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Archive for February, 2008

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French and Saunders

Posted by Big Boo on February 29th, 2008

French and SaundersFrench and Saunders (pictured here pretending to be Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears) are a female comedy double act who first shot to fame in the 1980’s as part of the new wave of “alternative” comedians, a term used to distance the young up and coming comedians from the old guard like Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Bowen and Bernard Manning etc.. Good comediennes are few and far between, comedy being an often male dominated territory for some reason, but Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are both great performers with a large number of successful comedy programmes under their belts.

They first appeared in some of the early Comic Strip films, but their big break was as the comedy relief on Channel 4’s music show The Tube in 1984. In 1985 they wrote and starred in Girls On Top, with Ruby Wax and Tracey Ullman. This was kind of like a female version of The Young Ones, about four very different female flatmates. In 1986 they moved to the BBC for the first series of their highly popular sketch show.

French and Saunders sketch shows were always a lot of fun. They had some wonderful recurring characters, such as the fat old country ladies who were somewhat trigger happy, the sleazy old men who would usually utter “give ‘er one” type comments when watching TV, and of course their celebrity impersonations. They were also accompanied by their house band Raw Sex (a balding old man who played the keyboards and an overweight, sleazy bongo drummer played by Roland Rivron), who also sang the theme tune to the show, for some comedy musical numbers, and the odd appearance in some of the sketches too.

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Roobarb and Custard

Posted by Big Boo on February 28th, 2008

Roobarb and CustardWhilst checking out the new series of the Mr. Men on Channel five I came across another old favourite that has been recreated, Roobarb and Custard. Unlike the new Mr. Men the creators have wisely decided not to alter very much at all with Roobarb. The characters look the same as I remember them, and sound the same too since they got Richard Briers, the original narrator, back in to do the new series.

The animation style of the original was very wobbly, due to the fact that each frame of animation was drawn by hand and didn’t quite match up to the previous frame in terms of outline and consistency of the colouring in. This gave the original cartoon a really odd shimmering effect. The new series is presumably still hand animated but now created using computers, and it’s good to see that they’ve tried their best to recreate the wobbly look. It’s not quite the same as the original, and may even be an improvement.

Roobarb was a bizarre green coloured dog, who was also a bit of an inventor. He would sit in his shed and come up with all manner of strange ideas and weird contraptions, most of which usually failed dismally, much to the enjoyment of Custard the lazy purple cat, who was usually to be found lying on the fence watching Roobarbs antics and generally being sarcastic. He was often joined in his scorn for Roobarb by the birds who sat in the old conker tree in Roobarb’s garden, who sat twittering and laughing at Roobarb’s many failures.

One of the best things about Roobarb was the theme music, which was a mixture of rock guitar and harmonica. Check out the following clip of the opening titles to bring the memories flooding back…

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Trivial Pursuit

Posted by Big Boo on February 27th, 2008

Trivial PursuitOf all the boardgames to appear during the 1980’s, Trivial Pursuit has got to be the most enduring and best known. Everyone must surely have played it at some point, and therefore experienced the seemingly unending chase around the board to get your last wedge. The drawn out end game must surely be the games downfall, and the reason why when anybody suggests playing a game they are normally met with a series of groaned responses of the “Can’t we play something else” variety.

Trivial Pursuit: Genus Edition appeared in 1982, although it’s amazing how many people thought the game was called Trivial Pursuits: Genius Edition. If you haven’t played it (unlikely) then the object of the game is to move around the board answering trivia questions and filling your counter with little wedges in six different colours. Once you had filled your counter you then had to head for the centre of the board, where your fellow players would get to choose the category they wanted to ask you. Get this question right and you won the game. The colours of the wedges referred to the different types of questions, which for the Genus edition were:-

  • Blue – Geography
  • Pink – Entertainment
  • Yellow – History
  • Brown – Art and Literature
  • Green – Science and Nature
  • Orange – Sports and Leisure

The game has since appeared in more than 30 different versions, including those for different decades (perhaps I should get the 1980s version myself, purely for research purposes you understand), plus Disney, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Warner Brothers editions and many more on top of that. All told around 88 million copies have been sold over the years.

Probably the worst thing about Trivial Pursuit is when you are playing it with someone who is a stickler for the rules. Most people will be prepared to start skipping certain rules to speed up the game, for example by allowing any square on the board to yield a wedge if the question is answered correctly, or allowing the player to choose their own question when landing on the centre space to try and win the game.

The worst people though are those who say that the exact answer on the card must be given otherwise the wedge won’t be awarded. This may not seem so bad in itself, but given that some of the answers on the cards are actually wrong (or have since become wrong due to the passage of time) this can be extremely irritating.

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Mr Men And Little Miss

Posted by Big Boo on February 26th, 2008

Mr MenThe Mr. Men books were created by Roger Hargreaves and first appeared in 1971 and have been firm favourites with kids ever since. The characters themselves were very simply drawn, which was part of their appeal, and the books were very easy for young children to read themselves, making them popular with parents too as a way of getting their children interested in reading. The fact that each characters name was a big clue to what their personality would be like meant that kids could easily remember which were their favourites when choosing a book to read.

In 1981 the Mr. Men were joined by a selection of female characters, resulting in the Little Miss range of books. Whilst the Little Miss characters were clearly wholly new characters in their own right, quite a few of them shared traits with an equivalent Mr. Men character. For example, Mr. Small and Little Miss Tiny. In cases such as this I often thought perhaps these characters were siblings or married or something like that!

In total Roger Hargreaves created 43 Mr. Men and 30 Little Miss characters. When Hargreaves died in 1988, his son Adam carried on the series (Hargreaves originally created the stories for his son, inventing Mr. Tickle to explain to his son what a “tickle” looked like). Adam has added new stories for the original characters and also several new characters since then, including some special edition characters such as Mr. Christmas and Mr. Birthday. There was also a Little Miss Stella that was created for Stella McCartney! 1000 of the books were created and were used as invitations to one of Stella McCartney’s fashion shows.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Posted by Big Boo on February 25th, 2008

Neighbours cast circa 1980The news that Neighbours has just swapped channels in the UK from it’s original home of BBC1 to five, reminded me of how much I used to love the show back in it’s hey-day of the mid to late 1980’s. It may still be on our screens after more than 5000 episodes and 21 plus years, but I no longer watch it, as the odd snippet I’ve seen recently seem to suggest a show about a bunch of thankless teenagers and a group of ineffective adults. Maybe my judgement is clouded by my memories and that was what it always was, but I’m sure it wasn’t.

Anyway, the show launched many careers, for some reason a lot of which have ended up being primarily known as pop stars. Most famous is of course Kylie Minogue, but the list extends to Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce (now a Hollywood star), Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Craig McLachlan, Alan Dale (he was in Torchwood the other night!) and even, bizarrely enough Russell Crowe, who appeared in four episodes as a petty criminal!

So, here are my memories of those unforgettable characters, on a house by house basis as we move around the most famous road in Erinsborough, Ramsay Street.

The Ramsay Household : Ruled over by gravel voice Madge, who had the tendency to become a bit argumentative when she wanted to be, she generally kept a firm but fair grip on proceedings in her home. Her daughter Charlene was always a little bit hot headed too, but ended up doing alright for herself as she left school and became a mechanic, then married her school sweetheart Scott Robinson. Madge also had a son, Henry, who was a bit of a clown and rarely took anything seriously, but was a good lad at heart. Madge eventually got re-married to Harold Bishop, who ummed and ahhed his way through conversations and could be counted on to disapprove of anything anyone younger than 20 ever did. Somehow we all loved Harold despite all that.

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The Clangers

Posted by Big Boo on February 22nd, 2008

The ClangersI have mentioned before my dislike of modern shows such as Teletubbies and the way in which they speak gobbledy gook instead of proper language (see the post on The Flumps for more!), but here is a prime example from the 1980’s for which the same could be said. How then can I uphold The Clangers, who also didn’t speak English, yet deride Teletubbies for the same reason? Easy! Firstly, the Teletubbies annoy because they “try” to speak English. The Clangers on the other hand talked in a series of whistling sounds, so there was never any pretence that you were supposed to understand what they were saying. Instead you had the dulcet tones of Oliver Postgate narrating, and the more than obvious actions of the Clangers to tell the story.

Like Smallfilms other productions, such as Bagpuss, the duo of Oliver Postgate (writer and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and animator) imbued The Clangers with so much character they could keep children enthralled in their adventures (not to mention The Master from Doctor Who). There were 27 episodes made between the years of 1969 and 1974, but I am certain they were repeated many times during the 1980’s as I have fond memories of watching them as a child.

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Thriller – Michael Jackson

Posted by Big Boo on February 21st, 2008

Thriller - Michael JacksonLove him or hate him, there’s no denying that Michael Jackson is one of the worlds most successful music stars, and his sixth solo album, Thriller, has a lot to do with that. Thriller was released in 1982 and to this day is the album that has sold the most copies worldwide, clocking in at 104 million copies!

The number of sales is set to get larger since the album has also just been re-released as the Thriller 25th Anniversary Edition, which has some remixed versions of the songs on it and also comes with a DVD packed with extras, including the much loved 15 minute video to the single Thriller.

It’s no wonder the album was so popular as it is packed with many of Jackson’s best loved hits, including the titular Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean and Girl Is Mine, one of his duets with Paul McCartney. In many ways these songs are probably the most representative of Jackson at the height of his fame, before his nickname of Wacko Jacko started to over shadow his reputation as one of the greatest singers, and dancers for that matter, of the decade.

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Radio Rentals

Posted by Big Boo on February 20th, 2008

Radio Rentals logoTV sets have reduced in price now to such an extent that most people can easily afford to buy several. Indeed, these days most households, especially those with children, probably have two, three or even more TV sets. Back in the 1980’s this trend was only just beginning, as TV sets went from being comparable in price to a new car to becoming a more affordable luxury item. This was the start of the end for companies such as Radio Rentals.

Radio Rentals was formed in 1932 to allow people to rent radios, funnily enough. The cost of a new “wireless” as they were often called back then was too steep for most normal people, so it was more affordable to rent a radio set on a monthly basis. As the years went by and television sets became the medium of choice for people to entertain themselves, Radio Rentals moved into renting out both television sets and video recorders. I believe they may also have rented out things like washing machines too.

Renting a TV did make a certain amount of sense, as it meant you could keep up with new technology by changing the set you rented at certain intervals to a newer model, and thus be the envy of all your friends and neighbours. TV sets weren’t always the longest lived of devices either, so this was another good reason to rent a set.

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