One thing my husband (Mr C) and I frequently reminisce about is the magical journey that was children’s TV from our childhood. Back in the good old days (are we old enough to say that?), children’s TV seemed to be far superior to all the nonsense that is on now. How we come to this conclusion is beyond me, considering neither of us have watched children’s TV since we were children. That is until very recently, now that our two-year old is showing some vague interest in the TV. No really, he isn’t that fussed about the box at all.
So I thought I would do a fun blog detailing my top programmes, and why they hold a special place in my inner childhood heart. I know this list isn’t reflective of the majority’s top list, especially as Mr C gawped at some of the entries on my list. But hey, if he wants to write his own blog about his own favourite all-time children’s shows, he is more than welcome.
1) Thomas And Friends
I absolutely adored Thomas and Friends. I think this was largely due to my dad bringing us up as total train geeks. Naturally, a programme featuring brightly coloured, talking steam locomotives, technical railway jargon and beautifully detailed model railway engineering was always going to be popular in our house. We moved to Trinidad and Tobago (well, just Trinidad, actually) in 1987, so I believe we only saw series 1 of T&F. And we had lost interest in it by the time we returned in 1989. However, I do now own a copy of series 1 on DVD, which I bought in the guise of a gift for my eldest son. Oh, and Ringo Starr narration all the way!
Knightmare was an absolutely epic show. If it wasn’t for the nostalgia I feel for Thomas, I would have put Knightmare at number 1. Knightmare was an adventure game show for older children which started in the late 1980s. It featured a team of four children on a medieval, fantastical quest. One of the children wore a helmet which obscured his vision, and he was guided through a virtual reality world by his three team mates. I say ‘he’ – there were girls too, but this show mostly attracted boys. The virtual world was littered with characters such as wizards, jesters and sorcerers played by actors. There were also computerised characters in the form of wall monsters, dragons and numerous other frightening creatures. This is by no means an exhaustive description of the show. If you want all the details, please have a look on Wikipedia or Knightmare.com to get the scoop, although I’m sure many of you will be familiar with it.
What I loved about this show was the feeling that there were no boundaries to the ‘world’ they quested in. The idea that there were ‘doors’ leading to any infinite number of mythological places was the coolest thing. For years, when I went on country walks or visited historical buildings, I imagined that there were those black doors in the middle of a field or on an ancient wall. I secretly still do imagine this!
Another very entertaining aspect of Knightmare was the inability of some of the kids to direct their helmeted teammate in an efficient manner, for example telling them to ‘go left’ when they really mean turn to the left. Well done kids, you’ve directed your teammate into a fiery crevasse. Equally as funny was when the helmeted teammate was incapable of following simple instructions, and resulted in some overt frustrations of his teammates sitting in the dungeon with Treguard.
And actually, Knightmare was sometimes pretty frightening to the younger eyes. When the life-force appeared and that deep, pulsing heartbeat sound began. This, coupled with the graphic of a head losing pieces of its skin to reveal bare skull underneath, and a feeling of fear began to build that something untoward was about to happen. But then the dungeoneer reaches into their knapsack, produces a morsel of food, and everything returns to normal.
Mr C and I have considered how much better Knightmare would look using modern computerised graphics. However, I think part of the charm of the show was the retro graphics. Although they were essentially rubbish (but cutting-edge at the time), it never distracted from the dungeoneers’ quest.
I could go on, but I have way exceeded the word-limit I set myself for each programme. Have a look below to rekindle some of the Knightmare genius.
3) Round The Twist
Round The Twist was an outlandish Australian show from the late 80s to the early noughties. It was about a family who lived in a lighthouse and were involved in an array of bizarre, supernatural and very funny events. There was an ongoing storyline of a local businessman (Mr Gribble) who was continually trying to find ways to get the family out of the lighthouse so that he could put the lighthouse to more profitable use.
Round the Twist was such a wicked show because it was so extraordinarily weird. I love weird. Each episode contained the strangest storylines. Some of the episodes really stood out in my mind: there was a story where the youngest child in the family (Bronson) made friends with a water spirit which helped him win a competition that the older boys were involved in. The competition was to see who could pee up the wall the highest, naturally.
Another episode that stuck in my mind was where the girl in the family (a teenager called Linda), made friends with a new boy in her class who was considered to be a bit strange because he wore gloves all of the time. It turns out he wore the gloves to cover up the few extra layers of nails he grew from his hands. And then it turns out that those extra nails were actually fish scales, as he was a merman.
You’re probably starting to get the picture with the weirdness. When I started writing this section on Round the Twist, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know much about the background of the show. After consulting the font (or is it fount?) of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, I discovered that Round the Twist is based on a series of short stories written by Paul Jennings. The short stories are available on Amazon or directly from Paul’s blog site, amongst other places. It seems that most of the episodes I remember are from series 2, so if you remember a later series, please share your memories with me.
If you don’t remember the show, one thing that is sure to jog your memory is the unforgettable theme tune. Take a look (or listen)here. And if you’d like to take a glimpse at one of the old episodes, check out the weirdness below:
When I was discussing my intended list with Mr C, his reaction to T-Bag was ‘what on earth was T-Bag?’ Actually, he made a rude joke, but we’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, T-Bag was a show that I enjoyed immensely. It ran from the late 80s till the early 90s. It featured the main character T-Bag, who I don’t remember being defined as a witch, but she was similar to a witch in that she had some magical powers. She had an assistant character called T-Shirt, and each episode also featured a teenage child as the hero/heroine. Each series was one story told with each episode, and each series involved the hero/heroine child having to go on a quest to find numerous objects from around the world they lived in. (You’re probably getting the idea I enjoyed quest-based adventures).
So I decided to have a look at Wikipedia to sharpen some of the hazy memories I have of this show. The series I remember was where there were gold rings which had to be found, which I have since discovered was the 1991 series ‘T-Bag and the Rings of Olympus’.
I think the enjoyment I got from this programme was the idea of a magical, worldwide quest. I loved all things clue-based, an unfolding story, objects to find and baddies to outsmart. Realistic drama wasn’t high on my priority list as a young teenager with a vivid imagination. Maybe that’s why I am so into Homeland.
Well, if you can’t remember T-Bag, have a recap with this clip:
5) Trap Door
Trap Door was a whole lot of creepy, silly, wriggly, strange fun in the form of Plasticine. Another brilliant opening title with a memorable theme tune. Set in what looks like a dungeon, but is probably an all-purpose kitchen utility area of a castle and crucially, with a trap door in the centre of the room. Each episode was a few minutes long, and centred around the daily adventures of a blob-like monster called Berk, who was the castle’s servant. Monster isn’t really the right word, as Berk was just a big, blue, harmless blob of Plasticine with a smiley face – a little like a blue, Plasticine version of Tom Kerridge. Berk answered to The Thing upstairs, who we never saw, but heard his bellowing voice intermittently in each episode. ‘Berk, where’s my breakfast?!’ My husband sometimes bellows this at me in this style when he’s hungry.
There were other characters in the show; Boni the skull and Drutt, who looked a little like a very fat, grey spider with teeny tiny legs.
Each episode involved the trap door being opened, revealing a different creature or creatures and the chaos they caused Berk.
Trap Door made me happy. It provided humour in a childish, messy, oozy way. There was something appealing about the Plasticine characters. They seemed tactile and soft, in contrast to the nature of the show containing monsters, creepy-crawlies and slime. It was vibrant and colourful to the eye, and even as a child I appreciated the time and effort that must have gone into creating each episode’s animation, or should I say Claymation?
Take a peek into the Trap Door with this clip:
Ok, so this is the first girly programme on my list. Yes, I was a bit of a tomboy, but there was an inner girl lurking periodically. I think the appearance of this programme was the appeal for me. The opening titles were so pretty. Sepia stills of Emily, a little girl from what appears to be the Victorian era, wearing a pinafore style dress. The pictures showed Emily and the outside of her tiny little and very pretty shop window. Lucky Emily to be the owner of such a gorgeous, shabby chic shop! And of course, we are introduced to her most prized possession, Bagpuss – her enormous pink and white stripy, stuffed cat – Bag Puss.
I think this programme reminded me of my Nan. It was constructed with all sorts of materials, buttons and trinkets. My Nan, a keen seamstress (by hobby, not profession), had loads of stuff. Materials, threads, buttons, bits and bobs – a bit like the stuff you’d find in Emily’s shop.
Take a walk down a vintage-inspired memory lane in this clip:
7) The Littlest Hobo
Oh, what a lovely show this was. The sad tale of a stray dog who, in each episode, befriended someone new and in need, before moving on ‘down the road’ to the next adventure.
A simple format, but I guess the whole animal-thing was adorable to children. That, coupled with an irresistible theme song, and you’ve got a winning children’s show. See for yourself:
8) Land of the Giants
An action-packed sci-fi adventure where the crew of a craft from earth are lost on an alien planet. I’m not even certain if this was a children’s show, but I do remember watching it as a child, and always when I was at my Nan’s place. I remember it being on channel 4 in the early afternoon on Sundays. She would enjoy watching it also. I guess this may be where the childhood fondness stems from, and why this show is on my top 10 list – memories of time with my Nan.
In any case, the alien planet is a world where there are giants, who are very much like humans. This show was made way back in the 60s, so it was probably a big ask to create realistic CGI of the giants.
Each episode involved one or some of the teeny tiny earthlings being captured by the giants, and their fellow marooned earthlings involved in an elaborate rescue.
If this an unfamiliar show, jog your memory here:
9) Little House on the Prairie
I really have no idea why this is on my list. It was so goody goody and American. I don’t know whether it was the opening titlesthat sparked something in me, or if it was another one I watched when I was with my Nan. Or if it was the Victorian-esque pinafores with petticoats (à la Emily from Bag Puss). Either way, I really loved this show.
High in morals, family values and Christianity, this show centred around a family living on a farm in the American Midwest. There were many shots of the kids on the farm, in their school, getting around on horseback, long pigtails, fun outdoors and growing up. It was a very rural and natural way of life. Very basic. I think I liked the contrast between that and my life in a London suburb, on the back of a bike, riding down the local high street. I romanticised about how idyllic it would have been on LHOTP having such a simple way of life. I wish they had shows like this on in the middle of the day on Sundays again. Maybe they do. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch a show while the kids were awake!
Take a trip down memory lane with this clip of Little House on the Prairie:
And here we finish on a classic action cartoon featuring a group of men and women who are part-human, part-cat. Part wild-cat, should I add. Each one takes on features and skills of different big cats such as lions, tigers and leopards.
The majority of the inhabitants from their planet have been destroyed, and the common baddie is Mumm-Ra. Each episode documents their various fights against Mumm-Ra and Co. Why did I like this show? I guess I aspired to be as strong and fit as a Thundercat. They were super-athletic, muscular, agile and perfect. They were the ultimate inspiration to budding sports-boys and girls. Well, I thought so. And no, I wasn’t particularly outstanding at any sports at school, but I did enjoy them.
Oh, and there was that iconic Thundercats symbol that has since appeared on all sorts of retro paraphernalia on sites like TruffleShuffle, and one of my husband’s t-shirts, for that matter.
So there we have it, my list of the shows that entertained me the most when I was a child and young teen. Amongst those there were many which didn’t make it onto the list, many of which were contributed by Mr C. You can find them below, just in case you were disappointed with my choices.
- Power Rangers
- Dungeons and dragons
- Fraggle Rock
- The Mysterious Cities of Gold
- Sharky & George
- Shoe People
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Jayce & the Wheeled Warriors
- Ivor the Engine
If you have any to contribute yourself, please let me know. I hope you enjoyed the walk down memory lane with me.
Till next time.