This Side Up (Use No Hooks)

Mentioning Issi Noho in the post before this one (which was about nineties lounge/dance outfit The Gentle People, and which was the post before this one back when they were originally published but isn't now, only now it isn't even online and can be found in my book Super Expanded Deluxe Edition instead... confused? Good!) has reminded me that we're actually due a post about Issi Noho. Well, a post that would have mentioned Issi Noho at least - namely the second part of that promised review of Network DVD's Look-Back Volume One. The only problem with this otherwise flawless plan is that only the first instalment of that multi-instalment review had ever been written, and the prospect of embarking on yet another seventeen or eighteen part series seems as though it might involve a bit more effort than it's actually worth. Plus on top of that, now that all these are being republished, I'm actually going to be doing something else with the Look Back reviews. And anyway, the blog stats seem to suggest that you all prefer it when I'm writing like this anyway. Yes you do. Stop arguing.

Anyway, that post would have looked at the next five shows on the DVD, namely Paperplay (Susan Stranks and alarmingly-voiced puppet spiders 'Itsy' and 'Bitsy' make a springy-tailed cardboard cat whilst a real cat looks on askance), The Tingha And Tucker Club ('Auntie' Jean Morton and some stuffed marsupials read out some viewers' letters before their raggedy puppet chums put on the first part of a cliffhangered staging of The Pied Piper Of Hamelin, complete with squeaky-voiced rewrites of Food Glorious Food and High Hopes; and as this is apparently the only surviving edition out of around eighty three thousand, we'll never find out what happened next), Michael Bentine's Potty Time (erstwhile Goon presents madcap puppet-assisted harmonica-heralded satire of British military bluster), Jamie And The Magic Torch (introduction-not-needing Yellow Submarine knock-off Glam variant of Jim Steinman-esque theme song infamy), and of course Issi Noho. Actually, due to the uneven amount of shows on the discs, and the fact that there would only have been one left on the first one to cover, the decidedly odd The Laughing Policeman - Deryck Guyler as a non-'canon' interpretation of the rotund chuckler from the old music hall novelty number, introducing a succession of cheap-looking puppets even for cheap-looking puppets gallumphing around to the likes of Sweet Gingerbread Man in some nightmarish precursor to Dooby Duck's Disco Bus - would probably have ended up being covered as part of it too, but that's beside the point. We'll get around to the others in due course too, and the ones on Volume Two as well, but for the moment, it's Issi Noho all the way. That said, we won't be getting around to them actually on here. But more on that later.

So who exactly is this shadowy Noho character? Well, he's a semi-animated panda cast adrift in a wood and discovered by bear-befriending youngsters Andrew, Sally and the frankly terrifying Neil in a partially obscured crate where leafy infringement had rendered the legend 'THIS SIDE UP USE NO HOOKS' as, you guessed it, 'ISSI NOHO'. Though the earlier episodes had some kind of a running storyline about the trio's attempts to both shelter and feed him without being discovered, resulting in some youngster disgruntlement when his nomenclatural deceit was rumbled, it soon descended into his living openly with a family and creating sub-Paddington slapstick chaos wherever he went (with, scoring a full house of seventies animated bear poor-relation-ness, a smattering of sub-Teddy Edward 'angry' flute at the end of the theme music). His previously book-confined exploits had been semi-animated by Thames in 1976, and were given regular repeat airings right up to the end of the decade, and were then promptly forgotten about by all but those with the haziest of hazy memories of his box-derived naming process.

The episode presented here, entitled Panda Sandwiches Are Most Indigestible - the clue's sort of in the title - sees Issi infiltrate a panto for comic effect and then run up against a real life beanstalk-topping giant, whose attempts to consume him between two large slices of bread are thwarted by some quick-talking thinking-on-his-paws. And, well, it's kind of lacking in the sort of excitement-generating ursine subterfuge that the show is associated with in most people's memories. That's not to say that it's in any way boring or substandard, and it's certainly not as if the series can be divided up into its own equivalent of pre- and post-Nat Hiken incarnations, but it probably isn't what a lot of viewers will be half-expecting so seeing it again for the first time in a frightening amount of years could easily prove to be ever so slightly on the anti-climactic side. It's a bit like, say, when they choose something from the good-but-not-AS-good era of Smith And Jones for a tribute night; you're effectively being asked to be nostalgic for something that isn't quite what you're actually feeling nostalgic for. Erm, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, that's a whole post constructed - in true Issi Noho fashion - around a handful of scribbled words that would have formed part of something larger but for the fact that, um, some leaves got in the way. Yes. So if you've learned anything from old seventies ITV children's programmes, it's to reuse and recycle any unfinished ideas you've got lying around. And not to bother watching The Laughing Policeman.

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.