Home   Kent   News   Article

From No.73 to Monkey, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop to Saturday Superstore and Dogtanian to Animal Magic and Grange Hill - the changing face of children's TV

Despite all the years that have passed and all her remarkable achievements since, the first thing that springs to mind when I see QI host Sandi Toksvig is children's TV show No.73.

The ITV Saturday morning regular - filmed, in part at least, in Maidstone - kicked Tiswas off the schedules in the very early 1980s.

Sandi Toksvig...once star of No.73 - today a household name
Sandi Toksvig...once star of No.73 - today a household name

I can remember almost nothing about the show other than the fact Toksvig's character was called Ethel and it had a catchy little theme song which whenever I've heard mention of the number 73 ever since (and this is a good 40-plus years now) has made me sing 'get down to 73' - albeit in the privacy of my own mind. It's funny what sticks in your head.

That was an era when children's TV seemed important - probably, of course, as I was a child at the time. Personally, I was more of a Multi-Coloured Swap Shop/Saturday Superstore fan, to be honest. No offence to Sandi or, for that matter Neil Buchanan - who also starred. He went on to host Art Attack and, for some inexplicable reason, social media once became convinced was Banksy. He wasn't. But then the real Banksy would say that, I suppose.

There weren't channels devoted to the younger audience like there is today. You got Saturday mornings before Grandstand or World of Sport (depending on which channel you were watching) and then between 4pm and 5.30pm on the Beeb during the week. And 25 minutes of that tended to start with Play School. Which, frankly, one could swiftly grow out of.

Yet for some reason, those TV shows which secured a place in the schedules back then left an indelible mark on the memories of many. Probably due to their sparsity they became cultural touch points of those of a certain age.

And with a fine pair of rose-tinted glasses perched on my nose, my memories of the majority of them are pretty positive.

Neil Buchanan went on to star in Art Attack after a stint at No.73 but, sadly, didn't progress to being street artist Banksy
Neil Buchanan went on to star in Art Attack after a stint at No.73 but, sadly, didn't progress to being street artist Banksy

But then this was a pre-internet, pre-smartphone, pre-proliferation of every form of on-demand content era. Libraries were as close to on-demand entertainment as we could get, and our news was delivered by the paper boy on our door mats every morning - not by notifications on our phones about two seconds after an incident has occurred or wallpapered over 24-hour news channels.

Summer holidays provided a splattering of other options for our televisual pleasure - although these tended to be black and white classics. I'd like to see the uproar if the BBC or ITV tried that today. The likes of Champion the Wonder Horse or the rather splendid Flash Gordon (featuring the superbly named Buster Crabbe) to name but two.

Then there were the likes of New Zealand-based Children of Fire Mountain or Huckleberry Finn - the latter of which seemed to be repeated ad nauseum. But they were good wholesome fun.

Thus, that period of children's TV in the afternoon after school was something to be cherished.

There were some memorable shows - the likes of Rentaghost (which came complete with one of the finest theme tunes ever written) - and, of course, Animal Magic. It was only recently I discovered that Johnny Morris - the star of the show - wasn't actually a zoo keeper. I felt duped.

Then there was Blue Peter (always, and forgive me for saying this, but a tad on the dull side), Jackanory (ditto) and, of course, the mighty Grange Hill.

Grange Hill did more to terrify primary school kids about what lay ahead at secondary school than any other show before or since. I think I assumed forked-sausages would come flying onto every lunch table like in the comic-style opening credits. There are times I think when I confuse it with my own school years, such was its must-watch nature at the time. But no, I have to remind myself, my games teacher wasn't the terrifyingly bearded Mr Baxter and the head not Mrs McCluskey.

Over the years, the schedules seemed to morph into a smorgasbord of animated content. Battle of the Planets and Dogtanian and the The Muskehounds was top notch, while who can forget the likes of the Mysteries of the Cities of Gold or Ulysses 31? Well, it's easy to, but the theme music take you back.

They all felt pretty cutting edge at the time - but a quick look on YouTube disproves that somewhat.

But it was certainly a cut above the animation we had previously grown accustomed to - which was pretty much limited to Mr Benn and Bod. And I mean no criticism to either - Mr Benn in particular is one of those concepts I think of pretty much every time I step into a changing room.

The real gems of children's TV though were all produced right here in Kent - the legendary duo of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate churned out some glorious children's TV from their homes near Canterbury. Yet despite a line-up of the likes of Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and the Clangers, there is a danger that passing generations may live in ignorance of the impact they had on us older folk. Remember that episode of Bagpuss when the mice made a chocolate digestives machine (effectively the same one passed through over and over again). Genius.

Yet that is surely the way of things.

All this and I haven't mentioned the greatest TV show of my youth - which I'm pretty sure was on BBC2 rather than BBC1. Monkey was a Japanese show based on the classic Journey to the West book. It was appallingly dubbed, but still fondly remembered. And let's not get started on the theme music of all theme musics which it boasted.

The agony of choice today means there are no shows everyone watches as a child anymore. Blue Peter presenters, for example, used to be household names. They could pass me in the street today and I'd be none the wiser. Which no doubt means those cultural touch points in years to come will be confined to the likes of video games and streaming shows. Progress, eh?

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More