Normally, I tend to review feature films. Not to say that I’m rejecting TV shows. But with that said, I’ve decided for a change to review some media projects made for television. Film fans, if you’re reading this, I won’t give up reviewing films, so don’t you worry.
Right anyway, TV shows. I would list what I regard as the twenty-five best programmes of all time. The problem is, there is like a ba-jillion TV programmes around the world. So to narrow things down, I shall separate them into categories. This category is based on television programmes, produced in the United Kingdom and aimed for children. It annoys me to think what’s happening to children’s television nowadays, why it’s full of nothing but shows with stupid titles, yucky animation, unnecessary fart jokes and episodes with simplistic and/or predictable story-lines. This was nothing like the shows I and certain people my age or older grew up with.
I have researched what counts as a children’s programme via websites such as IMDB and Wikipedia. I have mainly listed the ones I grew up with and enjoyed the most and I consider to be awesome examples.
And ‘ere they are;
25. Trans World Sport
It was a Channel 4 broadcast sports-based programme that was usually shown during early Sunday mornings. It goes back to the time when myself and my brother used to get up so ridiculously early to watch certain things on Channel 4. Being football (that’s what we call soccer in England) fans, Trans World Sport was among the programmes we regularly watched. It was filmed in a similar format to Match Of The Day. If you are/was a football fan back in the 90s and also a kid, you may recognise it. But ironically, I used to think it was called ‘Gavid Games’. I once heard a woman introducing the programme during the Channel 4 ident before it started, and saw the title before the break in-between the two halves of the episode occurred. Either that or David James, then goalkeeper of Liverpool, made an appearance. It confused my brother and my mates each time I spoke about and I couldn’t find any content on Wikipedia or IMDB. But my brother told me it was called Trans World Sport, so now I know.
24. Danger Mouse
I always used to think Danger Mouse was an American cartoon. The reason was because the format reminded me of some of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s material i.e. The Jetsons and Secret Squirrel. Even the backgrounds are so similar. I guess I can’t be right all the time, but that’s what I love(d) about Danger Mouse. After all, the reason why Danger Mouse counts as British is because David Jason does the voice of the mouse, innit? And he does a great job. I’ve always loved programmes with plenty of action and Danger Mouse contains the perfect amount.
23. Live & Kicking
Live & Kicking is a young people’s magazine based programme. It was a great way to introduce kids to chat shows and to catch up with current events. Over its broadcast, Live & Kicking contained a wide range of British stars who gave their speeches and answered any question the audience had. Among them were Todd Carty and Michelle Collins, the actors of Mark Fowler and Cindy Beale in EastEnders, and one of the questions I remember was something to do with introducing more pets to the soap opera. Personally, I prefer Live & Kicking to Blue Peter.
22. Out Of Sight
(sorry, no image available)
Out Of Sight is about a boy who has the ability to turn invisible. I always wonder what other TV genre I’d describe this programme apart from the obvious; fantasy, whether it’s also a thriller or a comedy… Out Of Sight had some pretty awesome episodes; one about an evil Thunderbirds-type dummy who taunts his creator; I mean, gee, listen to that sinister voice, the way his lips move, and his laugh! That was one of the creepiest things I ever saw as a kid. Another episode which I have total memory of, which I think is called Four Weddings & A Bashing; about a double wedding which turns into a huge fight. My god, that made me laugh!
Me and my brother used to call it ‘the programme about a boy who changes into a dog’. This was quite a unique programme about, well I already said what it was about, except that the boy keeps it a secret from everybody, except his best mate. I loved the music, I loved how the dog’s actions were close to resembling the boy’s. Of course, the characters changed series by series, because the original actors was getting too old for the parts, which is understandable. Still, Leslie Grantham’s character remained for a long while. Yes, that was the dog hater. I guess the role of Dirty Den Watts helped his performance, lol.
20. Fireball XL5
I totally admire Gerry Anderson’s works and Fireball XL5 is certainly one of ‘em! This was Gerry’s last programme to be broadcast in black & white and featured the only voice act from Gerry himself, as Robert The Robot. Fireball XL5 is a bit like the later works, Captain Scarlet and Stingray; the crew are at war with aliens, but it’s mainly Stingray in space. One of the great things about Fireball XL5 is how cultural it is; most of the astro-staff are American, but one of them is French. This shows how Gerry has contributed to worldwide society. If he could make British media aspects that signal a connection with other countries, surely other British producers can do the same. A programme does not have to be set in Britain to be British. What’s also great about Fireball is the music. God I could sing that closing song all ev’nin’. Speaking of Gerry Anderson…
Here is another one of Gerry Anderson’s projects. After three adult oriented live-action series’ and an underrated live-action feature, Gerry teamed up with Muppet-god Jim Henson and returned to puppetry with Terrahawks. The style’s quite different to Gerry’s previous works; it uses glove puppets for the characters and different sets. The cars are cool, the robots are cool and even the music is very Gary Numan. The simplistic dialogue also made me laugh.
I’ve watched many news programmes in my life; BBC News, ITV News, Channel 4 News,… Newsround is like any other news programme, except that it is often broadcast on CBBC. Good job, because all channels targeted for children ought to broadcast a bit of news. It’s a great opportunity to draw attention from children and to provide them an opportunity to catch up on current events and to understand business, politics, economics and other regular elements covered in news broadcasts. It’s a good chance to learn about all this stuff before maturity and gives viewers a chance to start conversations (“did you hear about this…” etc).
I dunno whether to describe the Chuckle brothers as the British equivalent to the Blues Brothers (obviously they ain’t musicians) or Laurel and Hardy. Well, some American comedy duo anyway. Either way, Paul and Barry Chuckle are a unique comedy duo. They are, in fact, brothers in reality. This is another programme that relates back to me and my brother’s childhood and that we regularly watched, not on Channel 4, but on one of the BBC channels. We literally couldn’t quit chuckling towards the constant antics we saw. By the way, who’s seen their rap music video on YouTube? Pretty cool, huh?
16. Fun House
Fun House was one of these shows I always wanted to participate in as a contestant (another being Gladiators). It was a marvellous treat for viewers to experience the various activities that took place in the fun exhibition, including car races and that finale which reminded me of the Eliminator in Gladiators. I enjoyed seeing the contestants dodging obstacles and, let’s be honest, getting dirty, lol.
Stuff Doctor Who, Supercar was Gerry Anderson’s introduction to sci-fi. It was about a vehicle that travels anywhere and I mean anywhere; road, air, space, underwater. It’s used for anything! It’s not so clichéd. Why isn’t Supercar considered iconic? Supercar is so underrated.
14. Byker Grove
A teen drama for children; how interesting. Well, after all, Byker Grove was broadcast on CBBC. However, I am proud to have seen Byker Grove when I was a kid. Like Grange Hill, the drama featured some pretty engaging storylines; including the time when that girl got electrocuted on the telly. Plus, it’s one of the first programmes to cover homosexuality. Who says you can’t include a gay character on a programme for kids? I also reckon that this is the best show Ant & Dec have ever appeared in.
13. Sooty & Co
Many viewers remember the programme as The Sooty Show or Sooty & Sweep. But it was called Sooty & Co when I knew it. I suppose it’s because I did grow up in the 90s. Co includes Sweep, Sue, the two that every Sooty fan remembers, plus Scampi, Sooty’s younger cousin who presumably debuted to the prog back then, and Matthew, the son of the original presenter. Sooty & Co was a lot of fun to watch. It’s amazing how I can still remember how the theme tune goes and all the lyrics. I especially loved the various scenes which saw Sooty literally driving a van by himself! I also loved the various snags between Sweep and Matthew.
12. Joe 90
Have you ever thought that companies would be less ageist and allow kids to take extreme jobs, such as joining the police, driving military vehicles, security, etc? Well I didn’t, until I saw this ‘ard-‘itting yarn. Joe McLaine is your regular James Bond Jr. He works as a spy for an intelligence organisation. Look at the dangerous stuff he does; flying a piece of aircraft, holding a gun, if you’re a kid watching Joe 90, you’d be like “Wow! I wish I was there right now”. Good going Gerry. Keep it up! At least that’s what I’d be saying if he was still around (sniffs).
11. Creature Comforts
Creature Comforts was one single short film to start off with, but then, 14 years later, a TV series was born! At the time, I was 13 and I went nuts about Creature Comforts. On its first broadcast, there were two episodes; one about circus activities, the other on medical needs. Yup, each episode focuses on a particular topic and the animals, among them Captain Cuddlepuss and Trixie (my favourites), discuss their feelings and opinions on it. Some of the dialogue provides educational purposes (“try and eat healthily”, “snakes can be…”, etc), but being a comedy, most of it is for humorous purposes. This is basically an observational mockumentary, interviewing animals. Imagine that!
10. Look & Read
When I was at elementary school, we occasionally had lessons which involved watching a programme which related to the Look & Read franchise. The franchise was aimed to teach children how to read, spell, take messages and to live through life. These programmes are very cleverly scripted and involved the protagonist(s) attempting to solve mysteries to some crime or lost objects, etc. A bit like watching New Tricks or The Avengers or even Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, except that the protagonist uses words or written messages or something like that to go further with the mystery. You could say the target audience was those with learning difficulties. Throughout the series, there was a fantastic soundtrack and unforgettable characters and very realistic dialogue. The programmes I saw include Sky Hunter, Dark Towers, Fairground, Geordie Racer (which I personally regard as the best one), Through The Dragon’s Eye, Spy Watch (Lesley Joseph, Dorien from Birds Of A Feather, was in this one and I’ve met her), Captain Crimson and The Legend Of The Lost Keys. Good times.
I know what you’re thinking, but I seriously believe Gerry Anderson always has been a genius! Stingray is one of those that summarises so. It’s like Star Trek, except that it takes place under the sea. Get it? Under the sea? In fact, it’s like Star Trek meets 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Speaking of Under The Sea, this show is what The Little Mermaid reminds me of (I know I keep saying that!). U.F.O was said to be more mature and cover issues such as adultery. However, one of the recurring themes in Stingray is a love triangle; Troy Tempest, the protagonist, has two girlfriends, Atlanta and Marina, who is personally my favourite character in the show. Okay, that may not count as adultery, but the fact that both women love Troy sparks a little bit of jealously between the two and that has mainly happened in the adult world. In the episode Plant Of Doom, Troy and Phones suspect that Marina senses hatred in Atlanta, hence a venomous flower she gives to her. But we know that Marina is unaware of the chemicals inside the plant and means well. There’s one episode I particularly remember; The Master Plan. Troy gets poisoned by Titan and his goons. The rest of the crew fear that Troy may not survive. In fact, I was so torn up when I saw Atlanta and Marina crying over Troy.
I would recommend Stingray. Sci-fi fans will love it, hell, Disney fans will love it. Plenty of drama, plenty of action and adventure, good stuff!
Microsoap is what I’d like to call the British Malcolm In The Middle. For those who don’t know, Microsoap is a situation comedy based on two dysfunctional next-door families, each consisting of a divorced parent and kids of their own. A wall that separates both houses is knocked down, therefore creating one large house. This ironically proves useful, because Jane Parker begins a relationship with Roger Smart and the wall-destruction makes things easier for their developing relationship, even if they have to put up with the kids. This is without a doubt a hilarious programme. It’s how a sitcom should be. There is occasional breaking-the-fourth-wall humour, most of it from Joe and Emily Parker who narrate the various insane antics that have occurred within the two families. In fact, what invests me within the comedy are the bizarrely expressionistic sets. For instance, in one scene, Robbie enters the police station literally labelled ‘Police’. I’m also fond of the character’s profiles. David especially reminds me of myself; guitar playing and I used to be quite a lady’s man. Joe is scientifically obsessed and has colourful Monty Python-style imaginations. Robbie has what he refers as an ‘invisible’ friend called Pogo, a giant blue mouse. Of course, imagination is typical to some kids. In-between, the divorce between Jane and Colin is a recurring theme throughout the programme as is the sort-of rivalry between Roger and Colin. If kids want a good laugh, Microsoap is one such show to enjoy.
7. The Magic Roundabout
Although this is a BBC produced programme, The Magic Roundabout was broadcast on Channel 4 when I knew it. It was one of them shows me and my brother got up early each Sunday to watch. As you probably analysed, this list lacks any of the shows that are broadcast on CBeebies. Personally, I think and always thought CBeebies is/was over-childish. I know The Magic Roundabout is one of the most likely shows to be provided a slot on the channel, but it contains such elements that keep me from not recommending this show; the expressionistic sets, the witty narrator (okay I ain’t very fond of programmes over-crammed with narrators, but this narrator’s dialogue is so investing and unforgettable i.e. “there was a confrontation between the train and hippo”. Them kind of lines are often more understood by adults. Did you know the narrator is the same guy who played Neil in The Young Ones (For the Channel 4 version that is.)? And of course unforgettable characters, especially Zebedee and Dougal or as I like to call the dog with no legs! Lol.
There were two shows based on this plasticine guy. One was called The Amazing Adventures Of Morph, the other, Morph Files. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which one I watched or if I watched both. Either way, Morph is such an awesome creation. He proves one of the things Aardman does best. In fact, the shows that featured Morph were aimed for deaf children. As a result, the dialogue is basic gibberish and all the viewers needed were body language, vibrations and other actions within the characters. And the rest is TV history!
5. The Animals Of Farthing Wood
Starter from five, another programme that doesn’t grab as much attention as it used to. What’s happening to today’s children? They suddenly turn to nonsense, like CBeebies and Miley Cyrus and Despicable Me. None of these can compare to an awesome wildlife cartoon, yet one of the most explicit children’s programmes I have ever seen, that is The Animals Of Farthing Wood, the family-friendly cartoon version of Game Of Thrones. No wonder audiences don’t take themselves seriously enough nowadays. The Animals Of Farthing Wood is another programme I frequently watched from my childhood, and good job it was. It’s very mature; it doesn’t feature as much comedic content as many cartoons do. So what? It doesn’t have to be comedic to be terrific. A lot of the dialogue featured debates among the animal characters and the programme saw numerous characters getting killed off, including the badger and Scarface and the two pheasants. It’s also very liberal; the cartoon tells an emotional story about Farthing Wood’s population forced to evacuate their forest after humans destroy it and journey to another place. At times, some of the animals were hunted by humans, and we see it. You could say this is an anti-animal-harm cartoon, which shows how much effort Bambi should’ve made.
Now originally, I made a video clip for YouTube stating my personal Top 25 UK Children’s TV Programmes (see link; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPImm-IR-XQ) and placed The Animals Of Farthing Wood at number 14. The reason why I rank it higher is because the cartoon’s actually better than I remember it, hence what I’ve just mentioned.
4. Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons
Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons is probably the last show one would want to refer to as a children’s programme. As a matter of fact, I’d say it’s the Hunchback Of Notre Dame of UK children’s television. Okay, what’s the story? The show’s backstory is; a worldwide organisation, known as Spectrum, receives radio signals from Mars, so some of the agents, including Captain Black, go there to explore. He mistakes a welcoming message for a weapon and in panic destroys the aliens’ base. Infuriated by the attack, the aliens, known as the Mysterons, kill Captain Black and reconstruct him as an alien. Then they declare a war of nerves on Earth. Whilst at it, they also mysteronise another Spectrum agent, Captain Scarlet, but after failing to eliminate the World President, Captain Scarlet is declared indestructible and thus he is reborn as a hero.
Captain Scarlet tackles a thrilling, yet emotional issue; terrorism. Seriously, if Captain Scarlet was being made right now, it would probably be based on the various attacks made by Al Qaeda. At the time of its production, it was based on the Cold War. If Stingray is about sea exploration and Thunderbirds is about rescuing people, Captain Scarlet is about damnation. The mysterons in question are a cross between aliens and zombies. They obtain the ability to recreate objects/people, by destroying them first, then giving them a new life under their authority, as is pointed out in the spooky intro. A faceless mysteron fails to assassinate Captain Scarlet, Scarlet shoots him, awesome! The mysterons often plot to destroy specific people / sabotage particular events in an attempt to lure Spectrum into a trap. Come to think of it, the show reminds me of certain experiences I had working as a steward for a security/events-based agency; guarding exits, ensuring there’s no bombs and that.
It’s also a very cultural; some of the members of Spectrum come from foreign backgrounds. For instance, Destiny Angel is French, Harmony Angel is Japanese and some of you might not know that Lieutenant Green is from the Caribbean.
I would strongly recommend Captain Scarlet to any kid who ain’t familiar with the programme. As well as being an action thriller, it’s a show which doesn’t always end with a cheesy happy ending. It treats kids like adults and can provide an early lesson on terrorism and security.
3. Grange Hill
Who would’ve thought a top list of UK children’s television programmes would exclude a good quality drama like Grange Hill, or should I say, CBBC’s EastEnders? Why do I compare Grange Hill to a cockney/working class set soap-opera? Simple; and it’s more than just the fact that certain cast members who graduated from Grange Hill and moved on to EastEnders, Todd Carty, Susan Tully, Sean Maguire, Patsy Palmer, Letitia Dean, you name it. Actually, the dramatic themes create certain similarities. Remember when Zammo got hooked onto heroin? You know, for kids! This led to the classic anti-drug song sung by the cast, Just Say No. Or what about when that kid drowned in the swimming pool. Geez. Suicide, rape, dyslexia, knife crime, there were some characters with certain disabilities, such as Asperger’s and cerebral palsy. Some of them themes are not common in children’s television, but this is what makes Grange Hill so unique.
Grange Hill also contains some of the most memorable characters. The one I remember the most is Peter ‘Tucker’ Jenkins, the mischievous one. This role was certainly right for Todd Carty. Did you know that Tucker and Mark Fowler have so much in common? Since being written out as a full time character, Tucker had made two guest appearances, both hard-to forget, the first one when he takes his nephew, Togger, to the school, and the second in the final episode. Speaking of Togger, he was the 2000s equivalent to his uncle. The decade certainly needed a new troublemaker. I would go through the other characters, but there’s too many to name.
2. Wallace & Gromit
Yeah I know. Wallace & Gromit is a franchise, but I always saw it as a TV programme, same with Tom & Jerry, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges and the Looney Tunes. Maybe it’s because the classic short films were so only 30 mins long that I viewed it as a show. Having said that, there are two television series; Cracking Contractions and Wallace & Gromit’s World Of Inventions, plus the good old feature film Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. Still the Radio Times (a UK based TV guide) has considered Wallace & Gromit a TV show.
Where to begin? Wallace is an absent-minded inventor who lives with his dog, Gromit, who obtains an estimated IQ of 1000 and due to his obvious lack of voice communicates through facial expressions and body language. They’re self-employed and run a number of businesses together. Throughout the short films, Wallace has experienced several love-interests, one a wool-shop owner, another a lady who has had bad experiences with bakers. He is so distracted and sometimes unaware that some of his girlfriends have had dark sides. Gromit, meanwhile, smells something fishy and attempts to solve the puzzle. Of course, The Close Shave signalled Wallace’s first love interest, but the first two shorts definitely expressed his distraction-related syndrome, even though he does team up with Gromit time after time, while Gromit demonstrated full awareness.
Throughout productions, Aardman Animations have demonstrated what they do best. Epic adventures, British culture/humour, parodies to famous feature films and the ability to limit dialogue, just like on Morph. Hell, there were also moments of drama. For instance; I remember when I watched A Close Shave, when Gromit was wrongly imprisoned for sheep theft when he actually rescued them. The way Wallace was reading the news reports, him and the sheep in tears, looking up, then a close-up of the duo’s photograph, then Gromit in jail, receiving the jigsaw, sobbing and banging on the desk. Seeing it and thinking about it, I can’t keep a dry eye. And who can deny the unforgettable music. I love it to bits. All of this is like watching a film by, say, Steven Spielberg and/or Walt Disney.
Yup. Thunderbirds they are go. There’s no doubt about it. This show reflects Gerry Anderson’s genius (as I once covered in my previous blog Gerry Is A Genius). Some of you guys may be aware that the show has recently been remade as Thunderbirds Are Go. Hmm, I think it’s okay. Yeah, ish. But it ain’t exactly the Thunderbirds I grew up with. The Thunderbirds I grew up with was the original series, puppet-programme or not. Kids, call me a grumpy old man if you want, but think about it. If you don’t like the so-called c**ppy old format, why are you interacting with Cinderella? When I was your age, I had some of the toys; the vehicles, a model of Tracy Island, an action figure of one of the characters, two VHSes. I remember seeing the episodes on BBC2. My dad was there when the show came out and don’t you forget it mate!
Okay, so for those who don’t know, Thunderbirds is about a not-for-profit, mostly family-run organisation which specialises in saving people who wind up in huge misfortunes. Not only are some disasters causes by criminal masterminds, i.e. The Hood, but most are caused in a naturalistic way. For instance, in the episode Atlantic Inferno, an oceanic based is trapped by fire jets. In another episode, a couple of drivers pass out due to food poisoning causing their vehicle to wreck havoc. Some accidents/incidents are caused by stupidity. In what I call my favourite episode Attack Of The Alligators, a man attempts to steal a chemical and make money of it, but clumsily knocks the liquid in a sink, which spills in a lake, mutating some alligators, leading to the reptiles to attack the scientists. I enjoy this episode the most, a) because it involves International Rescue taking on an almost impossible rescue attempt, b) minor reason; apparently the production involved real alligators, well baby alligators for size purposes and c) for its strong environmental value.
That’s another badass thing about Thunderbirds; its messages and values. The main message is that people’s lives always matter and they should not have to end up in a dreadful situation. I’ve also mentioned the environmental message in Attack Of The Alligators. In fact, there’s another episode I’d highly recommend checking out which brings out a political message; Brink Of Disaster. This one sees Jeff Tracy, brains and Tin-Tin joining a dodgy businessman whose company has built a useless monorail and he knows nothing about its controls. Jeff is concerned that the businessman cares more about money than people’s lives. We soon discover how right he was to worry. A bit like the Simpsons episode, Marge Vs The Monorail, except a little less comedic. The episode demonstrates the cons of capitalism.
So yeah, as well as the morals and the clever scripting, there’s so much more to enjoy from Thunderbirds. The designs to the signature vehicles are awesome. I’ve always imagined myself driving one of them, especially Thunderbird 2. Who would’ve thought there’d be another vehicle which has a choice of pods to use apart from Thunderbird 2? And do I need to mention the forever exciting launch sequences? Thunderbird 1 launching out of a swimming pool, Thunderbird 2’s launching which requires palm trees to move out of the way. There’s no other show like this one. This show, not only contains such excitement which I believe would keep the kids and of course adults invested, but it treats the kids like adults and not like typical viewers of that nonsense you get on CBeebies. Those shows so cannot compare to good old Thunderbirds.
Well that was my personal top 25 of UK TV programmes aimed for the youth. Kids, if there was a show you really liked that I missed out, and older people, if there was a show that reflects your nostalgia that I didn’t include, I’m sorry for the disappointment, but always look on the bright side of life.
I shall leave you with some honourable mentions:
Dennis The Menace
Budgie The Little Helicopter
Shaun The Sheep
Get Your Own Back
Some chat programme presented by a CGI bird