Knocking On Doors, Opening Windows, Up And Down And Round, WE! ARE! THE SUNDAY GANG!


Just as television was intent on foisting 'Extra School' on unsuspecting younger viewers under the radar courtesy of the 'improving' likes of Blue Peter and The Song And The Story, a similar approach was inevitably taken towards religious instruction (we'll stop short of calling it 'indoctrination' here... actually, we won't). We'll be taking a more detailed look at some of the more prominent examples of Almighty Saluting from further on in the Sunday schedules later in this occasional series, but for now, let's turn our attention to early Sunday mornings, and the BBC's relentless determination to enforce a quick bit of moral instruction upon an unwary audience, cunningly disguised behind the cartoony-puppety trappings of more conventional children's television.

Unlike ITV, the BBC weren't actually legally obligated to block-book their schedules with a statutory amount of religiously-inclined programming, but morally they sure were and never once flinched from their didactic duty, so stick that in your 'BBC Left Wing Bias!!3' pipe and smoke it. Much of this, as we shall see, and indeed as we keep saying we shall see, came later on in the day's output, but all the same they were determined to catch 'em early in both senses of the word, and more often than not the day's second item of programming would be a crack of dawn attempt to Make Bible Studies Fun. Notorious examples of the artform include Dana-fronted songs-and-look-at-life magazinery Wake Up Sunday, Christopher Lillicrap-driven guitars-in-contemplative-locations singsongery Knock Knock, and - most infamously of all - The Sunday Gang.


You might be forgiven for assuming that The Sunday Gang was some sort of weekend spinoff from the similarly 'Gang'-equipped Why Don't You?. But if you did assume that, you'd be very much incorrect. This bunch of Sabbath-meeters were a clean-cut do-good assortment of wannabe Youth Group Leaders, operating out of a clubhouse kitted out with a 'computer' sporting a tape spool-hewn face with added piano keyboard, and a screeching puppet mouse called Mackintosh that called everyone 'sassenachs'. Their lineup would shuffle a couple of times over the years, but popular mainstays included aspirant Head Boy J.D., hard-of-thinking country bumpkin Dodo, 'zany' (i.e. his glasses were at an angle) inventor Boff, and friend's-girlfriend's-best-mate-who-everyone-thinks-you-should-'get-together'-with incarnate Teena, the latter portrayed with a noticeable disregard for spelling by future Blue Peter frontsperson Tina Heath. The rowdy cast-belted opening song's declaration of intention towards "taking a trip through God's creation" pretty much said it all about the show's combination of post-Godspell trendiness-fuelled consideration of 'issues' and hastily commissioned watercolour-accompanied readings of Daniel In The Lion's Den et al. Though where the accompanying dance that somehow involved "knocking on doors, opening windows, up and down and round" fitted into all this is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, how they hoodwinked the youngsters into watching all this was a masterclass in parable-undermining cloak-and-dagger chicanery, dressing it all up in Crackerjack-level gag trading, youthful presenter straight-to-camera exhuberance, gaudy graphics and animation, and the illusion of puppet anarchy set against pretentions towards pseudo hi-techness. What's more, positioning it immediately after one of those Zenned-out Mindfulness-triggering Watch With Mother shows more or less designated it as a regular children's show in all but name, and it's not as if there was really much else in the way of alternative distractions in those days.

Well, there was ITV, but if you'd turned over you probably wouldn't have done much better in scholastic avoidance terms, though you might have got a bit more of a laugh out of it... and that's what we'll be learning about next time!