There's So Much More In TV Times Part 14: Parky's Perfect Dinner Party


Imagine, if you will, a time when Peter Davison was a widely-loved television star who, in spite of the occasional bit of wishy-washy fence sitting that even in its full context hardly adopts an actual tangible position, was generally seen as being on the right side of right-on and an overall likeable and decent person.

Well, that was approximately four days ago. Cast your mind back, though, to a time before people who don't even sodding watch Doctor Who decided to take a tabloid's word over his, and him out of The Terror Of The Vervoids tried to score a few cheap points and somehow still managed to come off worse. Yes, it's time to travel forwards to the late eighties, a time of huge change for TV Times. There was now an extra commercial channel, outraging the tabloids with Keith Allen swearing at a polish cartoon or something. Home video was luring viewers away from good clean World In Action and The Fear, except for when it wasn't and something about Video Nasties. And throughout it all, Brucie kept on putting on that comedy oversized chef's hat and making something out of 'leftovers', only on slightly better quality paper.


Something that had most definitely not improved with the passage of time was the quality of readers' letters. Here we can see a thoroughly pointless missive from someone who felt sufficiently impressed by a character from The Bill behaving like a character from The Bill to write in to TV Times to congratulate the programme makers on this bold artistic decision. And that's not the last we'll be hearing from Sun Hill's finest, but moving on...


Full-paged posed photos doubling up as putative 'posters' for the terminally barking mad with no discernible sense of design aesthetic were all the rage around TV Times Towers in the eighties, it seems. In the ludicrously small boxout bit that nobody ever read, Gary Wilmot - who, it's staggering to recall, was all over ITV at the time - reveals that he took time out from impersonating whoever it was he did impersonations of to indulge in a spot of proto-green Save The Trees rabble-rousing; something that, much like Timmy Mallett's denunciation of Apartheid for the benefit of Wide Awake Club viewers, suspiciously never seems to get mentioned whenever the ha ha you big rubbish what were we thinking sneering boots up again. He also seems to be wary of the imminent arrival of Ben Kingsley, Clown Union. This is followed by Matthew Kelly making with the ha ha ha hee hee hee's and 'Gnome - For A Laugh!' puns as he introduces us to his good friend Grimble Grumble. There's probably a perfectly sane and rational explanation. If there is, though, it isn't in the boxout.


TV-am's top 'Girls Who Get Britain Up In The Morning' as the tabloids always had it Ulrika Jonsson and Lorraine Kelly kick off the 1990 FIFA World Cup with a bit of posed punch-up hilarity - hardly the most appropriate of analogies at a time when football was desperately trying to restore its yob-tarnished image - in honour of their home nations' imminent Group C clash, in an issue of TV Times that mysteriously 'disappeared' into a million teenage boys' bedrooms the second that that week's Friday Night viewing was over.


Big smash blockbuster miniseries came and went in the eighties, but every Sunday evening on ITV you could find Harry Secombe strolling religiously from region to region and singing about how God made the clouds while standing in the grassy bit in the middle of a dual carriageway. Yes, bizarrely compelling surrealist masterpiece Highway was putting together an album, and they needed your inexplicably typewritten help! Just write to Harry telling him which hymns you would like to see and indeed hear on there, and when he's finished sending his Christmas Cards he'll draw up a tracklisting. Sadly, how many wags voted for He Made This Lovely Anorak is not on record.


Sometimes, on the almost unthinkably rare occasions on which Brucie was not available (or, more likely, they'd simply run out of 'leftovers'), you just had to get someone else in the kitchen to do 'wacky' poses at the top of a recipe you can't help but suspect they'd never actually been within fifteen feet of. Here for example we can see Kenny Everett refuting all accusations of 'wackiness' whilst throwing a zany look at an industrial-strength quantity of spaghetti, followed by Hale And Pace in character as 'Ron' and 'Ron', offering up a Cloret-inviting menu of basic food procedures kitted out with good honest thumping-skewed pun variants on their names, which was presumably food wot you would like otherwise 'Ron' will arrange for you to have some food wot you would not like even more if you get our meaning ur hur hur 'Ron'.


Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Telling us who his ideal dinner party guests would be, that's what. And it will surprise precisely nobody to learn that Billy Connolly is top of the VIP RSVP list, followed only slightly less predictably by the 'anecdote' barrage of Michael Caine, Jonathan Miller, Alistair Cooke, Anthony Burgess, Peter Ustinov, and token 'there are no women allowed on the dock of the bay' exception Shirley Maclaine. Apart from displaying a strange obsession with getting them all to gather round the piano for a sing song, he also pretty much maps out who will talk on what topic and when, and states his intention to treat them all to caviar, Dover sole and fancy ice cream washed down with coffee, cognac, port and a premier cru Chablis, all of which will take place in the Gilbert And Sullivan rooms at the Savoy. "Beat that!", boasts Parky. OK mate, fix me up with Karen Gillan and her off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at a Pizza Express and I fucking well will.


One regular feature of TV Times in the eighties was the confusingly titled 'My Top Ten Top Tens', in which stars of the network were asked to list their favourite examples of several 'quirky' genres, resulting in enough text to pad out to a three page spread being crammed into a single page. In this example we see Kevin Kennedy, TV 'Curly' (Coronation Street), expressing his enthusiasm for decidedly unadventurous music, movies, cuisine and lust icons, though he does sneak the somewhat less than predictable Tutti Frutti and Hank Wangford's A-Z Of Country Music into his list of 'TV Gems', which at least wins him some points. Note also how he crowbars a couple of his Corrie mates in where he can, notably Bill Tarmey above John Wayne in 'Greatest Actors'. No mention of Don't Forget The Old Folks At Christmas by Bill Waddington, though.


What I Watch was a regular feature in TV Times throughout the eighties, in which a procession of second-tier celebrites - or in some cases just anyone who actually answered the phone - namechecked a couple of currently popular television shows, primarily with a hefty ITV slant, and revealed absolutely nothing about anything whatsoever. Here, for example, is Kevin Lloyd, street-hardened DC Tosh Lines from The Bill, pretty much listing all of the then-operational ITV detective shows, followed by a plug for the now entirely forgotten massive-in-their-day sitcoms About Face and Surgical Spirit, and a suspiciously sizeable thumbs-up for ITN. It doesn't take Ted Roach to figure out what his 'snouts' had tipped him. This is followed by Brookside head honcho Phil Redmond taking time out from appearing on the front page of the Liverpool Echo holding his fringe back with a 'defeated' look and asking why the 1957 Venezuelan National Games can't be in Liverpool to bore everyone senseless about 'realism' and 'value' before going on about films and some programmes he created himself. And finally, Ian and 'Wee Jimmy' essentially run through an entire day's schedule on ITV from Chain Letters to Taggart, pausing only to admonish sitcoms for being too middle class and not reflecting real life - presumably they needed more 'naughty' schoolboys in outmoded school uniforms getting up to all manner of Forties DC Thompson-style hi-jinks (and, of course, chalking rude words on next door's garden gate) - and, worryingly, confirm that "we liked the Shoot To Kill programme". You'd never have expected that of The Krankies and their strict adherence to wholesome family fun.


Oh for fuck's sake. Still, this will only be a rare lapse on the part of good clean ITV. After, all, it was the boo hiss BBC that 'all knew', and ITV never employed any of that shower at any point ever.


Moving rapidly on...


Time to dance your cares away with Timmy Mallett and Michaela Strachan, and their tried and tested formula of just copying something in the public eye and putting 'Wac' in front of it so nobody would ever suspect a thing, as they teach us how to do the purported 'dance sensation of the summer', The 'Wacbada'. Sadly the issue in which they explained how to bust a move to Pump Up The Jam by Wacnotronic Feat. Jelly was not available. Nor was the Halloween/Bonfire Night issue of Family Circle with Timmy Mallett on the cover. Slightly less sadly.


Grr grr, remember when Ryan Paris and those Eurocrats in Brussells made us change the name of all of our best chocolate and chew bars and there was that hilarious comedy advert with a 'French' woman refusing to buy a Marathon, except it was actually a change enacted to allow more seamless integration with American branding, advertising and manufacture so don't go losing your temper and ramming some chlorinated chicken down Liam Fox's throat or anything etc etc? Well, it wasn't the only thing changing around then, and in 1991 - signposted with a bizarre full-page advert saying 'What's Bob Cryer Doing On The BBC?' - TV Times and Radio Times were finally allowed to run each other's schedules and, well, a little bit of character went out of each. So it's at this point that we leave our collective bafflement at TV Times' eccentricities for now, but there's still the seventies to get through. And more eighties. And there might even be the odd thing or two in Radio Times worth looking at. In fact, you could almost say there was so much more still in it. Sorry.



If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more slightly more serious writing about fifties and sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Looks Unfamiliar #8: Jem Roberts - ET Is A Definite Thing


Looks Unfamiliar 8 - Jem Roberts

Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim this time is comedy historian and storyteller Jem Roberts, who shares his widely-challenged recollections of an advert reuniting Neil and Vyvyan from The Young Ones, ZX Spectrum game Dizzy and its many close relatives, short-lived rave-goes-Charleston sensation Doop by Doop, budget maize snack Wheelz, powdered drink from outer space Alien Juice, and the dim and distant days of Wet Wet Wet Actually Being Any Good. Along the way we'll be finding out the best techniques for constructing a 'sandwich car', learning how not to confuse ET with a gardener, and wondering who smoked 'Rococan' and if they were able to still form sentences afterwards.

Find out more about Jem's fantastic Tales Of Britain project at www.talesofbritain.com.

DOWNLOAD IT HERE - SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES - RSS





Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.



Support Looks Unfamiliar by buying one of Tim's books! Not On Your Telly is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. And there's several other books to choose from here...

You've Got To Fight For What You Want


It’s unusual for a television series to find popularity in two different decades, though some have managed it through judiciously-placed repeats. Finding popularity in two different genres, though, is an entirely different matter, and should be logistically impossible. Yet that’s exactly what happened to The Flashing Blade. So how did the swashbuckling exploits of a French swordsman have audiences on the edge of their seats one minute and falling about with laughter the next? It’s all down to the redubbing. Two different sets of redubbing, in fact.

The Flashing Blade was originally known as Le Chevailer TempĂȘte, a children’s adventure serial filmed early in 1967 as a co-production between Pathe Cinema and the French television company ORTF, with international funding coming from Switzerland and Canada. Written by Andre-Paul Antoine and Pierre-Aristide Breal, and stylishly directed by Yannick Andrei, the storyline was set in 17th century France but, unusually for a serial of this nature, was not actually based on genuine historical events.

The action takes place in 1630, around the besieged Fort Casal on the Savoie Border between the warring France and Spain. The liberation of the castle is the key to the intended truce, and there are those within the opposing ranks – most notably the devious Don Alonso – who will do anything in their power to prevent the agreement from taking place. Unfortunately for them, the French have assigned this mission to dashing young spy Francois, Chevalier de Recci and his loyal servant Guillot, a wisecracking pair who seem to get as much of a thrill from corny jokes as they do swordsmanship. Over the course of the serial they mount a number of plots to rescue the castle, adopt many disguises – including a lengthy spell hiding out with a troupe of travelling players – and stage near-constant daring escapes, whilst Francois becomes involved with a young local noblewoman, Isabelle de Sospel.

The popular costume drama actor Robert Etcheverry took the part of Francois, with Jacques Balutin as Guillot, Mario Pilar as Don Alonso, Genevieve Casile as Isabelle, Jean Martinelli as the Duke de Sospel and Denise Gray as the Comtesse. None of the cast were well known outside of France, despite a considerable list of starring roles on film and television between them – although in an amusing quirk, Balutin later ended up redubbing Paul Michael Glasier’s dialogue for the French language transmissions of Starsky And Hutch.


Le Chevailer Tempete was shown by ORTF in four seventy-five minute episodes in October 1967. The series attracted acclaim for its stylish direction and colourful cinematography - noticeably similar to the style adopted by many historically-based European feature films of the day, not to mention such British efforts as Masque Of The Red Death and Witchfinder General - as well as for scripts that skillfully combined lengthy action set-pieces with comic interludes – the latter perhaps best exemplified by the dashing duo’s attempts to pose as actors. As was common practice at the time, the serial was subsequently offered for adaptation by overseas broadcasters, and the BBC bought the rights during 1968 for transmission in Spring 1969. The four episodes were cut down by into twelve twenty-five-minute instalments, with the adaptation and redubbing overseen by Peggy Miller, who performed similar duties on a number of imported series. Indeed this was common practice for all imported children’s serials, subjected to changes that went anywhere from re-editing to entire rewrites, leading to the credit 'BBC Presentation By …' becoming a familiar sight. While the closing titles of the BBC version also revealed the new soundtrack was recorded at the famous De Lane Lea studios, a venue incongruously favoured by the big progressive rock acts of the day, the identity of the actors performing the English language dialogue was not revealed and remains something of a mystery to this day.

Although the new version of the serial ran to a dozen episodes, most UK viewers have only ever seen eleven of them, as the dubbed print of episode twelve suffered from a technical fault which caused a loss of vision partway through. The BBC attempted to show the episode on a couple of early runs of the series, and indeed once managed to air virtually the entire twenty five minutes with only a slight interruption, but still ran into the same problems each time. As a result, and no doubt to the frustration of those who had followed the long serial over numerous weeks, the final edition was never properly shown, although in response to viewer requests, the conclusion was later featured in the BBC children's clip show Ask Aspel. Fortunately for the BBC, episode eleven acted as an acceptable ending in its own right, with the truce signed, the Castle liberated, and Francois finally seeing off Don Alonso in an epic sword fight. Apart from confirming the wounded Guillot survived the climactic battle, episode twelve had little to do with the story proper, largely set a year after the events of the previous instalment and recounting a very slow reunion between Francoise and Isabelle. As most later showings were simply truncated to eleven, without much really being lost in the way of the storyline, it’s quite possible that many viewers never even noticed.

While Francois could stop a war virtually single-handed, it seems even the miracles of modern technology cannot resolve the same technical fault that first sent BBC1 haywire almost fifty years ago. On a DVD release of the complete English language version of The Flashing Blade, the twelfth episode has been replaced by an appropriate subtitled edit of the original French language version, complete with the original credits and theme music. This may have come as something of a surprise to erstwhile followers of the series, as The Flashing Blade is as well remembered in the UK for its dramatic galloping theme song as it is the swashbuckling exploits of the Chevailer de Recci, or indeed for technical breakdowns at the worst possible moment. Composed by Alex Masters, the theme was popular enough to be released as a single by Phillips, retitled Fight and credited to The Musketeers. Although it stopped some way short of the top forty, the single has subsequently become much sought-after by soundtrack collectors; sadly, the intriguing-sounding b-side Magnifico is in fact a rather ordinary love song that sounds more like a football team’s musical exploits than its more compelling a-side, despite clearly being recorded in the same session.


The adventures of Francois and Guillot would later find an altogether different notoriety when The Flashing Blade was cut up into five-minute segments and comically redubbed for the BBC1 Saturday morning show On The Waterfront in 1988. Written by producer Russell T Davies and voiced by the show’s cast with impressionist John Culshaw, the redubbings were initially very funny and quickly won a cult following – Don Alonso’s grim examination of a local map, for example, was turned into a weather report, and each instalment ended with the assembled cast shouting “Shut up!!” after the first couple of bars of the theme song. Inevitably inspiration soon ran dry – one later instalment consisted of little more than Isabelle singing an interminable song about how “she likes to stitch and sew her clothes” – but all the same it is fondly remembered to this day. In fact, it’s not too great a leap of the imagination to suggest the arrival on BBC2 the following year of The Staggering Stories Of Ferdinand De Bargos – which did much the same thing with genuine historical footage – owed more than a little to this idiosyncratic re-interpretation of The Flashing Blade.

The On The Waterfront inserts proved sufficiently popular to warrant a full (well, apart from episode twelve) re-run of The Flashing Blade in its proper form the following year, the last time to date that it has been shown on terrestrial television. It’s interesting to ponder on the fact none of the things it is best remembered for – the theme song, the redubbed send-up and the notorious technical fault – were ever part of Le Chevalier Tempete, and while two of these may not have been quite in line with what Peggy Miller and company intended for the serial, it does show that there was a lot more to 'BBC Presentation By …' than a simple vanity credit. This and so many other series bought in during the sixties and seventies were to a large extent shaped into almost new programmes, often near unrecognisable from their original form. Then again, few could deny that the straightforward thrill of all those seemingly endless sword fights on staircases had a lot to do with the appeal of The Flashing Blade too.




This is adapted from an article featured in my book Well At Least It's Free. You can get Well At Least It's Free in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

There's So Much More In TV Times Part 13: Anybody Seen A Tea-Stained Cardigan?


If you've been following this series of cuttings from old issues of TV Times, then you're probably of the opinion that it's already got pretty odd at times. We've seen plenty that's best described as inadvisable, inappropriate, or just plain inexplicable. And that's just Tivvy. Every so often though, you'll stumble across something so baffling and beyond explanation that it causes you to double-take. No amount of reading and re-reading will bring you any nearer comprehension, and you do have to start wondering if poor old Brucie and his oversized comedy chef's hat had stumbled across some 'leftovers' in a scowling hippy's damp-sodden kitchen. If you can figure out what was actually going on with any of the below, you're doing better than us...


Before television actually started broadcasting overnight, there were persistent playground rumours of 'Secret Television', with scarcely credible reports of adverts running backwards at high speed and Jon Pertwee being menaced by Kronos The Kronivore in black and white suddenly leaping terrifyingly out of nowhere in the deepest darkest recesses of the small hours where even The Open University feared to tread. The obvious and logical explanation was that it was just the 'backroom boys' testing equipment with a bit of it escaping onto the transmitters whether by accident or design, but the idea that there was some hidden McDonald's Menu Hack-style unlisted schedule on the other side of the IBA Colour Bars that the likes of you were not allowed to see on pain of retribution from 'Girl' and 'Clown' was too tantalising a possibility to discount. So you covertly waited up. And never saw anything ever. Here's proof that it actually did happen, though what's really interesting is the editor's disturbingly over-robust 'Sincerely - Little Girl'-style response making it clear that you should all move on and that there was nothing more to see here. Which more or less rubber-stamps the idea that they were clandestinely putting out Sunday Night At The London Palladium - Too Hot For TV and 100% All-Nude Her Off Of Weavers Green Uncensored at two in the morning after all.


In case you thought you had simply, erm, hallucinated unexpected middle-of-the-night television, then here's some stark and sensible advice on the subject of illegal substances from those noted experts at TV Times. In summary, dangerous drug marijuana is smuggled into the country by a 'drug-ring' straight out of Paul Temple, is distributed by 'negroes', and partaken in by sneering snickering teenagers who would do well to jolly well listen to those influential hep cats at the British Medical Association. And it's all down to 'jazz', according to this article from the week of release of Rubber Soul. Anyway, kids - remember the important rules. One pill makes you larger. And one pill makes you small. And the ones that Brucie makes out of 'leftovers' don't do anything at all.


Meanwhile, if you're a teenager confused by this 'dating' lark, and are full of questions about how many hours beforehand you should brush your teeth and how many square feet away from the door it's appropriate to 'walk' her to and which blouses offer the sturdiest defence against 'wandering' hands, who would you look to for advice? Yes, that's right, sixtysomething naval racounteur and confirmed 'funny he never married' type Godfrey Winn. After visiting a 'jive session' and speaking to some seamen, Godfrey solicits the opinion of a handful of teenagers who, well, y'know, can take it or leave it really but it's nice to have the option to do a bit of 'necking' if you get bored during Bunny Lake Is Missing etc etc. Quite how many lovelorn teenagers took his advice to heart is sadly not recorded, though presumably a princess looking for a prince found it useful. A reference that about two and a half people will get. Moving on...


As the snow began to fall/or was it a pigeon on the aer-i-alllll? No, it's a handful of MPs having an 'hilarious' - i.e. 'not' - debate about whether homing pigeons might get confused by television aerials despite there being absolutely nothing they could possibly concievably do about either factor in the equation, a bit like that episode of Trumpton only boring and with no jokes. Still, better that than "what about disability benefits?" - "tut tut your tie is not done in Christensen knot on St. Biliwick's Day you scruffy ruffian", "For the many, but after I've finished enabling Hard Brexit and forcing my party to wave through the pissing bastarding Investigatory Powers Bill eh?", and "me party is making significant gains that we have not seened the likes of since me best selling album Brothers In Arms come out".


Never mind all those press reports about Mark-Paul Gosselaar signing up for the first passenger flight to Neptune or whatever it is, here's TV Times arranging an exchange visit to 'space' back in 1964! With the aid of Bachelors, two lucky winners who manage to correctly guess the contents of a sort of low rent equivalent of that 'golden disc' Carl Sagan sent into space with an episode of Captain Butler on it or something get to go to 'Mars' and 'Venus' - both of which, in true Doctor Who And The Invasion Of The Dinosaurs fashion, appear to look suspiciously like France. In return, two old-skool take-me-to-your-leader-mister-parking-meter Martians get to visit Blackpool, with a trip to the illuminations - that year featuring tableaus of The Voord, Ian And The Zodiacs and 633 Squadron - very much on the agenda. Chances are that they spent twenty minutes in a long queue crawling past occasional street lamps with two or three bulbs on them and then gave up and went back to Viltvodle VI.


You may well think that some obscure television programmes get covered on here, but even poor old Skiboy has nothing on The Hathaways, a sitcom about a family bringing up three chimps - played by Charlie, Candy and 'Enoch' - which has been so deservedly forgotten that until recently there was not a single mention of it on the entire Internet. Here's proof positive that it existed in all its revoltingly exploitative glory, though, with a profile of the three 'stars' who were apparently no strangers to ITV variety shows. Honestly, you might well scoff at Martin Clunes Meets The Sealions or whatever they put on in primetime instead of actual proper programmes now, but at least they're sodding nice to the animals. And to Martin Clunes.


One peculiar recurring feature in the letters pages in the mid-sixties was 'Pot Shot', wherein readers were invited to assemble kitchen utensils into a rough Stainless Steel And The Star Spies-esque approximation of a leading television celebrity. Here you can see one E. Teskey-King's take on Ken Dodd, who was no doubt 'tickled' by it. Hmm, wonder which other wholesome and well-loved small-screen stars also received the honour?


...oh.


This would never happen now, of course. Nobody cares enough about writers to ask them to advertise anything.


A: No. Though if it does, please send Atlanta round to see me.


TV Times reporter Victor Edwards drops in on the production office of short-lived Anglia soap opera Weavers Green, set in a small rural community and featuring a young Kate O'Mara as a student vet. Here we can clearly see the sort of thrilling, contemporary, Mary Whitehouse-enraging storylines they traded in. Though apparently that one where a knight appeared on the village green and started rotating very slowly was a belter.


Get the TV Comic Holiday Special for forty eight pages of sitting eating fish and chips on a sort of kerb adjacent to the beach fun, thrills and puzzles with Supercar, Fireball XL5, Popeye, The Telegoons, and some sort of resigned-looking melting bespectacled cat with a propeller hat on. Or alternatively chase a walking Salt'n'Shake bag with a 'showbiz' straw hat on into a sort of newspaper-hued void. Or, failing that, join us again next time, when we'll be rocketing forward to The Eighties. The decade of Thatcher! Citrus Spring! And the 'Wacbada'...



If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more slightly more serious writing about fifties and sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Here Is A Box (Set)


For a limited time, you can get four books full of stuff by me - that's Well At Least It's Free, Not On Your Telly, The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society and Tim Worthington's Bookshelf - as one huge cut-price eBook. That's nearly six hundred pages on Doctor Who, David Bowie and much more besides.

Amongst that 'much more besides', you can find the following articles that you won't find anywhere else:


Switch On The TV, We May Pick Him Up On Channel Two - a look at David Bowie's lost early television appearances

School's Out! - what would have been the accompanying booklet for the cancelled DVD release of Hardwicke House

The Best Of Times - a full history of the BBC's 'Sunday Classics' slot, masterminded by former Doctor Who production team Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts

Unwatched And Somewhat Slightly Erased - a bold attempt to find something to like in the Doctor Who story that nobody likes, The Space Pirates

Every Time The Slightest Little Thing Goes Wrong - a look at Hanna-Barbera's bizarre attempt at post-Nixon satire for adult viewers, Wait Til Your Father Gets Home

May We Come With You? - Chigley and the end of 'the sixties'


There are tons of other articles too, but you can find more details of them elsewhere on the blog. Anyway, Here Is A Box (Set) is just £3.99 and is available here as a full-colour eBook... but not for long!

E Arth Welcome... In Blue Jam


Since his last appearance on the station on Boxing Day 1994, there had been an open invitation of sorts for Chris Morris to do some more work for Radio 1.

The following two years had been taken up with work on Brass Eye, a six-part television series for Channel 4 that took his concepts of spoofing hoaxing news and current affairs to their logical conclusion, presenting a series of hard-hitting documentaries based around entirely fictitious subjects. Brass Eye was nothing if not provocative television, operating on a far more powerful level than practically any other comedy show ever transmitted, and an incident in which a hoax over the fabricated recreational drug ‘cake’ had spiralled out of control, and found itself the subject of a parliamentary discussion, caused enough concern within Channel 4 for station controller Michael Grade to postpone the series from its intended transmission while he verified whether or not it had transgressed broadcasting guidelines.


Brass Eye did indeed resurface, albeit in a substantially edited form, running from 29th January to 5th March 1997. Even in this slightly tamed incarnation the series was still strong stuff, but by this point the months of setbacks had taken their toll and Morris was thoroughly fed up with Brass Eye and keen to move on to something new. Rumours of a forthcoming new radio series had begun to circulate while Brass Eye was still airing, and over the summer of 1997 Morris recorded a pilot for Radio 1 under the working title Plankton Jam. It is perhaps telling that while the subsequent rash of inferior post-Brass Eye emulators were still little more than vague proposals, the man who inspired it all was making moves to distance himself completely from ‘news parody’.

Blue Jam, as the new Radio 1 series would eventually be renamed, did not even start out as a comedy show. Morris, who had always appreciated the woozy world of late-night radio where laid-back music tracks are linked by presenters talking in hushed tones that give a sense of the isolation of broadcasting from a largely empty building in the middle of the night, originally intended to create a more experimental take on this sort of show, a “3am lug lube” with an appropriate musical backdrop behind “first person stories that slowly went off the rails, from the point of view of the presenter”. While this would almost certainly have been diverting listening, it is interesting to ponder on whether or not they would actually have constituted ‘comedy’ as such; in effect, it would only have been a slightly exaggerated and distorted version of what could be found elsewhere on the radio dial at that time of night[1].

As work on the show progressed, sketch material began to find its way in through a somewhat roundabout route. According to Morris, the original concept of first person narratives evolved into “framing those narratives as ‘found sound’ as well, like bits of documentary actuality, and then dramatising bits of all of the scenarios”. This effectively grew out of a mocked-up ‘fly on the wall’ documentary in the pilot about a doctor who treated his patients with kisses and other displays of affection; this was considered by all who heard it to be the most effective item by far, occasioning a change of direction and a move towards outright sketch material with no DJ element. The doctor himself, caught up in increasingly bizarre scenarios but remaining unflappably by-the-book throughout, would go on to become the most heavily recurring character in the show.

Blue Jam was quite unlike anything that had been heard before in the name of radio comedy. The familiar presentational style, fabricated news stories and love of subverting pop music were all gone, replaced by a hazy montage of music over which fragments of monologue and conversation, alternately whimsical and disturbing, drifted in and out seemingly at random. The word ‘dreamlike’ has often been used to describe Blue Jam – and indeed an early pre-series trailer featured references to 'The 1FM Dreamline' – but not in the traditional sense. Instead, Blue Jam effectively evokes the disquieting, half-formed thoughts that pass through the semi-conscious mind in the early hours of the morning[2]. Although many have suggested that the nightmarish, otherworldly ambience of Blue Jam was influenced by the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, the reality of the situation is far more mundane and unpretentious. The original press release for the series included a list of the stylistic cues that had informed the show, which included Vivian Stanshall’s long-running Radio 1 tales of life at Rawlinson End, the ambient dance music act The KLF, and the effects of influenza, alongside the expected world of late-night radio; all indicative of a blurry and indistinct state, but one that is reached naturally rather than through any kind of chemical stimulation. Blue Jam was more effective in creating its own abstract ambience than any boring slab of drug-fuelled meandering could ever hope to be.

The first run of six hour-long instalments of Blue Jam went out on Radio 1 at midnight on Friday mornings, during November and December 1997. The most immediately striking feature, not to mention the most important in terms of setting the required tone, was the music. On a simplistic level, the shows could be divided down into the established ‘music show’ format, interspersing speech material with tracks played in full. However, the speech material was surrounded by looped sections of music tracks, which flowed in and out of the longer selections in one long pulsating soundtrack that ebbed and flowed with the mood of the material; so neat and seamless that it was difficult to determine where the music and comedy ended and started. This soundtrack was made up of excerpts from a selection of music tracks that were markedly diverse yet also strangely aligned, ranging from ambient dance music to spectral ballads, 1960s European pop numbers, and even a scratchy old blues record that claimed to be “dreamin’ ‘bout a reefer five feet long”. The KLF, Brigitte Bardot, Bjork, David Byrne, The Chemical Brothers, Stereolab, The Cardigans, Sly And The Family Stone, The Beach Boys, Beck and even the middle-of-the-road duo The Alessi Brothers were just a handful of the artists that found themselves absorbed into the first series of Blue Jam.

Each edition of Blue Jam opened and closed with a warped approximation of ‘beat’ poetry, conjuring up surreal juxtapositions and disturbing imagery and delivered in an obscure patois, conveying a feeling of distorted reality with a bleakly comic twist. Each edition also contained a lengthy monologue delivered by Morris, and written jointly with Robert Katz. These had their roots in ‘Temporary Open Space’, Katz’s contributions to Morris’ Greater London Radio shows (indeed, some of the monologues were adapted from earlier ‘Temporary Open Space’ pieces); these monologues probably give the clearest indication of what Morris had originally intended for Blue Jam. In the eventual transmitted shows they were surrounded by shorter sketches, written variously by Morris, Peter Baynham, David Quantick, Jane Bussmann, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, and performed by a regular cast that included David Cann, Amelia Bulmore, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, and on occasion Sally Phillips, Lewis MacLeod, Melanie Hudson and Phil Cornwell.

The sketch structure was to say the least unconventional, lacking deliberate start and end points (it was not unusual for a sketch to ‘end’ simply by fading into the distance on an echoed word), and divided between dialogue, monologue and a quasi-documentary approach. Twistedly humorous concepts introduced to listeners over the course of Blue Jam included an American couple who enter their baby in vicious fighting contests, a landlord who persuades his tenants to leave by slicing imperceptible slivers of skin from their feet as they sleep, a four year old girl with a secret double life as a ruthless gangland killer, a disease nicknamed “The Gush” that causes porn stars to literally ejaculate themselves to death, and an eyewitness account of a man who, lacking an available high window to throw himself out of, simply opted to commit suicide by repeatedly jumping from a first floor window.

While certainly highly amusing, such sketches have given rise to a belief that Blue Jam concerned itself solely with bleak humour based around shock tactic themes. This could not be further from the truth; the majority of sketches featured in the series are merely surreal, disorientating whimsy that are as light as the darker material is disturbing. Memorable examples included an angry man in search of the “owner” of the birds that annoyed him with their dawn chorus, an agency that hires out thick people to annoy customer service staff, a plot to joyride Professor Stephen Hawking around a racetrack, and David Bowie’s little-known side career as a relationship guidance counsellor. Meanwhile, Morris’ old standby of cutting and pasting of recorded speech resurfaced in a mangling of Radio 1’s Newsbeat (“police in Northumberland have sex with schoolgirls, and it’s all legal”), while an unsavoury backwards message was discovered in Elton John’s tribute to Diana, Princess Of Wales, Candle In The Wind ‘97.

The latter item, along with an interview with royal biographer Andrew Morton – quizzed on his attitude to non-existent internet-based games based on the crash, and how he would feel if a signed copy of his book was presented to Princes William and Harry by a Diana lookalike – formed part of an extraordinary run of material spread throughout the first run of Blue Jam, inspired by the outpourings of emotion that had followed Diana’s death. At no point was this material ever in any way cruel or insensitive about the situation itself, nor indeed about the people who felt affected by the tragedy; it simply reflected the feelings of someone who, like many others, had grown tired of the disproportionate public displays of grief, and the attendant media hysteria and hypocrisy, and their apparent refusal to abate even some months later. Blue Jam suffered from very little interference or censorship throughout its existence, but an item that was originally planned for the last show of the first series pushed Radio 1’s tolerance too far.

Around fifteen minutes into the original edit of show six, the following re-edit of the Archbishop Of Canterbury’s sermon from Diana’s memorial service appeared:

“We give thanks to God for those maimed through the evil of Mother Theresa, whose death we treasure. We pray for those most closely affected by her death, among them Trevor the sheep. Lord, we thank you for the precious gift of the sick, the maimed, and all whose lives are damaged, and for the strength we draw from all who are weak, poor and powerless, in this country and throughout the world. Lord, we commend to you Elizabeth, our Queen, whose death may serve the common good. We give thanks above all for her readiness to identify with God almighty, and for the way she gave sauce to so many people. Her mother, her brother, Dodi Fayed, and many, many, many more. We pray for the Royal Family as they discharge their members in Trevor Rhys Jones. Give them AIDS. Lord of landmines, hear our prayer. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three… but the greatest of these is tortoise”

Morris was aware that this was likely to be problematic, and to that end recorded a deliberately obscene ‘Doctor’ sketch containing libel, blasphemy and an intentionally unsavoury remark about Diana, which was never seriously intended for broadcast (and not particularly funny either) and could be excised as a bargaining counter to argue for the Archbishop edit to remain uncut. Radio 1 seemed happy with this; the contentious sketch was duly removed from show four (which ran correspondingly short as result, with an extra music track added after the outro to make up the time[3]), and the full edit was cleared for broadcast as part of show six. However, when the sequence actually went to air, Radio 1’s duty manager insisted that the episode should be faded out and replaced for the rest of its duration with a repeat of show one. It is reputed that the engineer charged with the task of swapping the broadcast was a fan of the show and deliberately took his time, resulting in the offending item going out pretty much in its entirety, with only a single line of inoffensive material left unbroadcast. Quite why this came about is uncertain. Some of those who worked on the show claim that the sketch was mistaken for the excised ‘Doctor’ sketch by the inattentive duty manager, and faded out for that reason, while Radio 1 claimed at the time that they had changed their minds over the suitability of the Archbishop edit and had requested an alternate edit that never arrived[4].

Whatever the circumstances, Radio 1 subsequently became very unhappy about the item. When Morris tried to get the full version of show six broadcast, still with 45 minutes of unheard material, as part of a repeat run early in 1998, Radio 1 refused and in the absence of an alternate edit put out show one – its fourth airing in three months – in its place. Eventually, when it became clear that they were not prepared to give way, Morris relented and provided an edited version, which went out as the first of a new six-show run between March and May 1998 .

By now, Blue Jam was gaining both critical approval – it won the Sony Gold award for Best Radio Comedy for two consecutive years – and a small, but intensely loyal, audience. A third set of six shows running between January and February 1999 showed some signs of fatigue, particularly in the choices of music, but the material was generally of the same exceptionally high quality, and there could be little doubt that Blue Jam was an experiment that had succeeded beyond expectations.


[1] In fact, it may well have ended up somewhat reminiscent of Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 show Out On Blue Six, which achieved a similar detached ambience through judicious manipulation of the traditional music radio format with laid-back music and surreal interjections. Morris professes to have enjoyed Out On Blue Six greatly.
[2] Morris reinforced this point to me when he claimed that “the material generally came from a sense of wanting to make things hypnotic and unignorable”.
[3] This was Best Bit by Beth Orton; despite assumptions to the contrary, this actually appears on the broadcast master of the episode.
[4] More confusingly still, Radio 1 denied all knowledge of the incident to several listeners who called in during the broadcast to ask what was going on. Complicating matters still further, Radio 1’s then-Controller Matthew Bannister claimed in BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Morris retrospective Raw Meat Radio in 2014 that the entire incident had never happened and that all supposed off-air recordings were a hoax perpetrated by a fan. All I can say is that, hand on heart, my off-air recording is genuine. Numerous listeners will attest that this actually happened and it was reported on by a couple of newspapers at the time. Matthew Bannister politely declined to be interviewed for Fun At One, feeling not unreasonably that he had expressed his point of view definitively on several previous occasions.
[5] The item was first heard in full as part of a Blue Jam ‘Live’ event at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1998. A video version, prepared for the TV transfer jam but not actually used in the series, was later made available at www.bishopslips.com – this effectively comprised the 22nd track of the Blue Jam compilation CD released by Warp in 2000. It was also included on the limited edition Blue Jam Extras CD.



This is an abridged excerpt from Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

BWAMmM it’s ZOKKO!


It Started With Swap Shop was the name of a light-hearted retrospective broadcast by BBC2 in 2006, ostensibly celebrating thirty years of Saturday morning television but concentrating on one particular key example of the genre; Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop. Like so many other light-hearted histories of the timeslot, this made the mistake of implicitly crediting Edmonds and company with the invention of the show format and pretty much the first ever use of the timeslot full stop. There were in fact a handful of now pretty much forgotten antecedents of Swap Shop, although the reasons for their being left out of such an overview are quite understandable. Saturday Scene, dating from 1973 and effectively the first use of the now-familiar Saturday morning format, was an ITV show, while the BBC’s own previous attempts at finding something suitable for this awkward timeslot were, to be blunt, just too downright weird to revisit.

Prior to 1968, neither the BBC nor ITV had really paid much attention to Saturday mornings. Although attendances were already dwindling, there still remained a strong and long-established tradition of Saturday morning cinema clubs, which provided young audiences with several hours’ worth of cartoons, serials and onstage games and entertainment. With broadcast technology still in its infancy, there seemed little point in starting up transmission for the benefit of an audience that would mostly be otherwise engaged. Usual practice – as far as the BBC was concerned – was simply to run an old film serial or an imported cartoon series after their transmission tests early in the morning, then possibly another before Grandstand started at midday, and leave screens blank for the remainder of the morning. Early in 1968, as part of a general overhaul of their output instigated by incoming departmental head Monica Sims, the BBC Children’s Department began to look into the idea of introducing structured programming to Saturday mornings.


Between 30th March and 22nd June 1968, an experimental – in both senses – magazine show called Whoosh! was added to the Saturday morning schedules. Devised by former Play School production team Cynthia Felgate and Peter Ridsdale-Scott, Whoosh! featured Play School presenter Rick Jones, ballet dancer turned comedienne Dawn Macdonald - who got the job after sending Felgate a photo of herself pulling a ridiculous face - and former child actor Jonathan Collins in what Radio Times described as ‘a place where anything can happen’ – in other words a surreal, psychedelically-decorated studio set full of eccentric prop machinery, where they tried to solve riddles and puzzles with the occasional filmed insert cued in to show them venturing ‘outdoors’. While this was some way away from the later style of Saturday morning shows, it nonetheless anticipated their energy and interplay, and predilection for offbeat storyline-driven formats.

While Whoosh! was certainly successful, and viewers enjoyed the heavy element of write-in interactivity, Sims felt that a more loose and fast-moving format akin to a televised comic was more appropriate for Saturday mornings, and was inclined to dispense with human presenters altogether. Eventually an experimental thirteen-week slot was decided on, and Children’s Department veteran Molly Cox, who had partly devised Jackanory and acted as its first director, was asked to come up with a suitable format in collaboration with newcomer Paul Ciani. Cox and Ciani shared Sims’ feelings about the kind of material appropriate for the timeslot; Saturday cinema had been a rowdy, colourful affair with plenty of action and comedy, and as such they took advantage of the perceived lack of need for a human presenter as an opportunity to pack as much action, comedy and pop music as possible into the available timeframe. The result of this meeting of minds was Zokko!, an 'electronic comic' that would zip between short features at high speed, and sought to replicate the effect of a reader flicking through an actual comic in search of their favourite strips and features. The show would contain a combination of in-house animation, stock footage, pop music, and a small amount of specially shot light entertainment material, all cut together using ‘pop art’ editing effects and graphical design that might more normally have been found on shows like Top Of The Pops or Spike Milligan’s Q5. The overall effect of this was, needless to say, disorientating and deeply strange. Introduced by a lengthy Radio Times piece urging viewers to 'Place a regular order with your television set NOW!', accompanied by an eye-catching Roy Lichtenstein-like pop-art illustration proclaiming 'BWAMmM it’s ZOKKO!', Zokko! began its first thirteen-week run on 2nd November 1968.

‘Perplexing’ is not too strong a word to use about Zokko!, and it virtually defies description even today. In place of the rejected human presenter, the production team opted instead for a talking pinball machine. Built by BBC Visual Effects designer Mike Ellis (father of later Blue Peter presenter Janet), this was a fully functioning prop, with its electronic voice provided by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This would link the entire programme by autoplaying games, with each score corresponding to a different item, which would appear ‘through’ the holes in the pinball table as the robotic voice intoned the appropriate announcement (“Zokko … Score 15 … Serial”). Some of these items were made up of handy filler material that happened to be available, such as stock footage of racing car speed tests and bulk-bought Disney extracts, but unusually for a programme of this nature the vast majority were specially made in-house. As well as basic animations telling corny jokes (many of them penned by moonlighting novelist Ted Lewis) and short silent films of surreal slapstick gags, each edition of Zokko! included a running serial, pop records, and a live variety act.


Spanning the entire run, the sci-fi adventure yarn Skayn – concerning the theft of a gravity-wave-hologram capable of causing the Earth and the Moon to collide – was told through huge blow-ups of comic strip-style panels drawn by Leslie Caswell, with a pre-recorded dialogue track provided by prolific character actors Gordon Clyde, Sheelagh McGrath and Anthony Jackson. Unconventionally presented and drenched in bleeping Radiophonics, the serial segments came across as strangely tranquil and hypnotic, contrasting effectively with the loud and frenetic style of the rest of the programme. Leaning strongly towards jazzy ‘beat’ outfits like The Alan Price Set, Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames and The New Vaudeville Band, the pop tracks were accompanied by extremely well directed shorts reflecting the lyrical themes of the chosen numbers, some of which were also used in editions of Top Of The Pops.

Meanwhile, the variety acts simply turned up and did their stage performance within the very cramped confines of the Zokko! studio, doubtless causing severe logistical problems for the numerous jugglers. Even the basic list of artistes who appeared on the show makes for fascinating reading, featuring such evocative and long-forgotten names as The Tumblairs, The Skating Meteors, and The Breathtaking Eddy Limbo and ‘Pat’. A handful of more established acts would also show up including conjuring legend Ali Bongo; veteran brother and sister acrobatic duo Johnny and Suma Lamonte; visiting American Phil Enos and his Amazing Comedy Car; and popular illusionist and judo expert Geoff Ray, who though now retired still proudly includes Zokko! on his CV. Most notorious however were Arthur Scott and his Performing Seals, who left the tiny studio reeking so strongly of fish that recording was disrupted for days afterwards.

If this all sounds like a rather mindbending assembly of entertainment, its disorientating nature was amplified to nightmarish and jaw-dropping proportions by the adoption of a deeply psychedelic ‘Swinging London’ visual style, complete with flashing designs that looked garish even in black and white, captions written in lettering that would not have appeared out of place in an advert for a Carnaby Street boutique, and crash zooms on a modishly redesigned poster of Lord Kitchener. Even by the standards of the day this was a visually arresting approach, but the target audience seem to have taken it in their stride and Zokko! proved highly popular, with so many viewers writing in about the programme that the production team eventually had to start sending out postcards ‘from’ the talking pinball machine. Indeed, Zokko! was promptly repeated in full in the regular Wednesday afternoon children’s’ schedules from 6th August 1969, and Brian Fahey’s catchy theme music was released as a single, with the Band Parade music that also featured in the show on the b-side.


While the BBC had reverted to their regular Saturday morning pattern of a lone edition of Deputy Dawg once the first run had finished, a second series of Zokko! had been planned from very early on, and indeed would follow virtually straight on from the repeat run. With the Radio Times proudly proclaiming 'All For Fun! Fun For All! Tar-rah!', Zokko! returned for another thirteen week residency on Saturday mornings, starting from 6th December 1969. Although the new series retained the same production team, some significant changes were made; the sometimes excessively psychedelic design elements were toned down slightly in favour of a stark ‘two tone’ approach, and the pinball machine device was dropped altogether. The reasons for this decision have never been disclosed, although it is rumoured the expensive prop was damaged in storage and the cost of repairs would have been beyond the means of the meagre budget allocated for the second run. Despite this, Radio Times’ introduction to the new series promised the return of 'the old favourites and some new ones', alongside 'a brand new music machine, the like of which has never been seen before'. Said device was essentially a scaled-down Top Of The Pops set with a revolving stage, festooned with flashing lights and surrounded by gigantic bubbling test tubes, and resembling an antique pipe organ rebuilt to the specifications of the set designer of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Filmed with camera angles better suited to a raucous pop music show - and more than likely the inspiration for the remarkably similar ‘Jackie Charlton and the Tonettes’ sketch in the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, recorded shortly after the second series of Zokko! had aired - the indefinable contraption would pump out excerpts from stage musicals and instrumental pop hits while punningly appropriate inanimate objects revolved in the centre.

While this occupied the linking role formerly occupied by the pinball machine, the actual contents of the show remained much the same and just as mind-frazzling as ever. The animations, pop films, awful jokes, Disney extracts, stock footage, jarring bursts of exclamation marks and electronically treated voices were all back on board. Skayn returned for a new eight-part adventure, this time sent to investigate saboteurs at large on a moon colony, and the final five shows of the run were given over to the big top crime thriller Susan Starr Of The Circus, with voices provided by Jennifer Hill, Alan Devereux and Stanley Page,. The variety acts, meanwhile, remained as deliriously esoteric as before, top acts this time including The Skating Fontaines ('Thrills at Speed'), Ronny Cool ('Fantasy in Flames'), The Tricky Terriers ('Dog-gone Fun!'), Paul Fox ('The Act That’s Full of Bounce') who amusingly shared his name with the then-controller of BBC1, and Annalou and Maria, who promised 'A Feather and Fur Fantasy' that was doubtless far more innocent than it sounds.

Zokko! was last sighted on television screens on 28th February 1970, but its brief burst of ragged psychedelic lunacy had certainly left an impression on viewers, and would prove to have a more enduring legacy. Clearly undeterred by the sheer oddness of the results, the BBC would continue to allow Ciani to carry out equally unhinged experiments at finding a suitable format for Saturday morning television. Ed And Zed, which enjoyed a brief run later in 1970, paired Radio 1 DJ Ed Stewart with a robot assistant named Zed (voiced by Anthony Jackson) for a similar menu of low-key serials and Disney excerpts, although they were allowed to have proper bands in the studio this time. That said, given said musical acts included former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band ‘mad scientist’ Roger Ruskin-Spear and his performing robots, this may not have been as much of a concession to sensibility as it might appear. This was followed in 1973 by Outa Space!, a show ‘presented’ by a pair of disembodied alien hands at the controls of a spaceship, in which the ever-present Disney footage rubbed shoulders with a familiar diet of pop-soundtracked films, semi-educational inserts on dinosaurs, and the gripping storyboard serial Vidar And The Ice Monster.


Although it may seem something of a massive jump from these insane early efforts to the more familiar format that has pretty much defined Saturday morning television from the arrival of Saturday Scene and Multicoloured Swap Shop onwards, the truth of the matter is Zokko! and company are essentially a rough pencil sketch of the final format. This is particularly pertinent when Zokko! is compared directly to early editions of Swap Shop; the obvious difference of an avuncular unscripted presenter and live interaction with viewers aside, they have much in common, with the musical inserts simply replaced by proper bands and the Hanna Barbera and Gordon Murray animations standing in for bulk-bought Disney. Even the whimsy and corny jokes are essentially similar; all that Swap Shop really did was to give them more structure and bring in John Craven as a comedy straightman. Although Molly Cox would soon return to the relative normality of factual programming, her subsequent credits including Take Hart, Roy Castle Beats Time and Why Don’t You?, Paul Ciani would later put the lunacy he had learned on Zokko! and its follow-ons to good use. Most prominently he would serve as the longtime director and producer of Rentaghost (again featuring Anthony Jackson), The Basil Brush Show and Crackerjack!, but also helmed a number of long-forgotten yet fondly-remembered offbeat children’s comedy shows such as Hope And Keen’s Crazy House, Bonny! and Great Big Groovy Horse, as well working on many top-rated light entertainment series including The Kenny Everett Television Show, The Paul Daniels Magic Show and Top Of The Pops, where he somehow resisted the temptation to fill the stage with bubbling test tubes.

Sadly, but not entirely unpredictably, very little of Zokko! now survives in the archives. The original master tape of the final second series edition escaped wiping by pure chance, and more recently a telerecording of a compilation edition of highlights from that run was recovered from a private collector. On the plus side this does mean that both Skayn and Susan Starr have had their adventures - or at least a fragment thereof - preserved for posterity, but unfortunately, bar a couple of photographs, nothing remains of the talking pinball machine that seems to have burnt itself indelibly onto so many memories. It’s a fair bet that even the slightest thought of It Started With Zokko! would be enough to give documentary and clip show producers weeks of psychedelically-flashing radiophonically-doused nightmares, but in all fairness Zokko! really was where it all began. Well, unless you count Whoosh!.




This is adapted from Noise! Adventure! Glitter!, an article featured in my book Well At Least It's Free. You can get Well At Least It's Free in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.