The golden age of children’s TV

From The Muppet Show to Sesame Street, HELEN MGURK remembers the brilliant kids’ television shows from the 1970s and 80s and the ones best forgotten, like freaky Hartley Hare

Friday, 25th June 2021, 4:06 pm
Boom Boom! - the incorrigible Basil Brush.
Boom Boom! - the incorrigible Basil Brush.

There was a time when children’s TV was truly great, with wonderful characters like Basil Brush, the mischievous upper-class fox, who wore a tweedy cape and cravat, gobbled Jelly Babies and was famous for his ‘Boom Boom’ catchphrase and infectious laugh, repeatedly banging his head against the desk. One could imagine Basil reclining on a chez longue, enjoying a cheroot and getting merrily steamboats on a fine Chateau Lafite Rothschild, once the cameras had stopped rolling.

Dougal, the egotistical, churlish dog, who loosely resembled an enlarged Weetabix and was hooked on sugar lumps, starred in The Magic Roundabout alongside Ermintrude, an old cow, permanently munching on a flower, Zebedee, who was half tomato, half spring and sported a jaunty moustache, and Florence, the little girl, with the outsized head. At one time hungover students would debate whether each character represented a different drug. Others theorised that the show was a complex satire of French politics and Dougal was plainly De Gaulle. Who knows.

There was Bagpuss, the ‘most magical saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world’. The show featured a group of rodent charlatans who squeaked and sang about fixing things, ‘we’ll fix it, we’ll fix it’, but generally did a botched cowboy job on it, incurring the lethargic disapproval of the portly puss.

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Crackerjack, was, well, another cracker. The show was introduced by Stu Francis, who was so excited he could ‘crush a grape’. He could also jump off a doll’s house and if really pushed, would wrestle an Action Man. The show also featured The Krankies - the world’s scariest husband and wife team.

“Up above the streets and houses...”, yes, Rainbow. The theme lured us into a false sense of security where we imagined a normal house, with normal residents, not an effeminate, long-lashed pink hippopotamus called George, an insipid man-sized teddy bear called Bungle, Zippy, a weird and annoying puppet of ambiguous species and their long-suffering guardian Geoffrey. It was great though.

And Top Cat, the smooth-talking New York alley cat, whose close friends got to call him TC. A seasoned hustler, he was, without doubt, “the most tip top..Top Cat.”