Tonight Matthew, I'm Going To Be... Eli Culbertson?


In the early nineties, the mysterious 'Watershed Pictures' put out a triple whammy of video-only spectaculars under the banner title The Best Children's TV Of The Decade. Presented by Phillip Schofield from in front of a wall graffitied with just about copyright-averting approximations of well-worn childrens TV iconography, there was one each to cover the sixties, the seventies and the eighties, and despite the occasionally questionable approach to chronological accuracy - the eighties one infamously included Joe 90 alongside the ramping-up-latterday-eBay-value likes of Jigsaw, Lift Off With Coppers & Co., Tucker's Luck and some vintage Gonch-driven scammery from Grange Hill - they were actually pretty good selections of what was then pretty rare stuff.

On the seventies volume, alongside extracts from the likes of Ace Of Wands, The Tomorrow People, Tiswas, Worzel Gummidge, How, Magpie, Swap Shop, Play Away, Pardon My Genie and a colour bit of Timeslip that momentarily got archive TV types a bit hot under the collar as nobody had realised that any of it actually did exist in colour, there was a section covering pop music on children's TV, bookended by Schofield stomping about in an unfeasible pair of stack heels and offering some perplexing words of caution about how built-up shoes could hamper childbirth or something. The accompanying clips were all drawn - presumably in some sort of licensing job lot - from Glam-heavy Granada teatime offerings Shang A Lang and Lift Off With Ayshea, and featured brief glimpses The Bay City Rollers plodding unexcitedly through All Of Me Loves All Of You, Lieutenant Pigeon rattling through what sounded like a Moudly Old Dough-ed up take on I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, and some character in an overexaggerated approximation of Vegas-era Elvis getup, singing an overexaggerated approximated cover of Vegas-era Elvis favourite I Need Your Love Tonight with added Glitter Band-style drums and guitars, going by the unlikely name of Eli Culbertson.

For someone who had only recently purchased the genre-defining K-Tel double compilation Glam Slam, and whose copy of which still has a handwritten A4 list of 'Glam Rockers' tucked inside the sleeve (which included the explanation-challenging likes of Mungo Jerry, Marmalade, The Wombles and The Goodies), this was a mystery that needed to be solved. Who was this mysterious presumably randomly-selected musical interloper, and why wasn't he mentioned in any rock history books nor indeed featured on any compilation albums? What happened beyond the twenty seconds or so featured in the clip, which tantalisingly end with a change of tempo and some proto-Jarvis Cocker finger-waggling? Was that really a name that anyone expected to have a hit single with? And yet no answers ever seemed to be forthcoming. Even the exhaustive bible of UK beat, psych, folk, prog and glam The Tapestry Of Delights couldn't find space for Mr. Culbertson, despite boasting entries for everyone from kazoo-wielding proto-Wurzels The Piggleswick Folk to Marty-Wilde-in-American-Football-helmet Glam cash-in nonsense Zappo.

Though the rise of the internet would reveal more people who were similarly fascinated by this shadowy Culbertson character, not least TV Cream founder Phil Norman, it didn't seem to be quite so keen on providing any answers. It was some years before it was even possible to find out that the single I Need Your Love Tonight, backed by the no less intriguing-sounding Boogie Queen, was released by EMI in September 1974, and beyond that it was - and remains - a total and utter case of blank-drawing. The single did eventually show up on a few music blogs, often accompanied by bizarre claims that the whole venture was somehow linked to the 'Elvis Is Still Alive' rumour mill; chances are, though, that none of these stories were started by anyone who'd sat through the interminable clip from The Forest Rangers on that Schofield-fronted video.

Of course, The Best Children's TV Of The Decade - The Seventies did pose a further conundrum, in that the footage from an early edition of Rainbow featured an unidentified two-man-one-woman singing trio who were demonstrably neither early musical act Telltale nor their better remembered latterday counterparts Rod Jane & Freddy, nor indeed Rod Jane & Roger or even Rod Jane & Matt, but that was another story. And it involved Crow & Alice...


Not On Your Telly, a book collecting some of my articles on the archive TV we never get to see, is available in paperback here or as an eBook here.