Friday, 20 June 2008

Seventies Saturday Morning Telly - UK style!

One of my jobs as a moderator at the Captain Comics community ( is to paste up articles by a couple of the contributing authors, in particular Commander Benson's Deck Log. He is currently writing about the way Saturday Morning television developed in the US during the 60's, and reading his stuff brought to mind memories of the equivalent in the UK when I was growing up in the early 70's.

Those were the days before TISWAS, when there were only three channels, and only one of them really did anything for children before lunchtime on a Saturday. That was the British Broadcasting Company, and (unless my memory is really starting to fade) a typical Saturday morning until the mid-70's would consist of the following.

A program designed to encourage you to learn a sport

The BBC, after all, was designed to be educational, so the morning would always start with something like Play Tennis! or Swim or Play Chess! These were designed to encourage you to start doing something other than watching the television at 7.30 in the morning, but to someone like me they were idiosyncratic even then on two points. Firstly, how was a working class kid like me expected to find a tennis court willing to let me on it, much less try to play? Secondly, even then I knew the way to learn was to practice yourself, not to watch someone else do it. Don't even get me started on the chess program....

A cartoon

These was the days before Scooby Doo, and The Flintstones was shown in the evening in the UK, so we're into Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound. One exception to this was my first exposure to Japanese Anime - Marine Boy! Apart from this and the very rare occasions something like Astro Boy or Speed Racer came on, it would be years before Battle of the Planets would mislead the western world into a false impression of Japanese animation.

A fun and musical show

Of these, the king at the time had to be The Banana Splits. Note the lack of the word hour in that title - this was the BBC, and such nasty things as commercials could not be shown. No, it was simply the four "boys" having fun, showing cartoons, and singing surprisingly passable songs. I loved that show - I still have it as a guilty pleasure - and it was a nice way to pass the time whilst eating your corn flakes.

When that wasn't on, the choice de jour would almost certainly be Here Come The Double Deckers!, a series about a gang who met in a London Double Decker bus - hence the name. Originality was not the most common thing in those days for show ideas. What was really unusual, however, was the future (and past) careers of some of the cast. the gang leader was played by Peter Firth - later to star in Equus and more recently Spooks/MI5. The drummer was Brinsley Forde, who went on to be part of the band Aswad. Melvin Hayes, who played the adult friend, was in the old Cliff Richard movies, and later starred in It Ain't Half Hot Mum! An eclectic bunch, I'm sure you'll agree.

A Serial made on the Continent

Ah, shows like Robinson Crusoe and The Flashing Blade! Dubbing that made Hong Kong Chop Suey movies look like works of art! History the likes of which you'd never seen before! Stories with no obvious ending! I loved them all - and don't get me started on The Singing Ringing Tree.....
If it wasn't this, it was a forties Republican serial - but that's a story for another time...

The Children's Film

If you weren't watching television or out kicking a piece of leather around a field on a Saturday morning, the chances are you weer down at the local cinema watching the Saturday Kid's Show - and the films made by the Children's Film Foundation would often take you up to the sports programs as well on the BBC. Good Clean fun for all the family, as they used to say.

I loved all of this as a kid - but did that mean I was deprived of the sort of shows our American cousins were seeing at this time? Oh no - I also got to see the likes of Atom Ant, Space Ghost and The Teen Titans - but that was thanks to a unique person who was our equivalent to Soupy Sales in the US. More of him on another day...

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