The Party Is About To Begin
So, Music From BBC Children's Programmes. Which, in fairness, was what I was originally looking for when all that jazz business got in the way. Like all good stories, this starts once upon a time. Like no other stories ever, let alone any good ones, this also starts with some incidental music from Doctor Who. Yes, I know some good Doctor Who stories start with incidental music from Doctor Who, but let's not get too self-referential just yet. There's plenty of that to come.
So anyway, let's travel back in time to November 1988, when Starburst, the long-defunct monthly bible of all things sci-fi and fantasy and impenetrable stuff about some artwork thing you didn't understand, were running a review of the newly-released barrage of orchestra hits that was The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album. In tandem with a general inability to decide whether they thought it was any good or not, the review also incorporated a brief history of the countable-on-one-hand commercial releases of Doctor Who music over the years. Alongside the expected namechecks for the various theme single variations and the two volumes of Doctor Who - The Music, there was also mention of something called The World Of Doctor Who. This exotic-sounding oddity cobbled together from bits of early seventies incidental music was, reportedly, originally the b-side to the theme from Moonbase 3, the famously dull 1973 adult drama about the scientific realities of space travel, and which later, as they oh so casually remarked, "found its way onto a Music From BBC Children's Programmes album".
That remark, as tantalising and casual as it may have been, was more than enough to send one particular pre-Internet imagination into overdrive. Not so much over The World Of Doctor Who per se - though admittedly they did make it sound like some kind of Brian Wilson-style 'Pocket Symphony' rather than a load of screechy effects flung at a half-hearted funk backing with the Roger Delgado-heralding 'Master Theme' tacked onto the end - but rather more over the possible potential contents of said casually-referenced album. This would, some hasty Pertwee-skewed mathematics suggested, date from some time around the mid-seventies. In other words, the exact timeframe that played host to all those hazily-recalled first-awareness-of-television fringe-of-the-memory shows that had retreated so utterly and intangibly into 'The Past' that you might as well have just made them up. Something that, in the case of Rubovia, I was regularly accused of actually having done.
What transcendentally obscure delights might be found within its grooves? Rentaghost? Cheggers Plays Pop? Ragtime? Barnaby? Whichever still unidentified programme it was that ended with footage of dandelion seeds being blown away whilst a disembodied voice ominously intoned "one o'clock... two o'clock" and so forth? The tracklisting just kept writing itself, in ever more evocative and exciting post-Glam pre-Punk ways. And indeed the cover just kept drawing itself too, an ever-fractally-evolving psychedelic splurge with Dylan The Rabbit, Mr Benn and indeed 'Cheggers' thrust listenerwards through the magic of clumsy graphic design. Music From BBC Children's Programmes, it seemed reasonable to assume, was the key to the gates of some sort of retro-nostalgic nirvana, with a bit of Doctor Who incidental music thrown in for good measure. If some of those jazz albums had been mind-expanding, then this had to be completely off the psychedelic scale.
Eventually, quite by accident, in a true moment of zen I found without trying what I'd long since lost sight of the fact that I was actually searching for. For there, in a charity shop, inadvertently yanked out of the decaying carboard box alongside a Johnny Dankworth LP, was a white sleeve bearing what appeared to be a certain near-mythical title rendered in the same sort of font as that old-skool stripey BBC2 '2'. Yes, it was Music From BBC Children's Programmes. At long, long last. For a second I stood transfixed by the cover. Then I tried to actually decipher the weird visual jumble, made up of a headache-inducing Grog-On-Blue-Peter-Boat graphical nightmare of a load of programme logos all piled on top of each other. Some of these could just about be breathlessly made out, and gave exciting pointers as to what might be contained within. An excitement that was immediately tempered by the ominous presence of two bland and well-mannered youngsters in the bottom left-hand corner.
Until a long-overdue getting-with of the times in the mid-eighties, the BBC were always irritatingly fond of using clean-cut, fresh-faced young innocents - frequently toting toy trains for some reason - as iconography for their children's output. Presumably this was intended as a reflection of the improving Reithian values that children's shows like Blue Peter, Treasure Houses and The Song And The Story were supposed to embody; by which logic we can only conclude that Zokko! would have been represented by some unkempt screaming incoherent kept locked in the airing cupboard for their own safety. These were kind of youngsters who would dutifully watch BBC Schools programmes even when they weren't at school, singing along enthusiastically to Music Time yet all the while failing to appreciate the unanticipated joys of that frenetic AOR instrumental that accompanied the 'dots', or the sprightly flutey theme from Watch, or indeed its easy-on-the-eye presenter Louise Hall-Taylor. The sort of children who made it past the opening titles of Go With Noakes. The sort of children, in short, who could potentially ruin this most mythologised of albums with their thoroughly non-malign influence. Come on in, they seem to be saying, it's all good clean fun here. You'll find nothing to trouble or disturb you. Apart from possibly The World Of Doctor Who.
But we were already in way above our heads. I'd spent too many hours and seen too many Mario Lanza album covers to be dissuaded now. There was a potential doorway to retronostalgic nirvana here and I was waiting for someone to say "ready to knock, turn the lock", and no amount of sepia-toned goody two shoeses were going to stand in my way. It was time to actually listen to Music From BBC Children's Programmes.
Top Of The Box, The Complete Guide To BBC Records And Tapes Singles, is available as a paperback here or an eBook here; a sequel covering the albums is coming soon!