More TV Memories – Words And Pictures.

Words And Pictures (BBC1/BBC2, 1970-2001)

This is another show that was made for children, but it was usually shown in the schools strand in the morning, and not as part of CBBC. I’m not sure if I ever watched this one when I was at primary school, the only show that I do remember going into the TV room for was Look And Read. But this show was just about a spin-off from that one as it also aimed to teach viewers about literacy.

Words And Pictures was designed to teach viewers about how the letters of the alphabet sounded, and there were so many to choose from, all 26 of them. There were several ways that this was done over the years, and I remember the editions shown during the 80s and 90s the most. There were also various hosts, including Sophie Aldred, and every edition usually concentrated on a different letter. vlcsnap-00958

We would be told various words that began with that letter, and there would also be stories accompanied by various animations, and even a few songs that we could sing along to. The thing that most viewers seem to remember most about the show though was the magic pencil. This was where we shown how to write the letter in lower-case several times by an orange pencil that somehow floated through the air. vlcsnap-00962

Sometimes the show would be made on location, and if we were really lucky, we would even be treated to a contribution from poet and plum enthusiast Michael Rosen, which was nice. Even I though I have said this before on here, I can’t help but be reminded at this point of the time that Michael came to my school and told some stories, in his continuing quest to perform at every school in the country. I was so thrilled. vlcsnap-00963

In all of its variations, Words And Pictures was usually 15 minutes long, and ran on and off for about three decades (in the 90s there was also the spin-off series Words And Pictures Plus that was aimed at the youngest of viewers), and there were hundreds of editions altogether, so many generations of children long before and after I was at school will be familiar with this one I’m sure. vlcsnap-00961

There were also plenty of editions that were compiled together and released on VHS, along with several notes that were made available for teachers. There was also a show with a similar idea on CBeebies about five years after the original version ended.

More TV Memories – Ghostwriter.

Ghostwriter (BBC2, 1992-1995)

This is another show that was part of the BBC Schools strand in the 90s, and as far as I’m aware it might be unique as it was actually an import (although it was an American co-production with the BBC). Now although I do remember finding this fascinating when I was younger, the only schools show that I can remember watching actually at school in the TV room when it was being shown on BBC2 was Look And Read.

As for this one though, Ghostwriter was a show set in Brooklyn where a group of about five or six children would work together to solve mysteries with their literacy skills. They would be helped out with this somewhat by a ghostwriter. Now this was in the literal sense, it really was a ghost that could rearrange words and respond to their questions to help give them clues. Ghostwriter

It was never really revealed who the actual ghost was, and why they would put up with this. Never mind about how their restless soul from the past got trapped in a computer in the 90s, we’ll think about that some other time. Now you’ve got to remember that this was in the days before they could Google everything and find what they wanted within ten seconds, so they had to write things down and even visit libraries to learn more, how could they deal with it. vlcsnap-00847

Every story would usually play out over four or five episodes. “Who Burned Mr Brinker’s Store?” was a particularly tense one. My favourite moment of the show would be when the children sat at a computer and typed questions in, that Ghostwriter would magically respond to. I don’t know what I thought was more impressive here, the magic of this, or more probably that they had a computer of their own in their bedroom at that age, because I certainly didn’t. vlcsnap-00857

So not only do they get helped out, but as the stories progress viewers can learn how to make notes along with how to use various words, it’s of great use to everyone. Among the regular characters were Jamal, who was played by Sheldon Turnipseed (of course Sheldon Turnipseed!), Alex, Gaby, and Lenni. Watching the show back now reminds me of those distant days of notebooks, pens, and bookshops. vlcsnap-00863

There were 74 episodes of Ghostwriter in three series that consisted of 18 different stories. Although it ended in 1995, it was repeated rather regularly on BBC2 until as late as 2000. There have since been a few revivals. Several episodes were released on VHS and DVD in more recent years, although people might’ve wanted to buy these for the nostalgic value more than the educational one. The show also won some awards for the entertaining way it taught viewers, it definitely wasn’t for the acting.

The YouTube Files – Craft, Design And Technology.

Craft, Design And Technology (ITV, 1982)

A while ago, I looked back at the history of schools programming on British TV over the years. I thought that it could also be a good idea to review some shows on various subjects. When having a look on YouTube recently, I decided to review this one because I was rather surprised by what it featured, as it was a somewhat unlikely source for being about something that I have become rather interested in lately.

This is an edition of Craft, Design And Technology called “Design And Vision”. I don’t know how long this series ran for exactly, but this edition was shown on ITV on 15 October 1982. The show was hosted by Roy North and Vilma Laryea. You might remember a while ago when I reviewed an edition of In At The Deep End, well this had a similar idea, as it went behind the scenes of a pop music video, and the process of how it is directed and edited all together. vlcsnap-00010

Now if you’re a regular you’ll know that I have been trying to find out more about early-80s pop music, a supposedly golden era when people were spoilt with terrific songs by charismatic groups. I was amused that a rather high amount of videos from this era that I have enjoyed seem to have featured women with big sparkly red hair who seem to think that they are robots. Will the video featured in this show contain anything like this?? vlcsnap-00001

The featured song is “I’ve Been A Bad Bad Boy” by Marcel, who must’ve been grateful for the exposure that he was going to receive. He’ll be the star of 1982, you mark my words. The show was an explanation of how an idea is created and then transfers to the screen. The director was Mike Mansfield, who has worked in the music and TV industry for a long time, including about a decade after this hosting the late-night cult show Cue The Music, much to the delight of Tony Slattery (it’s a long story). vlcsnap-00004

A lot of preparation goes into every scene, and it’s a time-consuming process, including a lot of hanging around. Don’t forget that the video couldn’t be done without employing the skills of a large group of people beyond the director, from carpenters to choreographers. Thanks to improving technology, this process is becoming easier to achieve, so Mike really can let his imagination run wild. And to think it all started with a scribble on a piece of paper when the idea was determined. vlcsnap-00009

Marcel is the star, and it’s important that he looks and sounds good. And after about seven hours in make-up, he’s almost ready for his big moment. The video is now beginning to fall into place. And well would you look at that, there are the big red-haired robot women, maybe there really were a lot of them around the in the early-80s, how fantastic. One of them looked like the woman who was in Shock who I was going on about in another piece recently, but I don’t know if it is her (what a fascinating observation). vlcsnap-00008

Once the shoot is over, the editing process begins. Lots of buttons are pressed to put it all together, and some fancy visual effects are added too. Let’s hope that they have enough videotape. All of this work is to create just three minutes of TV. It’s not the most glamorous part of the process, but it’s possibly the most important. Who knows, you might even end up seeing the completed video on Top Of The Pops. Yeah, right… vlcsnap-00012

So how did “I’ve Been A Bad Bad Boy” do, with all this exposure and an “as seen on TV!” sticker on the record? Well it was reviewed in Smash Hits in November 1982 (by Neil Tennant no less) who simply said “I know you have”. It wasn’t a hit single, coming nowhere near the Top 40 despite all this effort, how disappointing. And Marcel was never heard of again.

More TV Memories – Through The Dragon’s Eye.

Through The Dragon’s Eye (BBC2, 1989)

A while ago I reviewed the schools show Look And Read, which featured several stories and songs that helped viewers to improve their reading skills, along with the character Wordy. I do remember watching lots of these at junior school around the early-90s, but there was one that I remember enjoying so much that I have decided to give it an individual review.

Through The Dragon’s Eye was first shown on BBC2 in 1989, but I remember seeing it during one of the repeat runs, probably around 1991. It was a story that had something of a fantasy twist. One day, Amanda, Jenny and Scott are at their school in Acton, London (which is where the studios of the award-winning Bid TV used to be, isn’t that fascinating). vlcsnap-00335

They are working on a mural, which contains a picture of a dragon. Then, as they paint the eye, the fire-breathing dragon suddenly comes to life, and they all enter the magical world of Pelamar to go on an epic quest. Now, of course, their reading ability will help them to solve some of the puzzles in the story. The dragon was called Gorwen, and was just one of the bizarre characters that were featured in the show. vlcsnap-00333

I remember becoming really engaged with the story and I always looked forward to what was going to happen in the next episode. The idea was that the Vettacore has exploded, and it’s going to be a difficult task to put it back together as all of the individual pieces have to be recovered. Without it, people won’t be able to read. Can our team work together and come to the rescue? vlcsnap-00331

Also featuring was a talking mouse called Rodey that could become bigger or smaller (beware of those high fade zones!), and the baddie Charn, but best of all, there were the three Veetacore keepers. Boris was orange and had a cricket bat that could fly, Morris was green and had a pet caterpillar, and Doris was purple and had big glasses. And well, for me, you can’t go too far wrong by having random purple people in a show. They were also able to communicate with each other with videophones meaning they were somewhat ahead of their time. vlcsnap-00336

Through The Dragon’s Eye was shown for the first time around the same time that the original run of Doctor Who was ending after 26 years on BBC1. I don’t really remember watching it much, I preferred this show with its science-fiction story, and it probably had a bigger budget than Doctor Who did by this point too. Well I am only kidding, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much really. vlcsnap-00337

There were ten episodes of Through The Dragon’s Eye that were all about 20 minutes long. It was repeated on BBC2 until as late as 2000, and then it was repeated again about five years later on the CBBC Channel as part of the schools strand which was great. I don’t think that there were ever any tapes or books released though, but there was a computer game for the BBC Micro, and presumably there were also loads of factsheets available for teachers.

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

More TV Memories – Schools TV (part 2).

ITV/Channel 4: Programmes for schools and colleges launched on ITV in 1957. Although I am not old enough to remember when schools programmes were on ITV, I have seen several clips online. Programmes were every weekday from 9:30 to midday. First of all a slide would appear and these would be changed every term, which would then go into a countdown clock when there was one minute before the start of the programme. This would be accompanied by various pieces of music. Usually just before every programme started the continuity announcer would provide information for teachers such as how to receive factsheets and books with information on the programmes. schools5

In September 1987 after 30 years on ITV, schools programmes moved to Channel 4. This is the first era that I remember. Before every programme started, The ITV Schools symbol would rotate on the screen. This was based on the ITV symbol that was used occasionally on screen at the time, but even though an official ITV symbol wasn’t introduced until 1989, the sequence was never amended. This would accompanied by a great and memorable piece of the music called “The Journey” which was six minutes long, meaning that it could be joined at various times depending on how long the junction was. When there was a minute to go to the next programme, a countdown clock would appear accompanied by a piece of music called “Just A Minute”. schools7

Even though it was now on Channel 4, the strand remained named as ITV Schools because they still produced the majority of the programmes. I don’t remember watching any programmes specifically live when I was at school, but I definitely watched some pre-recorded ones. Some of the most famous of the ITV Schools programmes include How We Used To Live, Stop Look Listen and Picture Box which are still remembered fondly by many viewers to this day. Most of the programming from the late-70s and early-80s would go on to inspire the first series of the terrific BBC2 comedy Look Around Youschools6

In 1993 the ITV name was dropped and the strand finally became Channel 4 Schools, which meant that it was time for some new presentation. The main ident featured various historical figures over some rather creepy music. The countdown before every programme was now only 30 seconds, with longer intervals being filled by some pictures of artwork. schools8

When Channel 4 introduced their circles era of presentation in 1996, the schools presentation was changed again, this time continuing to feature a 30 second countdown before programmes, and the circles being used and featuring various subjects appearing in them over a new piece of background music. schools9

The presentation was changed again when the squares era of Channel 4 presentation was introduced in 1999, and the strand was renamed “4Learning”. It was around this time that schools programmes began to be phased out on Channel 4, usually only being shown at around 4am, before in 2009 they were dropped altogether, finally bringing that era to an end. schools10

More TV Memories – Schools TV (part 1).

BBC1/BBC2: Here’s the first part of some thoughts and memories on schools presentation and programming on various channels throughout the years. I am not old enough to remember when schools programmes were on BBC1 but I have seen various clips online. They launched on BBC1 in 1957, and by the early-80s you would get a slide of the next programme which we would be informed would “follow shortly”. Then when there was about a minute to go a circle with “schools and colleges” would appear which had dots surrounding it. The dots gradually disappeared from the screen, and when they were all gone it was time for the programme. These replaced a diamond symbol that was used throughout the 70s. These sequences were also usually accompanied by a funky piece of music such as a medley of songs by Abba. schools1

In September 1983 schools programmes moved to BBC2, and a special yellow variation of the striped ident was introduced to appear before the start of programmes. The strand usually ran from about 9am to 2pm on weekdays and was named Daytime On Two. There have been lots of memorable BBC schools programmes over the years, one of my favourites is Zig Zag which had a terrific opening sequence and theme. Other classics included Scene, Landmarks, and Watchschools2

When I was at junior school, the only time that I remember specifically going into the room with a TV to watch a BBC schools programme live was Look And Read. This was a long-running programme and I remember watching it in the early-90s, there were great characters such as Wordy who helped us learn the words, and we watched stories including Badger Girl, Geordie Racer, and my favourite was Through The Dragon’s Eye. The reason that there were such intervals between programmes was because in those days it would take time to get one class out of the room and bring another one in as the programming was aimed at various age groups from toddlers to teenagers. It seems remarkable how casual this approach to presentation seems now, an unanimated slide saying “follows shortly” appearing on screen for up to five minutes, you wouldn’t get that now. schools3

I also remember by the early-90s a ten second clock would appear over the “TWO” ident. By the 1991 BBC2 relaunch intervals had mostly been dropped, with a short clip of a schools programme usually appearing. There was also lots of announcements of how you could get more information about the programmes. Schools programmes appeared on BBC2 daytimes for over 25 years but by 2010 they had been phased out and now only appear online. schools4

Various other schools and educational programming on the BBC includes GCSE Bitesize, which was usually shown very early so you had to set the video for revision on various subjects like I did when I was doing mine in the late-90s. There is also of course the Open University which took up most of weekend mornings for many years, and adult education programmes on Sundays. The CBBC channel also briefly had a strand for school programmes under the name Class TV. There is also The Learning Zone which does continue to this day, but it means the only educational programmes on TV now are at around 4am.

I’ll look back at schools TV memories on ITV and Channel 4 in part two of this piece.