The YouTube Files – A Morning With TV-am.

A Morning With TV-am (TV-am, 1988)

After some of my recent pieces looking back at TV adverts were successful, I thought that I would do another one. I was pleased to find a full edition of TV-am on YouTube courtesy of Gavin Martin, and it was recorded on 16 November 1988. This piece will concentrate on the adverts that were shown, but there will also be some comments about a few other things that are notable.

The first few years of TV-am were rather traumatic as has been well documented, with many struggles to fill advert breaks in the early days, but they were in a much better situation by this point after almost six years on air, the format had settled down. TV-am begins at 6am and the first hour is The Morning Programme featuring the latest news, sport, business and so on. vlcsnap-00923

The first break is at about 6:16am (I was never very good at being able to tell the time by TV-am’s onscreen clock) featuring only a couple of adverts, but there is a rather odd one for Wisdom toothbrushes. The next break is at about 6:40am and features one of the highlights from this video, an advert that I remember for the Early Learning Centre featuring a rather odd talking doll. vlcsnap-00930

The next break includes Ross (a lot of these adverts seem to be voiced by Chris Tarrant), Thomson with Cilla Black, Sellotape’s special crystals, a bowlful of Corn Flakes and the excitement of Rolo which has one extra free. At 7am we go into the second hour and the start of Good Morning Britain which is the main segment of TV-am and features Mike Morris among the hosts. vlcsnap-00931

Following Gyles Brandreth’s postbag and Huckleberry Hound, the next break is at about 7:30am, and features lots of adverts for children’s toys. I don’t think it was half-term, maybe the Christmas rush was about to begin. The only trail during TV-am for a programme coming later on ITV is for Des O’Connor Tonight with guests including the chart-topping Five Star and Les Dennis. vlcsnap-00932

Then after yet another news update, adverts include the Bed Bugs board game (I think I had that one), Commodore Amiga, Tyco Super Dough and Transformers. The celebrity guest being interviewed on the sofa that day was the singer Tiffany. Then there are more toy adverts including Super Cup Football (I want one for Christmas!), McDonald’s, Perfection (this one looks like it’s from about ten years earlier), Baby Secrets, Yawnies, Hobby Girl… well there are definitely no sale adverts shown endlessly here. vlcsnap-00938

The first break after 8am brings us more even toy adverts including Fisher-Price and Grand Prix racing (it’s faster than the real thing), I am starting to think that this is a children’s channel. Then there are even more for Nosy Bears, Mr Chimney Pot (whatever that was), Ghost Castle (another board game that I’m fairly sure I had), Cup Final, Spirograph, Tuneyville Choo-Choo, Tesco (even they’re promoting toys), and squeezed inbetween all of this is another weather update. vlcsnap-00939

Then we have a rather rare non-toy one for McCain’s Moon Waffles, tasty. We are now past 9am an into the final segment of the morning which is After Nine. Just a couple of short breaks here featuring cheese and one last lot of toys before it’s exercise time with Lizzie. And with that weird eggcup copyright picture, that’s the end for another day. vlcsnap-00941

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More TV Memories – The Wide Awake Club.

The Wide Awake Club (TV-am, 1984-1990)

This is a show that I only vaguely remember watching at the time, but it definitely deserves a review. Throughout its just short of a decade on air, TV-am produced a lot of children’s programming, especially at the weekend. And in 1984 after trying a few different formats out a new live show for early Saturday mornings was launched called The Wide Awake Club.

Presenters originally included James Baker, Arabella Warner, and Tommy Boyd, someone whose TV and radio work I have enjoyed over the years, and along with TV-am he was also a presenter on CITV for about 15 years, including Magpie in the late-70s, What’s Happening in the mid-80s, and many others. There would be lots of features on the show, including the usual mix of studio guests, cartoons and competitions. vlcsnap-00477

In the early years features included Ghosts, Monsters, And Legends, WAC Snax, and Bonk ‘N’ Boob, which was a spelling competition, honest. Among the shows was Flipper (I don’t know if the story that an episode was once shown backwards and nobody noticed is true though). The show was popular enough for there to be an actual club and you could send off an SAE to join, and some annuals were released too. vlcsnap-00474

One of my favourite features on The Wide Awake Club was when musical guests took part, and they would often be asked silly questions that were chosen at random from a choice of playing cards. You should know by now that I do enjoy seeing mid-80s pop stars on these type of shows, and it was good seeing the likes of Fuzzbox, Strawberry Switchblade and Swing Out Sister being interviewed by Tommy, I hope that he enjoyed meeting them. I’d like to see a complete list of all the groups that appeared. vlcsnap-00276

As the years progressed, there were a few new features introduced including a parody called The Fast Asleep Club featuring a young Mike Myers who I’m sure will go far. Around 1987 episodes of Batman and the great cartoon Jem were shown (the only other place I think Jem was shown on British TV was on UK Gold around 1993). Timmy Mallett and Michaela Strachan had also joined the presenting lineup by this point. vlcsnap-00478

In 1989 there was a name change to Wideawake, but the format stayed mostly the same, with new cartoons including The Shoe People and Galaxy High, along with more features. There was then another name change to WAC ’90, plus even more cartoons including Alvin And The Chipmunks, along with the features The Wac Wac Game, Club Call, and the excitement of Singing In The Shower (there was also a spin-off shown on Sundays called WAC Extra). vlcsnap-00479

There another also a spin-off shown during the school holidays called Wacaday with Timmy Mallett, I thought that was utterly brilliant and I’ll review that soon. In 1990 after about five years the show finally came to an end and was replaced by various others including Top Banana, TV Mayhem, and Hey Hey It’s Saturday! I enjoyed all these shows, they were definitely worth getting up at a ludicrously early time for.

More TV Memories – Jem.

Jem (1985-1988)

This is a show that I have wanted to write about on here for a long time, but my memory of watching it is just too vague, so I was very pleased when I discovered that it had been released on DVD. In recent months I have written about various quirky female pop stars with strange hairstyles from the 1980s that I have enjoyed, when I remembered that there was yet another singer who perfectly fitted that description… and this time they’re animated!

Jem is a cartoon that was launched in 1985 and starred a young lady called Jerrica Benton. After the death of her parents, she inherited their music company Starlight, and also their foster home for orphaned girls. Jerrica has a special pair of earrings that are connected to a computer called Synergy (“the ultimate audio/visual entertainment synthesizer”), and when she says “showtime, Synergy!” into them (one of the show’s catchphrases), she is transformed into her pink-haired pop star alter-ego Jem (Jerrica’s mother Jacqui was also a successful singer in the 70s)vlcsnap-00493

Jem is the frontwoman of a pop group called The Holograms and only her bandmates are aware that she is both Jerrica and Jem. They are Jerrica’s younger sister Kimber (who also has the show’s other famous catchphrase “truly outrageous!”), along with Aja and Shana (who are later joined by a fifth member Raya). Jerrica also has a boyfriend called Rio who isn’t aware of her double life, and he soon falls for both Jerrica and Jem, not realising that they are the same person, meaning that he is in a love triangle featuring only two people. And you thought Gary Sparrow had it bad. vlcsnap-00490

Also featuring are a band called The Misfits, who have slightly more of an edge to their sound and they often compete with The Holograms to be the most successful. They also have a very distinctive look and are a trio consisting of Pizzazz, Roxy and Stormer (who are later joined by a fourth member, the English-born Jetta, and in a terrific piece of useless TV trivia, Jetta was voiced by the daughter of crooner Engelbert Humperdinck), and along with their boss Eric Raymond they are convinced that they are the best band around. vlcsnap-00499

As the episodes progress we see what life is like for Jem (who had a different actress provide her speaking voice and her singing voice), and it is rather glamorous, as we see her do things like work on her songs, appear on TV shows and radio stations, star on the cover of magazines, attend award ceremonies, make music videos, and perform at concerts and festivals around the world. You really could say that she’s lived the life of an international pop star. vlcsnap-00500

We also meet a few other characters along the way including The Misfits’ biggest fan Clash who is always trying to become a member herself, Jerrica’s friend Danse, the TV presenter Lindsey, and many others. And of course, there is always a big cliffhanger conveniently placed just before the advert break (the breakbumpers have been left in on the DVD), but Synergy usually comes to the rescue just in time. vlcsnap-00503

A lot of songs are also performed, and about 150 of them (all about a minute long) were specially written for the show, accompanied by a stylish music video. By the third series a third group was added to the show. They were The Stingers, who featured a male lead singer called Riot, accompanied by the German-born Minx and Rapture, and Riot would also fall for Jem, but he was more in love with himself than anyone else seemingly. vlcsnap-00506

I couldn’t remember if Jem was shown on CBBC or CITV in this country, but it must have been shown on some children’s TV show, and doing a little more research it seems that it was actually shown on TV-am’s Saturday Morning show The Wide Awake Club that was hosted by Tommy Boyd for a while around the 1987/1988 mark, so if I did see it anywhere on TV, it must have been there. vlcsnap-00494

Jem was popular enough for there to be a lot of merchandise released, including dolls of all the main characters that were usually accompanied by an audio cassette of some of their songs from the show, and various episodes were released on VHS. It seems that there was also a short-lived comic of Jem published in this country around 1986/1987, featuring strips along with features about the big pop groups around at the time including Five Star! jem1

Jem was cancelled in 1988 after three series and I was pleased to discover that all 65 episodes have been released in a DVD boxset over ten discs. There are no extras as such (it seems that the American DVD release did come with an 11th disc of special features) but a small amount of episodes end with the equivalent of a Public Information Film so make sure you always do as Jem says. vlcsnap-00510

In more recent years, there was a brief revival in the popularity of Jem when in 2015 a live-action film was made to try and bring the show to a new generation. I haven’t seen it myself but just about all the reviews have said that it was terrible and not like the 80s cartoon version at all, and it is best forgotten, being an unsatisfactory addition to the story. However, it was great to finally see all the episodes of this show, there’s no doubt that Jem really is a chart-topping star.

The YouTube Files – The Polkadot World Of Strawberry Switchblade.

After having a look back at the careers of Shakespear’s Sister and Danielle Dax, I wondered if there were any more charismatic female singers with a distinctive look who made some unusual songs in the 1980s. I then remembered that there was a group who I felt fitted that description who turned out to be one of the more extreme examples of how quickly fame can come and go.

Strawberry Switchblade were a female duo who consisted of Rose “the black-haired one” McDowall and Jill “the red-haired one” Bryson who were both born in Glasgow in 1959 and 1961 respectively. They both had an interest in punk music in the late-70s and formed the group in 1981. They wrote their own songs and had some of their earliest exposure in 1982 when they recorded some sessions for various BBC Radio 1 programmes, and their first single “Trees And Flowers” was released in July 1983. It wasn’t a hit but it was well received. Around this time they also moved to Muswell Hill in London. It wasn’t until their next single was released a year later that there started to be a buzz around them. This piece will look back at their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube because it’s a story worth telling. Strawberry1

The decision was made to give their new single “Since Yesterday” which had been released in October 1984 to a quiet reception a big promotional push, and this started when in December 1984 they appeared on the cover of fortnightly music magazine Smash Hits for the first and only time. This was something of a surprise because also in this issue there was a behind-the-scenes article on Band Aid, and the fact that the pop music exclusive of the decade was passed over for the cover in favour of an almost unknown band does seem something of a curious editorial decision. It did give them a boost though, little did these self-described “scabby witches from Scotland” know that 1985 would be their year, they wouldn’t be unknown for much longer. 

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“Since Yesterday” eventually peaked at No. 5 in its 11th week on the chart and in January 1985 they made two appearances on Top Of The Pops. Unfortunately, both of these editions have been “Smithed” so it seems that they won’t be repeated and viewers will miss the chance to see their three minutes of fame on TV again, although these performances have been shown in more recent years on TOTP2 and the Goth At The BBC compilation. vlcsnap-00173

They were now famous and suddenly they were everywhere, being interviewed on various TV shows including The Paul Coia Show, TV-am’s Wide Awake ClubBBC Breakfast Time, and many others, and also frequently performing this song, including one where they seemed to be stood on a snooker table for some reason. Also around this time they featured in various other music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, plus Lookin and Jackievlcsnap-00170

I was only 18 months old when “Since Yesterday” made the Top Ten, my first memory of seeing the video was a while ago on The Hits Video, a VHS that was released in 1985 which featured 23 music videos of the biggest hits of the year, Hits being a rival to the Now compilation series at the time. The video has also had about two million views on YouTube so clearly some people out there remember them. Of course, I do have to refer to their famous look. They both had rather long hair with multicoloured bows in it along with heavy makeup and lots of fancy jewellery, and they both wore polkadot dresses. You certainly couldn’t mistake them for anyone else, and their music stood out just as much. Because I enjoyed this song, I thought it would be a good idea to find out more about them and was I pleased to discover that I liked their subsequent singles. 

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How could they follow the success of “Since Yesterday”? In March 1985, the next single “Let Her Go” was released. In the same month they appeared on the cover of weekly music magazine No. 1. Although it was seen by some as simply “Since Yesterday Part Two”, this was another good one with a fun video. They also performed this on CBBC’s Saturday SuperStore, but it reached just No. 59 on the chart. In April 1985, their self-titled debut album was released which reached No. 25. vlcsnap-00154

In May 1985 the next single “Who Knows What Love Is” was released, which was a ballad with a nice video where the ladies were featured in a strange dreamy world. They performed this song on various shows, they were also interviewed on CBBC’s The Saturday Picture Show, and they even appeared as contestants on Sandi Toksvig’s Sandwich Quiz on CITV’s No. 73! However, this song reached a rather low No. 84 on the chart. vlcsnap-00181

In September 1985 there was still hope that they would have another big hit when their next single “Jolene” was released. This was a cover of the Dolly Parton song. Now I must admit that Country music isn’t one of my favourite musical genres, but this electropop reworking was much more to my taste, and this was accompanied by a video that was made in Paris. They also performed this song on Channel 4 music show Bliss, CBBC’s Cheggers Plays Pop and BBC1’s Pebble Mill. “Jolene” reached No. 53 on the chart to become their second-biggest hit, but it was still rather disappointing. vlcsnap-00148

Although their fame in the UK was just about over, the ladies did have some success in other countries. Although they never broke America, they were rather popular in Japan, where they released a couple more singles exclusively in that country, made a few more TV appearances, and for a short while a lot of young Japanese women liked to dress like them. By the start of 1986 though, just a year on from their breakthrough, it was all over. vlcsnap-00234

It was another case of the all-too familiar story in pop music of a up-and-coming group at the beginning of the year being eager and looking forward to success, and then after having it a year later being left frustrated and with a broken friendship. After the split, Rose and Jill went their separate ways and haven’t worked together since, although they have continued to perform in various bands in more recent years, and a best-of album was released in 2005. vlcsnap-00166

They are both still around and nowadays also have something of a presence online with various fansites dedicated to their work. Although they are all but forgotten now and they only had one Top 50 hit over 30 years ago I do think that Strawberry Switchblade were something terrifically different and their brief moment in the spotlight is one of the more interesting stories in 1980s pop music.

More TV Memories – Top Banana.

Top Banana (TV-am, 1990-1992)

Here’s another look at the world of children’s programming on breakfast franchise TV-am. Along with TV Mayhem (which I still insist is one of the best things that Chris Evans ever did), another show that I looked forward to that was shown early on Saturday mornings in the early-90s was Top Banana, and I enjoyed it as much as anything that CBBC or CITV could offer. vlcsnap-01014

Top Banana was a children’s entertainment show that was hosted by the Australian Mike Brosnan (who also hosted the other TV-am show Hey Hey It’s Saturday! around the same time) that was supposed to be set in a jungle. He was joined by a wide variety of unusual puppets and guests, and he also had a couple of co-hosts who were Captain Keyboards who provided the music and some woman who was called P-Nut I think? vlcsnap-01013

There was also a game show element to Top Banana. Contestants would have to answer questions on various categories when a wheel was spun, and the one that it landed on would also be followed by an appropriate sound effect such as someone shouting “ping-pong!” when the question was about sport. They could also ask for “a piece of cake”, a question that is much easier but they would have to eat some cake while answering, and there were plenty of prizes on offer for everyone. vlcsnap-01009

Another thing that I remember about Top Banana was that every chaotic edition ended with everyone in the studio jumping around (accompanied by myself watching at home) to a version of the old pop song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”, meaning that by the time CITV’s Motormouth or some such show came along I had already been watching for hours and was vaguely exhausted. vlcsnap-01011

I think that Top Banana lasted until 1992, but by this point it had been announced that TV-am had lost their licence and I thought that most of their children’s programming had been dropped, although there is a chance that it could have been a repeat run, but either way the show definitely made an impact on me in the early-90s, and watching a few clips again on YouTube reminded me of the way that I can’t remember much about what I did yesterday, yet I’ve never forgotten the “ping-pong!” sound effect from this show. Isn’t life strange.

More TV Memories – Doug.

Doug (Nickelodeon, 1991-1994, Disney, 1996-1999)

Another 90s cartoon that I remember, Doug was all about the adventures of an 11½-year-old schoolboy. At the beginning of the show, Doug Funnie, along with his parents and sister, move to the fictional town of Bluffington after his dad gets a job promotion, and Doug who has something of a dreamy outlook documents his life. Also joining him is his pet dog Porkchop who he is very fond of and follows him everywhere. vlcsnap-00869

There were many other characters in the show including Skeeter who becomes Doug’s best friend, and we also meet various pupils and teachers that Doug encounters at his new school including Roger the bully and Patti who he has a crush on. One thing that I remember being distinctive about the animation of Doug was that beyond the main character all the people’s skin colour were ones that you wouldn’t get in real life, and his interaction with orange people, green people and purple people and so on definitely made the show stand out. vlcsnap-00864

One thing about Doug that I didn’t realise at the time was that in the early series he was voiced by Billy West, a voice actor who has contributed to many other cartoons over the years including The Ren And Stimpy Show, where his rather crazed performance voicing both those characters was something of a contrast to his portrayal of Doug, and he later went on to voice Fry in Futurama. When Doug was revived though, West had moved on to other projects so he was replaced by Tom McHugh. vlcsnap-00862

As far as I’m aware, Doug was never shown on CBBC or CITV, I remember it being shown on the final year or so of TV-am, and it was also shown on weekend mornings on Channel 4, and I remember recording a few episodes to watch which I enjoyed in the mid-90s. Beyond this, Doug has also been shown regularly on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel. vlcsnap-00868

It seems that there were two eras of Doug, in the early-90s episodes were made for the children’s channel Nickelodeon, and after a short break the show moved to The Disney Channel. I must admit I’ve never liked Disney cartoons that much, preferring the ones made by Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and the like, but I did like this one, and the show was popular enough for there to be a film version made in 1999 called Doug’s 1st Movie, although despite that rather optimistic title, I’m fairly sure that no more films were made. vlcsnap-00870

Over 100 episodes of Doug were made throughout the 90s, and having a look back at some episodes recently, the show reminded me a little of another cartoon I liked which was Hey Arnold! which features a boy going through school and trying to help people out. I don’t think that Doug has been released on DVD in this country, but I hope that there are still plenty of fans out there.

The YouTube Files – TV Mayhem.

TV Mayhem (TV-am, 1991)

One thing I haven’t written much about on here yet is what I liked to watch on TV-am, the ITV breakfast franchise from 1983-1992. I used to enjoy a lot of the children’s programmes, including Wacaday of course, plus various weekend shows that I used to get up ridiculously early to watch including The Wide Awake Club, Top Banana, Hey Hey It’s Saturday!, and also TV Mayhem. I wondered if there were any clips of that show on YouTube and there seems to be all of about 15 minutes’ worth online so aren’t I lucky.

First, some background. Chris Evans was someone who was a radio presenter on various radio stations in the late-80s including BBC GLR, among the likes of Danny Baker and Chris Morris. In 1990 he hosted a show called Power Up on the very short-lived satellite TV service BSB, and a year later in 1991 TV Mayhem was just about a continuation of this show. I remember looking forward to seeing this show which was on Saturdays at 8am, it was clear that there was a buzz about it because there was a picture in Fast Forward magazine and everything. vlcsnap-00236

From the moment I saw the amusingly odd title sequence I just knew that TV Mayhem was going to be great. Chris and his red hat hosted the show in the studio which had things in the background like a clock spinning round too quickly and a photo of Phil Collins, how random. There were also many unusual features such as Chris talking to himself on a screen, there were also various cartoons including Bill and Ted and pop stars performing their latest hits too. vlcsnap-00228

One feature that I remember was when Chris took part in some comedy sketches alongside his sidekick Gary which I thought were odd firstly because Chris didn’t wear his glasses during them and also because they really did seem to have been made on a camcorder in his bedroom. I was really enjoying TV Mayhem, and I think that I began to like it even more than CITV’s Motormouth that followed… and then something strange happened. vlcsnap-00234

In October 1991 it was announced that TV-am had lost their franchise and would go off the air at the end of 1992. The decision was made to drop TV Mayhem after just six shows, I believe that it was supposed to run for much longer, and it was replaced by some bog-standard cartoons shown under the name Cartoon World as they ran down the clock to the end whilst spending as little money as possible. But thankfully the story didn’t end there. vlcsnap-00235

About a year later in 1992, Chris was announced as being among the presenting team of Channel 4’s new early-morning show The Big Breakfast. And it was his very amusing and energetic presenting style that got him noticed and almost instantly he became a big name, with just about all of the show’s viewers talking about him, and I just thought to myself how I already knew all of this from what he did a year earlier, and I was delighted that he had finally hit the big time. vlcsnap-00229

Chris left The Big Breakfast in 1994, but the TV Mayhem-style influence on his work could still be felt in several quirky shows he hosted much later on that became a success including Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and even TFI Friday. Chris does still seem to enjoy his mornings, as he also went on to further success in radio hosting the breakfast slot on BBC Radio 1, Virgin, and also BBC Radio 2 right to this day. Way-hey!