Remember the thrill of being four years old and sitting down to a midday snack and glass of milk, turning on daytime television for the few minutes it wasn’t showing the testcard and gazing in wonder at the magical programmes which defined your world?
Or perhaps you were a young teen running home from school to catch the latest episode of Ace Of Wands or The Paper Lads, or maybe Magpie or even Pauline’s Quirkes before scoffing down some teacakes and beans on toast and facing the dreaded pile of homework?
If any of the above means anything to you then delight yourself in your ‘middle youth’ as Look Back takes us on a rose-tinted journey back in time to a world where it’s permanently 1974.
Using an interesting framing device, namely the pages of Look-In (and if you remember that you must be over 30!), this nostalgic DVD set is real televisual selection box. It manages to encapsulate a whole generation of favourite shows, some iconic, some beloved, some possibly even ‘avoided at all costs’, and one or two genuine ‘forgotten gems’ that together made up ITV children’s programming output in the 70s.
The first two Look Back discs make up Issue One, as the makers run with the retro teen mag analogy. These discs feature the shows that were made for the very young.
A real highlight is a rare episode from the original 1972 series of Rainbow. Hosted by David Cook with puppets, Sun and Moon, a decidedly unfriendly looking Bungle bear (inhabited by John “K9” Leeson, fact fans!) and Telltale, (the original musical combo responsible, incidentally, for the iconic Rainbow theme tune) singing a catchy song about shapes. The sight of three (albeit fashionably) hirsute men in rather unflattering t-shirts and bell bottoms singing about being square must have made a strange impression on the nation’s toddlers.
There’s animation courtesy of the fledgling Cosgrove Hall, notably Sally And Jake (later to get their own show) and Zippy makes a very welcome cameo appearance towards the end in genuine case of less is more.
There’s a selection of other 12 Noon favourites familiar to anyone who grew up in the era in which colour telly was a novelty, including A Handful Of Songs, essentially a cheap ten-minute filler featuring a male and female folk duo singing a selection of younger viewers favourites.
Hickory House was possibly former Coronation Street actor Alan Rothwell’s finest hour. This fondly remembered series featured memorable if low-rent creations Mop (the kitchen mop) and Humphrey cushion (er… the cushion on the sofa!) Ah, such innocent happy days!
Some young actor called Peter Davison turns up between stints on that Yorkshire Vet show as host of Storytime. Derek Guyler plays the Laughing Policeman. There’s origami fun with Itsy and Bitsy in Paper Play, held in check by erstwhile Magpie headgirl Susan Stranks.
Michael Bentine’s Potty Time isn’t some infant toilet training regime, but a sub-Goon frolic not far removed from the strange inhabitants of Cloppa Castle, which also appears on the disc. There’s also a late series episode of Pipkins, disappointingly without the famous time check: “It’s time… for a story!” or “It’s time… to brush our teeth!”
The Second Issue contains two discs concentrating on older kids shows, featuring dramas such as Sunday afternoon favourites Black Beauty and Follyfoot. Geek-friendly cult shows include Raven, Jamie, Timeslip and Ace Of Wands (which is also depicted in Look-In comic-strip form, the magician Tarot looking for all the world like Top Gear‘s James May!).
There’s comedy from Robert’s Robots an early script from Bob Rentaghost Block. Get It Together is a rather self-conscious football based quiz for boys and girls from 1978.
Hosted by ex-Basil Brush bat-man and Hull City fanatic Roy North with special musical guests Slade (somewhat past their glam rock prime but still proving they are catchy tunesmiths) and “a look at the Scotland World Cup song” No England at Argentina 78. so let’s support Scotland.
There’s the ‘comedy stylings’ of Pauline Quirke on You Must Be Joking and her own show called, inevitably, Pauline’s Quirkes. ITV’s literal Blue Peter clone Magpie seems an obvious inclusion and, given there are several episodes available separately, an odd choice here, but it is a bit like the BBC not including Blue Peter in a list of kids favourites.
Engrossing drama is represented by Tyneside-set The Paper Lads, oddly the presumably Geordie newsagent is played by Glynn “Dave from Minder” Edwards. Nobody’s House, also from Tyne Tees, is about a young chimney sweep haunting an old property newly owned by a young family. Think of a benign version of The Clifton House Mystery.
An early attempt at school drama, 4 Idle Hands was short lived once Grange Hill won that particular game of conkers with a slice of gritty realism.
Perhaps weirdest of all is Tightrope, a series about Sixth Form college students being brainwashed by what they see on sabotaged college-issue televisions. Made in black and white in 1971 and featuring Spencer Banks and a young Mike Grady, then best known for the tongue twisting Pepsi Cola ads, it’s a seriously forgotten gem. The plot sounds like one of those half-remembered storylines one finds on cult TV Q& A websites.
Arguably, the first issue stands up better than the second, in part due to the cult status of much of the content. However, the second disc addresses the often BBC-dominated genre of quality kids drama.
To be fair, there is an element of ‘you had to be there’, but if you do recall any of the programmes featured, it’s a fun reminder of how they played out.
The majority of the programmes are still remarkably watchable (as much for the fashions and TV technique of the day), but some felt stretched, even at 10 minutes! A charming reminder of TV gone by.
One or two shows are available in more extensive DVDs of their own. Others (The Paper Lads, Nobody’s House and Jamie) deserve to be, and a few others are probably best left back in the Seventies.
Look Back is an interesting venture. I await the release of the best of the 80s sometime soon. However, the discs are only as good as the material chosen which is best described as ‘mixed’. There are one or two real gems but, like TV of any period, there is lot of chaff.
Look Back On 70s Telly is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.