And Then Along Comes Mary (And Mungo, And Midge)

Sunday television has always been one of the more esoteric corners of the weekly schedule. Even now, at least on the terrestrial channels, the mornings still have a sort of muted, low-key ambience that seems at odds with the uniformity and strip-scheduling of the rest of the week, as though they're trying to go easy on viewers and give them a bit of space for reflection and contemplation, no matter how many single-issue fundamentalists you might now increasingly find furiously debating 'issues' with thin air as lunchtime approaches.

Though Sunday mornings do tend to fall into that sort of cerebral, reflective, quick-get-the-Nick-Drake-albums atmosphere by week-positioning default anyway, it's probably true to say that this televisual plagality is a hangover-easing hangover from the days when there was actually a statutory requirement for broadcasters to take a more quasi-spiritual approach to the Sabbath; indeed, up until 1993, they were obliged to carry a designated amount of religious programming by law. This inevitably had a knock-on effect on whatever else was shown that day, and as Sundays were also used as a scheduling dumping ground for hardcore political analysis, mid-budget costume drama, eight-million episode imports, and puppets that tapped the 'inside' of the 'screen', that made for quite a diverse range of opportunities for contemplation and reflection. And later on at night, all hell broke loose and any attempt at low-key ambience went right out of the window - often literally, with an alternative comedian crashing out after it shouting 'BARSTARD' - but we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves there.

For this is the first in an occasional series of posts looking at some of the key programming trends of the Sunday schedules, from Weekend World to The World According To Smith And Jones, starting even before TV had actually 'started' and ending up in the lawless frontier world of topically satirical mayhem for people desperately trying to forget that they had work or school in the morning.

If you got up early enough on a Sunday, then you'd have noticed that, technically, the first thing on was either - depending on which channel you were watching - Test Card F or the IBA Colour Bars followed by the 'startup' for your ITV region, the latter of which could be anything from a badly-aligned static caption slide with a burst of library music called 'Startup Crow' or something, to panoramic sweeping views of local architecture, to the Anglia Knight rotating for somewhere in the region of eighteen weeks. But you really would have to be some kind of lunatic to consider any of the above worthy of 'contemplation' or 'reflection', or indeed worthy of reminiscing about in the first place, so instead we're going to begin our not strictly chronological look at the Sunday television schedules with what was usually the first 'proper' programme on the BBC each Sunday - namely one of the more laid back and esoteric Watch With Mother shows, parachuted in from their usual weekday showings.

Camberwick Green, Teddy Edward, Fingerbobs, Bagpuss and Ragtime amongst others would all enjoy a tour of duty first thing on Sunday mornings, but for the purposes of this retrospective we're going to be concentrating here on animated girl, dog and mouse trio Mary, Mungo & Midge, whose late-sixties inner-city learning-made-fun escapades upped the bleary-eyed early-morning tranquillity ante through the judicious deployment of Richard Baker's detached narration, the vaguely Gallic-sounding organ and woodwind heavy soundtrack, and the washed-out colour palate that they used to use when making colour programmes that still had to be broadcast in black and white for a couple of years. If there ever was a show that was tailor made for chilling out on a Sunday morning, it was this, though how 'chilled' any of the youngsters spooked by the big disembodied pointing hands in the end credits would actually have found themselves is open to debate. Anyway, join us again next time for some praising of 'The Lord' by a bunch of church youth group leaders with ideas above their station...

You can read more about Mary, Mungo, Midge and all of their Watch With Mother pals in my book Well At Least It's Free, which you can get as a paperback here or as an eBook here.