character is MT, who is human, and a rather slimy music business bigwig who is always trying to scupper the pigs and their chances of becoming big famous singers themselves. Ainsley Harriott was also in an episode or two, a while before he became better known for being a TV chef. And the café made the tastiest steamed hams this side of Spatz.

Of course, like with most children’s TV shows, this was a rather unusual idea, but also a fun one. There were 18 episodes of Pigsty in two series, and they were all only ten minutes long. Repeat runs continued until 1992, but I don’t think that this was shown as part of the CBBC On Choice strand, and there has been no DVD release of anything like that. Releasing the music from this show seems to have been a missed opportunity as well.

More TV Memories – Electric Circus.

Electric Circus (BBC2, 1996-1999)

Following on from Trevor And Simon’s Transmission Impossible and Hit, Miss Or Maybe, I thought that I might as well take a look at the third of the three spin-offs (although they were actually segments that were repeated in an evening slot on BBC2 to fill a 15 minute gap in the schedule) from CBBC’s long-running Saturday Morning excitement Live & Kicking.

Electric Circus started out in the first series, and was a combination of what was happening on the showbusiness scene and some gossip, which made this a sort-of cross between Movies Games And Videos and Liquid News. Some of the earliest editions were hosted by John Barrowman, who was part of the original Live & Kicking hosts line-up.

But by the second series, he only appeared in this pre-recorded segment, as he was unable to commit to appearing in the studio because his acting career was beginning to take off, and aren’t we lucky. Among the things that would be featured are films, including reviews, and interviews with all of the big names. There would also be reviews of computer games, and it was always good seeing them taken seriously on a mainstream show.

And of course there would also be plenty of pop music featured. Do you want to take a look behind the scenes at Ant And Dec’s latest video? Well of course you do. And if you thought that was exciting, add in some news about things that some celebrities that you have vaguely heard of might or might not have been up to, and you’ve got everything that you need to know.

It wasn’t until the third series in 1996 when Electric Circus was shown on BBC2 for the first time. There were also a lot of hosts over the years. I don’t think that there was a guest host format, but not many lasted for more than about a month or so. After Barrowman’s departure, Emma Forbes took over for a short while, before she departed herself.

Other hosts were Toby Anstis, Dannii Minogue (seemingly taking a day off from her pop career), Margherita Taylor, and many others, although the actual format stayed the same all the way through. Electric Circus came to an end on BBC2 in 1999, but carried on for a short while on Live & Kicking, before fizzling out, just as the show as a whole seemed to do around this time.

More TV Memories – Hit, Miss Or Maybe.

Hit, Miss Or Maybe (BBC2, 1997-1999)

Something that was a regular feature on CBBC Saturday Morning shows for many years (well during the time that I watched them anyway), was the record review. A rather unlikely combination of people would be put together as a panel. They would be shown a few videos of some songs that were about to be released, and then they would give various scores based on how much they liked them.

They were not likely to make or break many careers by doing this, and the verdicts weren’t usually as harsh as they were on shows like Juke Box Jury, but it did give a few groups a brief moment of fame as a debate about their songs took place. This carried on into the days of Live & Kicking in the 90s, although by this point the feature would be hosted by the comedy double-act Trevor And Simon.

Depending on what series it was, this would be known as the Video Garden, the Video Galleon, the Video Grand Prix, and so on. Although the scoring system had gone by this point, panellists were still encouraged to be rather opinionated, and this was usually rather enjoyable to watch. After Trevor And Simon’s departure, for the fifth series, the decision was made to change the format.

This led to the launch of Hit, Miss Or Maybe, which was one of three segments from Live & Kicking that would be subsequently repeated in an evening slot on BBC2 to try and attract some teenage viewers (the others being Transmission Impossible and Electric Circus). The host was Zoe Ball, who by this point was also the host of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, which is a rather coveted slot.

Zoe knew plenty about pop music though, and at this time she was usually carrying on with the drummer from a different Britpop group every week. Three panellists took part, and it was always interesting seeing pop stars offering their view on other groups, and finding out what they really think about each other. This was not a game show as such, but there was definitely a competitive element to be right.

Three videos would be shown, and this time the panel would predict the success of them with some comedy oversized hands that had the thumb sticking out. This meant that if they pointed the thumb up, they were sure that this was going to be a “hit”, pointing down meant that this would be a “miss”, and pointing sideways meant they weren’t sure and this was a “maybe”.

I don’t know how accurate their decisions would go on to be, but the rather nice disembodied voice of “Showbiz Mitch” (as he called himself) would be available to help Zoe and try and keep track of the results. After a couple of years, Hit, Miss Or Maybe came to an end after Zoe departed Live & Kicking at the end of the sixth series (let’s not think about the series after that).

CBBC Memories – The Really Wild Show.

The Really Wild Show (CBBC, 1986-2006)

I must admit that I am not really that interested in wildlife. I know that there are rather a lot of animals in the world who do have fascinating stories, and there have been several documentary series over the years taking a look at the remarkable things that they can do, but I have never really been all that excited about it, although I did watch this long-running CBBC show occasionally.

The Really Wild Show gave an insight into animals, from the biggest to the smallest. This ended up running for so long that there were several hosting line-ups. I suppose that the ones that I remember the most from my era include Chris Packham and Terry Nutkins, and there was also someone who went on to be in EastEnders for a while which was rather a career change.

Later series also featured Michaela Strachan, who had previously co-hosted a variety of shows including Wacaday and The Hitman And Her. I don’t think that there was a chance that they could ever fit anything like a tiger in the studio, but there were various animals on show. Also memorable was the theme music, which was rather funky, and has indeed been compared to “Uptown Funk”.

By the 90s there was also the spin-off series The Really Wild Roadshow, which went on location. And this turned out to be a rather good idea, as the later series left the studio behind to get out there, and get up close to animals like never before. There were also a few one-off specials, that took a look at some specific animals. This was almost as fun as Cartoon Critters.

I think that for a short while, there was a similar show on CITV in the 90s called Animal Crazy, which managed to get Neil Buchanan in as one of the hosts (presumably having a day off from Art Attack), although this seems to be little remembered by comparison. The Really Wild Show ended up running for two decades. Some of the hosts would go on to further success, when Packham and Strachan combined to host Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and all those kind of nature shows.

CBBC Memories – Chucklehounds.

Chucklehounds (CBBC, 1984-1986)

Paul and Barry Chuckle are the double-act best-known for starring in the sitcom ChuckleVision, which launched on CBBC in 1987, and ran for over two decades. They had been working in showbiz together long before this though, and they made some of their earliest TV appearances in the late-70s/early-80s on various shows including The Good Old Days and 3-2-1.

But I realised recently that they had a show on CBBC before ChuckleVision, which had a rather unusual idea. They originally starred as the Chucklehounds. They would dress in full dog costumes (as “Big Chuckle” and “Little Chuckle”), and perform their routines, that featured no dialogue, but plenty of sound effects and background music.

They first did this on CBBC’s The Roger The Dog Show in 1983. Now I must admit that I am not familiar with this one. Who is Roger The Dog? I know Sebastian The Incredible Drawing Dog though! Their own show Chucklehounds launched with a Christmas special in 1984, which was followed by a full series in 1986, and every edition was only about five minutes long.

There was plenty of the havoc that they would come to be known for, and their canine capers featured lots of things including trying to sweep a chimney, which soon reached silliness overload. Their reputation must’ve been increasing around this time though, because they also went on to appear on Cheggers Plays Pop (not in the dog costumes though).

I don’t know how it happened, but I presume that someone somewhere decided that they should continue like this, but it would all work much better if we could actually see and hear them. So in 1987, ChuckleVision launched (on the same day as Going Live! and Double Dare), although the repeats of Chucklehounds continued on CBBC until as late as 1988.

I bet that Paul and Barry didn’t realise at the time that they would be a regular fixture on CBBC for many years to come, and they would have another series with the enjoyable game show To Me… To You… I wonder if Chucklehounds will ever be released on DVD, and it would be great if more series of ChuckleVision were released soon (although any time this century will do really).

CBBC Memories – Star Pets.

Star Pets (CBBC, 1992-1993)

I know does it does seem to be rather embarrassing that the award-winning Peter Simon was one of my favourite hosts on CBBC, especially on Double Dare and Run The Risk, but he was, so when he hosted this show, I had to watch this one too. Star Pets was the quest to find the most talented animals in Britain. I suppose that this was like Opportunity Knocks for animals.

Peter also delighted us by performing the opening theme song, which as far as I know, wasn’t released as a single, and I suppose we should be grateful. In every edition, a few animals from across the country were featured. This meant that we were able to meet such delights as the cycling dog, the racing ferrets, and the piano playing guinea pig.

Peter would meet all of these pets and their owners, and he was always in awe of their skills. There was also The Pet Profile, where we were given some terrific facts about the animals that were featured. Everybody who took part would receive a special rosette. Back in the studio, Peter would introduce an animal-themed “home video howler”, probably left over from Caught In The Act.

After we had seen the three pets in action, the studio audience then had to deal with what was a humongous decision, as they could vote for their favourite. But the viewers we able to make their decision too, and were encouraged to dial a number. And this was definitely worth it, as this could be the most important 10p that they would ever spend.

The winner would be announced later in the day, and the highest-scoring animals would go into the grand final, which was shown live. And in the finest tradition, Peter would get out his nicest bowtie for this special occasion. I do remember that he got rather overexcited when he announced the winner, but unfortunately I don’t remember who it was or what they won, maybe a lifetime’s supply of dog biscuits.

Now as far as I remember, when Star Pets returned a year later for a second and final series, the studio and competitive elements were dropped, and this became simply a show were Peter travelled around and met various people and their talented pets. I was a little disappointed, as I preferred the format of the first series, but he was soon back to the more familiar chaos of his other game shows.

CBBC Memories – Marlene Marlowe Investigates.

Marlene Marlowe Investigates (CBBC, 1993-1994)

This is another CBBC comedy show that ran for a short while, and contained the most amusing Marlene this side of Only Fools And Horses I’m sure. The character of Marlene Marlowe was created by children’s writer Roy Apps, and first featured in the BBC Radio 4 series The Puddlethorpe Carnival Coup in 1990. This then transferred to TV in 1993.

In this version, Marlene was played by Kate Copstick, the comedy Scottish woman with big glasses who appeared regularly on TV around this time, having already been a host of CBBC’s Saturday Morning show On The Waterfront in the late-80s. Marlene fancied herself as something of a detective up there with the best, but she was rather useless.

Her hometown of Puddlethorpe-On-Sea seems to be rather peaceful at first, but there are a lot of mysteries that have to be solved. Usually helping out though was Aunt Maud (Jo Kendall, who was also in the cast of the pioneering sketch show At Last The 1948 Show), who had a big bike that was known as The Mighty Moped, and was much more adept at solving crimes.

This show also had something of an distinctive look. Most of the backgrounds were drawn, and the characters were added into them after, with a few other visual effects, giving this a rather cartoon feel. Most episodes began with a breathless voice reflecting on the story so far, which usually spread over a few episodes, including the excitement of “The Phantom Floppy Fiddler”.

We also heard some of Marlene’s thoughts, whose accent had turned from a Scottish to an American one somewhere along the way. Lots of other amusing characters appeared, and the result of all this was meant that there was always something rather bizarre that was about to happen. There were 30 episodes of Marlene Marlowe Investigates in two series.

They were all first shown fairly early on Saturday Mornings and I’m sure that I never saw any of them at that time, but some were repeated in the main weekday afternoon slot. This hasn’t been seen on CBBC since 1994 though, and there hasn’t been a VHS or DVD release either. But there were some books released, although I never had any of those.

More TV Memories – Bagpuss.

Bagpuss (BBC2, 1974)

I don’t usually like to review children’s TV shows from the 60s and 70s, as they were from long before I came along, but this one featured in repeat runs for such a long time that this has ended up meaning a lot to generations of younger viewers, not just the ones who were lucky enough to watch this first time round. This was a stop-motion animated show, from the same team behind The Clangers and Ivor The Engine.

This is the series that featured Bagpuss, the saggy old pink-and-white cloth cat, who lives in a shop seemingly a rather long time ago alongside several other characters. There were also Madeleine the doll, Gabriel the toad, along with several mice, and Professor Yaffle, the rather old and clever woodpecker. Every edition would follow the same format.

Bagpuss would do a big yawn, and all of the characters would suddenly come to life. None of the toys that I had on my shelf when I was younger ever came to life, well as far as I know. There would be in item that was broken. Professor Yaffle would determine what it was, and the mice would fix it while the toad performed a song, and Bagpuss looked on with wonder.

All of this would usually be accompanied by an animated sequence featuring a story. And when this was done, everybody went back to sleep. It’s surprise to realise that there were only 13 episodes of Bagpuss, as they were repeated frequently on the BBC into the mid-80s, and I’m fairly sure that they’ve also been repeated on Channel 4 and several other channels since.

I think that Bagpuss also appeared in an exhibition at a museum not too far from where I live, well I presume that it was the real one, everyone would’ve been starstruck. It has faded a little, and the legs have started to come loose… and I can’t imagine what Bagpuss looks like now (applause). I have a little toy one myself which is rather adorable.

All of the episodes have been released on VHS and DVD, there have been several books, and apparently this was also once voted the best children’s TV show in the world ever. When trying to find out more, I saw the phrase “there is much banter between the characters”, so I presume that in more recent years they have all gone on to host the breakfast show on a local radio station.

CBBC Memories – Cartoon Critters.

Cartoon Critters (CBBC, 1996-1999)

A while ago I looked back at CBBC sitcom Space Vets, which seemed to do rather well. In that piece I did say about Cartoon Critters, which wasn’t really a spin-off, but it did feature one of the characters from that show. It was rather odd to see them turn up again in a totally different format, and I have decided that I might as well give this one a full review.

Cartoon Critters was a show about animations from the archive that starred animal characters. This did sort-of come across as a cross between Stay Tooned and The Really Wild Show. This was hosted by Dogsbody (I can only presume that the rest of his crew had long-since been lost in space), and he was accompanied by a female dog who was Fleur Pompidou.

Do I detect a touch of romance between them? Well, maybe not. I also couldn’t help but notice the contrast between his American accent, and her English accent. I also remember being amused by the opening sequence where an animated version of Dogsbody was surrounded by various animals causing chaos, including a rather strange penguin.

This was a show that promised “the truth behind the toons”, well we’ll see about that. Among those that were featured were Bugs Bunny and Tom And Jerry, some classics that were dusted off once again to be shown. And of course, the clever thing about cartoons is that animals can be made to talk, and have personalities created for them.

We’d also see archive clips of real animals, you would never believe that they could make so many squeaking noises. There was also a section where Dogsbody would put his beret on and get his big pen out, and draw some animals himself, which would be accompanied by the famous music from Vision On. Some of his pictures weren’t too bad, I wonder if he was a distant relative of Sebastian The Incredible Drawing Dog?

There were four series of Cartoon Critters, so there were plenty of amusing moments featured. This would also often be repeated as part of CBBC’s breakfast strand, but I don’t ever recall this turning up on the great CBBC On Choice strand. And any show that made us imagine what the world would be like if elephants could talk must have something going for it.