CITV Memories – Fraggle Rock.

Fraggle Rock (CITV, 1984-1990)

After pleasing many viewers with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Jim Henson and his production team came up with another show that was enjoyed by people of all ages, and again it featured some creative puppetry. Fraggle Rock always began with a memorable opening song that everyone could clap along to (indeed, it was even a hit single, being released in February 1984 and reaching No. 33).

The aim of the show was to be sold around the world, so various segments were recorded for various countries along with the main story. For the UK version, the segments were produced by TVS and featured a lighthouse, that the Fraggles lived under. The keeper, who was accompanied by his puppet dog Sprocket, never noticed them of course. vlcsnap-01092

In the early series this was the captain (Fulton Mackay), who was then replaced by his nephew PK (John Gordon-Sinclair), and finally his son BJ (Simon O’Brien). For the American version, Doc appeared in all the series alongside Sprocket. There was definitely a lot of anticipation for the show, and it even received a TV Times cover in 1984. vlcsnap-01097

The Fraggles were small furry creatures who were various colours. There were lots of them, but the main ones included Wembley, Mokey, and Red, and they also had an unusual fondness for radishes. Another regular was Uncle Travelling Matt, who featured from somewhere in the world where he tried to understand how those silly humans functioned, and he would often send the Fraggles a postcard. vlcsnap-01094

The other main characters were the Doozers, who were very small and wore hard hats because they constantly liked to build structures. And there were also the Gorgs, huge creatures who considered themselves to be royalty and much better than the Fraggles. There would also be a few songs in every episode along with some nice sound effects, and plenty of lessons were learned.vlcsnap-01095

It’s no surprise that Fraggle Rock did well, as along with the hit single, there were also comics and books. There were 96 episodes, the run on American TV was 1983-1987, and in this country it was shown on both CITV and LWT in the afternoon. Uncle Travelling Matt also hosted CITV in March 1985, and he was almost as good as Glenn Kinsey. vlcsnap-01093

After the original run ended, there was also a short-lived spin-off animated series in 1987, but I prefer the original myself, and the Doozers got their own show too. There were some episodes released on VHS a while ago, but because of the ongoing TVS archive shambles, the British version is rarely seen on TV now, and is unlikely to be released on DVD.

CITV Memories – Samson Superslug.

Samson Superslug (CITV, 1995-1996)

This is another comedy-drama series I remember watching that had a rather unusual twist. Once again, there isn’t a huge amount about this one online (no Wikipedia entry and all that), but it’s definitely worth featuring here. Samson Superslug started out as a series of books written by Ken Adams in the early-90s, before transferring to CITV in a series written by Jeff Povey in the mid-90s.

Samson Superslug (probably not his real name) is an 11-year-old boy who is fond of slugs, and I mean really fond, stopping just short of wanting to actually be one himself. The slugs seem to be everywhere, and the show is set in Milton Keynes, which is claimed to be “the slug capital of the world”. As the slugs get into some unusual places, they constantly give his friends a fright, along with his parents and neighbours. vlcsnap-01072

Of course, as with most children in these type of shows, Samson has a rather wild imagination, and he is often on the lookout for slugs from his special treehouse. His parents can do some odd things sometimes too, his dad drives around in a sandwich-shaped car, and his mum (Janine Duvitski, who also appeared in One Foot In The Grave among many other things) often wonders what Samson’s up to. vlcsnap-01075

The main thing about Samson Superslug though that made it stand out was that most of the slugs were animated, and they would often feature in short unusual intervals. It also meant that if people ever interacted with them, there would be a rather weird live-action/animation mix that was rather effective, and the highlight of the show for me. I suppose that it could be described as a gimmick, but it worked, and it wasn’t overused. vlcsnap-01081

I also noticed in an episode that Zzzap! was on the TV in the background, so the cast clearly have great taste in CITV shows (and it’s probably not a coincidence that both shows were co-produced by Meridian). But these green slimy things though, going everywhere they shouldn’t, I suppose that the action in this show could definitely be described as sluggish! vlcsnap-01074

There were (I think) 13 episodes of Samson Superslug in two series, and it deserves more credit for being another unusual show on CITV. It’s barely been seen since the original run, I don’t think that there was ever a VHS or DVD release, and it seems that there have been no more books in recent years. It’s another one that deserves more acclaim.

CITV Memories – She-Ra.

She-Ra: Princess Of Power (1985-1987)

Following on from He-Man that I reviewed recently, this is a spin-off cartoon from that show that was another success with viewers on CITV in the 80s. She-Ra had practically the same idea as He-Man, but presented from a female perspective, being aimed more at girls, although I think that I watched and enjoyed both to some extent.

This show starred Princess Adora, who it turns out is the twin sister of Prince Adam. They appeared together in a special called The Secret Of The Sword, and this was then recycled as the first five episodes of the show. Once again there was plenty of action and swords everywhere. Princess Adora lives on the planet Etheria, which I imagine is rather far away too. vlcsnap-01067

She-Ra is the defender of the Crystal Castle, and is also a member of The Great Rebellion, along with several other princesses. Also among Adora’s friends are Bow, Light Hope, and Madame Razz. When there is trouble around, which is fairly often of course, Adora simply gets The Sword of Protection out and says “for the honour of Grayskull”, and then transforms into a strong superhero, without even having to eat large quantities of spinach. It’s the same routine every time, but it’s worth it. Adora also owns a horse called Swift Wind that can transform too and fly. vlcsnap-01069

The main villain in the show is Kordak, although whether anybody considers them to be on the same level as Skeletor is debatable. They along with other villains including Shadow Weaver and various exploding robots are always aiming to cause trouble, but She-Ra and her sword (which also has the ability to change shape) always sorts them out. Among the princesses that we meet is Mermista, and I couldn’t help but notice her rather distinctive look. Well it’s another blue-haired woman from the 80s, how terrific.


You’ll never believe what Danielle… er, no, wrong one.

The show always ended with a moral, so I hope you’ve been watching closely. There were 93 episodes of She-Ra in two series, including the first series being 65 episodes long, but it’s not as many as they made of He-Man. She-Ra also united with He-Man for a Christmas special in 1985. And like many other people I’m sure, I have sometimes speculated if She-Ra is as awesome as Jem or not. vlcsnap-01064

Of course there were even more dolls and comics, they definitely milked this franchise for the merchandise. I don’t remember having any though, it would’ve been good to have had at least some of the comics. And to bring the story right up to date, within the past year or two there has been a revival of She-Ra which is currently being shown on the CBBC Channel.

CITV Memories – Press Gang.

Press Gang (CITV, 1989-1993)

As you should know by now, drama isn’t my favourite TV genre, but I felt that I had to review this one because it was definitely one of the most successful CITV shows of its era. All of the episodes were written by Steven Moffat, who went on to work on some more acclaimed shows, while most of the main cast had further success too.

Press Gang was based around a school newspaper called Junior Gazette (“a voice for today’s youth“, priced at a very reasonable 20p), that was put together by a group of teenagers who soon became friends. Lynda (a pre-Second Thoughts and Absolutely Fabulous Julia Sawalha) was the editor, and also on the team was American Spike (Dexter Fletcher, but I, like most people it seems, didn’t realise that he was actually English until he hosted Gamesmaster). And they’re doing this weekly? vlcsnap-01045

As the episodes progress we see how the team work together, in their aim to become award-winning journalists despite only being about 16, trying to bend the rules their way, and always being on the search for the next scoop. Well unsurprisingly Junior Gazette soon flew off the shelves like hot shoes. There were also some guest appearances including Ade Edmondson, Patrick “Baps” Barlow, and Suggs from the Nutty Boys of Madness. vlcsnap-01063

Early episodes concentrated on things like what the banner headline should be, or whether they had enough pencils and the like, before the situation began to change to concentrate more on the love lives of the characters, and some difficult subjects were tackled. Although for me the biggest scandal in the show was when the price of Junior Gazette went up to 30p in series three, how could they. vlcsnap-01042

In the early series, the characters also spoke over the credits reflecting on what happened in a similar style to sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey, but Press Gang did it first. The high standard of the show was maintained all the way through the run, with plenty of impressive moments. Although the show was aimed at teenagers, it was sharp enough to be enjoyed by an older audience, and this was proved when there was a repeat run in the evening on Channel 4 in the early-90s, and it was also shown during CITV’s Old Skool Weekend. vlcsnap-01062

There were 43 episodes of Press Gang in five series, with much anticipation for every new series, and Tommy Boyd said that it was the best show on CITV when he was a presenter, there really is no better endorsement than that. The show has also been served well by DVD, with all the episodes released in a seven-disc boxset by Network, that also contains plenty of extras including a look behind the scenes and PDFs of various things including Junior Gazette front pages.

CITV Memories – T-Bag.

T-Bag (CITV, 1985-1992)

Following on from Mr Majeika, this is another CITV show that could be classed as a fantasy comedy-drama. T-Bag is a show that was written by Grant Cathro and Lee Pressman, who around the same time were also behind such goodies as Mike And Angelo and Spatz. This is another creative and enjoyable show that did very well with viewers.

The show starred T-Bag, who is an old witch. Her assistant is T-Shirt, a boy who liked to wear a green cap who had to make endless cups of tea made from a special plant whether he liked it or not. All of the series were ten episodes long, and featured a different story, the basic idea being a quest for a female companion to find various things. The first series had an educational element, so for this one the search was for various letters. vlcsnap-01041

After this, the show settled into the companion travelling to places around the world and beyond trying to find various objects, hopefully one day all of the gold coins will be found. And along the way they would meet various characters, usually guest appearances from veteran actors including Frank Thornton (but with no beard) and Roy Barraclough. Every series had a different title such as T-Bag Strikes Again or Turn On To T-Bag. vlcsnap-01039

After having too much tea, T-Bag would be able to gain magical powers, and can see what is happening by looking into her saucer, and she often decides to magically appear and interfere with everything, but her plans are always thwarted. The final series had a slightly different format, as it was presented as a more general adventure, and introduced the new characters Granny Bag and Doggy Bag. T-Bag didn’t return after this, although it could be because production company Thames left ITV a few months later. vlcsnap-01037

T-Bag was originally played by Elizabeth Estensen (who also appeared in Danger – Marmalade At Work among other things). In 1990, Estensen left and was replaced by Georgina Hale, although this wasn’t a regeneration as such because the second T-Bag was the sister of the first, and she managed to be even more grumpy and short-tempered to everyone. This Tabatha definitely wasn’t shy or affectionate! vlcsnap-01040

T-Bag once appeared in the CITV studio to promote the show and terrified Scally the dog. There were 94 episodes of T-Bag in nine series, featuring nine stories and some Christmas specials. An episode was shown as part of CITV’s Old Skool Weekend, and there have also been books released, along with plenty of fansites dedicated to the show. The first three series have been released on DVD, and there was much anticipation of more releases, but there currently seems to be no plans for them.

CITV Memories – Mr Majeika.

Mr Majeika (ITV, 1988-1989, CITV, 1990)

This is another CITV sitcom, although as it was made on location and contains no laughter track, it could be considered to be more of a fantasy comedy-drama. Mr Majeika was based on a series of books, the first one was published in 1984. The TV version starred Stanley Baxter, someone who was one of the most popular TV personalities of the 70s, who was making something of a comeback, and won over a new generation of fans.

Mr Majeika is a wizard (but not the wizard from Top Of The Pops) from the planet Walpurgis who has failed his sorcery O-Level for the 17th time, much to his frustration. He is sent to Britland, and lands in the small village of Much Barty which is rather sleepy, although it won’t be from now on. With his suit, bowtie, and big glasses, the locals soon realise that he is somewhat out of place. vlcsnap-01036

He then becomes a teacher as St Barty’s Primary School. He is welcomed by the long-suffering headmaster Mr Potter, and he soon befriends the pupils Melanie Brace-Girdle and Thomas Grey, as unlike most they admire his sorcery and personality. But he also has to deal with the awful pupil Hamish Bigmore, who has caused so many previous teachers a lot of grief. He can do this by usually magically wiggling the sticky-up part of his hair and performing a spell on him, and he is soon put in his place. vlcsnap-01032

All the time, The Worshipful Wizard Of Walpurgis keeps an eye on Mr Majeika, making sure that he doesn’t step out of line, but he simply can’t resist using his spells at school, and the pupils soon realise that there is something rather magical about him. When he isn’t at school, he likes to go around on his bike, and lives in a nearby windmill, trying to learn various new spells. vlcsnap-01033

There were 20 episodes of Mr Majeika in three series, and they were full of enjoyable characters, inventive ideas and charm. The first series was shown on Sunday afternoons, usually before Bullseye. It seems that someone at ITV must’ve been fond of it though because there was then an hour-long special on Christmas Day in 1988. vlcsnap-01034

The second series was shown on Saturday afternoons, it was only the third series that was shown during the main CITV afternoon strand, there was also a repeat run on The Children’s Channel, and the books continued for many years after. Don’t expect a DVD release any time soon though, because as it was a TVS Production, all of the paperwork (and probably the actual tapes of the show too) are now lost at the bottom of a skip somewhere.

CITV Memories – He-Man.

He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe (1983-1985)

This is a cartoon from the 80s that I have a particular fondness for because it is one of the earliest that I can remember watching when I was younger (much younger), and one of the main reasons for this is because when He-Man introduced himself in the opening sequence I would get rather excited and have a “he’s named like my name” moment.

This is because of course the real name of He-Man is Prince Adam, the star of the cartoon that featured more action and adventure than most, which was based on a series of dolls. It was shown on CITV in various slots throughout the 80s, and it’s no surprise really that it went on to become one of the most popular children’s shows of its era. vlcsnap-00940

He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe is set on a mythical planet called Eternia, which is somewhere rather far away. Adam is the son of the planet’s rulers. The main villain is Skeletor, who wants to take over Castle Grayskull, although that’s just the beginning really, because as is always the case with these characters, they won’t be satisfied until they rule the entire universe. And there were plenty of other enemies who liked to cause trouble. vlcsnap-00984

After a while young Adam begins to get rather annoyed by all this, and he decides that he has to interfere and whip out his Sword Of Power and say “by the power of Grayskull, I have the power!”, which transforms him into He-Man, the strongest man in the universe, with his muscles rippling everywhere (it also seemingly adds a huge amount of echo to his voice). And not long after his new-found ability to throw people through the air saves the day. vlcsnap-00951

There were many other regular characters, including He-Man’s pet tiger Cringer who turned into Battlecat, and Orko the floating thing. What with all these talking animals and magic swords, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Thundercats a little. I was surprised at how many of the old silly cartoon sound effects featured too, did they ever record any more? Episodes would also end with He-Man explaining the moral of the story to viewers, so stay safe out there. vlcsnap-00952

There were 130 episodes of He-Man in two series, and they were all packed into only two years on American TV, that’s the equivalent of showing more than one a week! And of course there has been a huge amount of merchandise, beyond the dolls there have been comics, computers, just about everything. There has also been a live-action film, and sequel cartoons in the 90s and beyond. The rest of the family decided to join in with the action too, when He-Man’s sister She-Ra got her own spin-off series, and I will review that one soon too.

More TV Memories – Just For The Record.

Just For The Record (Ten, 1988-1989)

In the late-80s/early-90s there were a huge amount of Australian soaps shown on British TV, and most of them were rather successful. But they weren’t the only shows from Down Under that were imported to this country around this time. The memory is a little vague on this one, and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but you’ll soon discover why I think it deserves to be featured here.

Just For The Record had a rather similar idea to CBBC’s long-running Record Breakers, as people who had taken things to the extreme all around the world were celebrated, whether they held rather unusual records, had achieved daredevil stunts, or remarkable feats of endurance, in the endless aim to go one better. The hosts in the studio were the rather terrifically-named Garry Who and Louise Wallace. They also did various location reports across Australia and beyond along with additional hosts Brett Clements and Geoff Fitzpatrick. vlcsnap-00673

The show’s symbol was the famous discus thrower statue, which also appeared in the studio as a neon sign. Among the highlights of the show though were the opening and closing sequence, where Garry sang the theme song (“it’s the challenge of a lifetime!“) accompanied by two glamorous women. As it was the late-80s, Garry was wearing a grey jacket with rolled-up sleeves and a skinny tie, and he performed the song as if it was a rather emphatic power ballad. Go on, give it some welly! vlcsnap-00662

There was also a rather weird moment at the end of the song where the two women suddenly vanished and Garry looked around with a rather shocked expression on his face. That’s a way to get viewers’ attention, they don’t make them like that nowadays, it was all rather terrific really. And after a report was shown that featured something spectacular about the biggest or the smallest, and so on, Garry (wearing a horrible sweater) would often ponder why people would do such a strange thing, usually whilst chomping an apple. vlcsnap-00678

As for the scheduling, as far as I can remember Just For The Record was only shown in this country in the CITV Summer Mornings slot in the early-90s, and it wasn’t ever shown in the main afternoon strand. I’m also not entirely sure if the show was originally made for children’s TV in Australia. But – just for the record – this was yet another show that I really enjoyed watching when I was younger.

CITV Memories – Video And Chips.

Video And Chips (CITV, 1985-1987)

One genre of TV that I have found interesting is shows about computing from the 80s. There were a lot of them, and I have reviewed some, including the rather odd and short-lived Chip In. I thought that I would would take one last look at these type of shows, as this was CITV’s contribution. I must admit I don’t remember watching it at the time, but having seen some online I feel that it should be featured here.

I have also enjoyed taking a look back at old computer magazines from the 80s online, and there have been plenty of articles and features that caught my attention, mostly consisting of developers going on about how to create sprites without running out of memory, and that feeling of having to wait to play a game while the cassette loads, and so on. I hope that I am not being too romantic or cliched about this kind of thing, but plenty of gamers from that era should have had those experiences.vlcsnap-00956

Video And Chips (what a nice pun, and not to be confused with Whizzer And Chips) had a few presenters, the most notable being Mick Brown, who would go on to further success as a radio presenter and also team up with Pat Sharp for some hit singles, and Sonya Saul, who I remember contributed to the entertainment reports in the early days of Carlton’s London Tonight, and I didn’t realise she was on TV as early as this (she might have also hosted CITV’s 90s computer game show Bad Influence but I’m not sure). vlcsnap-00957

The show didn’t just feature computing, but technology in general, and if you follow their advice, you’ll soon finally be able to advance off level one. As well as plenty of games, where using blue-screen technology the presenters would be added to them, there would be a look at how things like robots and keyboards work (and even keyboard-playing robots), and also how they could be made to make some rather odd noises. The keyboards that is, not the presenters. Everybody will want one for Christmas I’m sure. They’ll soon take over the world! vlcsnap-01011

There was also a chance to get interactive, but not by contacting a website in those days, you could enter competitions, send off for a free factsheet, or you could even phone a number. I don’t know if there was a scientist on the other end of the line eagerly waiting to solve all your problems though. There were two series of Video And Chips, and once again it does have to be said just how far technology has advanced in the years since, it really is remarkable.

More TV Memories – Grim Tales.

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). vlcsnap-00780

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. vlcsnap-00781

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. vlcsnap-00784

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.