Back in the 1970s and 1980s, television scheduling was not quite the refined art it is now. As such programmes sometimes over-ran or in some cases under-ran meaning that the schedule for the next show could be out by as much as five minutes. To fill these floating gaps, broadcasters, most notably the BBC, would and did on numerous occasions run Looney Tunes or Silly Symphony cartoons in these gaps.
Nowadays you have to watch specific children’s channels to get some Wile-E-Coyote, Tom and Jerry or Duck Dodgers action but these little gaps gave children of the era access to a whole plethora of cartoons to devour.
As well as introducing us to the worlds of Tex Avery, Hanna-Barbara and Chuck Jones these little slots also introduced us to other animation from across the globe.
While there is a cliché that said cartoons were always Polish and about somebody being chased by Plasticine tower-blocks (thanks Alexi Sayle) there were actually some innovative, if obscure animations shown around this time (when I say innovative, I really mean cheap to purchase). Yes, a lot of them were from Europe, and yes, a lot of them had children scratching their heads in confusion. While your pre-teen self may have looked forward to some mindless cat-on-mouse violence in these little schedule spaces (and was more than likely indignant when something else was on) having this array of cartoon oddities appear provided a sample of animation styles from other countries and showed there was more to cartoons than cross-dressing rabbits, sarcastic ducks and an endless array of twenty minute toy commercials.
An amiable little cartoon from the early 80s, King Rollo was a pre-cursor to the brattish Little Princess currently aired daily on Channel 5. With the look and feel of Mr Benn, the show was created by David McKee, who is probably best known to parents as the writer/artist who produced Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. Rollo was a child-like king who shared his castle with a wizard and his cat, and who went on adventures with his best friends Queen Gwen and King Frank. While never as popular as his cosplaying counterpart from Festive Road, Rollo’s adventures were often seen padding out the schedules in the mid-late 80s and early 90s (before all the kids’ telly went onto its own dedicated channels) due to the fact it was only just five minutes long and could be slotted in neatly if things were not going to plan schedule-wise.
Wattoo Wattoo Superbird
A French cartoon that had that specific ‘Gallic style’—a mix of light anime and anthropomorphic animals made famous by shows such as Willy Fogg and Dogtanian—Wattoo Wattoo was a short five minute cartoon that revolved around a spherical black and white bird who ‘saved’ the moronic Zwas—a race of stupid goose-like creatures who got up to all type of hijinks—on a weekly basis.
A thinly disguised morality tale about man’s wastefulness and penchant for self-destruction, the show was designed to have a lesson each week to teach children stuff (don’t eat too many crayons, don’t play with deep fat fryers… that sort of gem) and was one of those cartoons that played without any voiceovers (much in the same way Pingu does) but with the actions speaking for themselves.
Aubrey was a chubby orange fellow with a massive nose from DP Films who looked a little like some more ‘adult’ cartoon characters around at the time. Most of Aubrey’s misadventures were amiable affairs to do with gardening, tuning a radio, going on holiday or playing a sport usually with ‘hilarious consequences’.
Each week viewers got to see Aubrey’s intro where his car slowly but surely fell to pieces with him inside it, followed by various things like him getting rained on, sinking a ship or being involved in mass genocide (that last one may have just been a personal nightmare). Like many UK cartoons it was a little bit dour (not When The Wind Blows or Watership Down-dour, thank goodness) with our hero eventually having a go at trying to make things right but eventually failing and everything going wrong or falling apart – whether that alludes to a typical British outlook I don’t know but at least this show wasn’t quite as mad as our next outing…
No, I haven’t just fallen on my keyboard—this was actually a real cartoon. A little oddity, Murun was a grey, tatty thing that was really more of an amorphous head/body which was oddly out of place as many of the other characters in the show had real proportions and identifiable body parts. Originally aired in 1985-6, this cartoon was either there to appease children who got up at early-o-clock or more likely, was there for the post-night club crowd who had just rolled in, as it was all frankly a bit metaphysical and ponderous, essentially the animated equivalent of a pretentious sixth former attempting to be deep and meaningful à la Ric from The Young Ones.
From the bizarre to the downright insane. If you thought the idea of a lump of existentially anxious Blu-Tac with a bad haircut was weird, then tuning in to see a violin-playing Fabergé egg will come as no surprise. While charming in its simplicity and innocence with most episodes following Ludwig around a forest playing various musical instruments to animals, I would think even by today’s standards of the oddities of the Twirlywoos and the residents of the Night Garden this would never be commissioned.
All I can think that this was is some animator from the 1970s trying the best he could to translate the feeling of coming back down to earth after cooking up those tasty looking mushrooms he found that one time on that camping trip.
An early 1970s oddity that has never really been repeated, Barnaby comes from the same stable of animation as The Magic Roundabout – a stop-motion kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and charming characters. While not actually produced in the UK and not actually called Barnaby (He is actually French/Polish and called Colargol) his show, again like The Magic Roundabout was re-edited and re-subbed for an eager children’s audience and promptly put into the ‘filler’ category between PlaySchool and Fingerbobs.
(Yes, yes, this one’s from the 90s. Let’s say it’s filling up a gap in the schedule.) When there’s nothing left in the coffers to fill that 5:30am slot on BBC then it’s time to once again show those repeats of Arthur, relaying the adventures of a bespectacled brown, er, thingy? After some research it seems that Arthur is actually a cartoon aardvark but unlike his CBBC cousin Otis for some reason does not had a proboscis nose or look in any way at all like an aardvark. An American import (from PBS) Arthur has attracted something of a cult following over its 200 episodes, possibly related to its eclectic mix of guest voices and willingness to include lines like the following: “Neil Gaiman, what are you doing in my falafel?”.
Mr Rossi Looks For Happiness
A pre-cursor of Mario, this charming Italian gentlemen was created in the late 70s by Bruno Bozzetto and despite being in only a handful of cartoons, stayed in the popular consciousness due one simple fact: its theme tune is stupidly catchy. Rossi, along with his best friend—a talking dog called Harold—had pretty pedestrian adventures (one episode he goes to the beach, another he goes camping). It was all really all a bit dull to be honest, but the nostalgic joy of that theme song speaks for itself. Viva, viva happiness indeed.
Another cartoon with a superb theme tune (actually two superb theme tunes) Henry’s Cat had very much of a Rhubarb And Custard vibe about it—all bright colours and wobbly animation. While not quite as manic as Bob Godfrey’s hyperkinetic classic, Henry’s Cat got up to all kinds of adventures with his best friend Chris Rabbit. As far as memory serves, it was never explained whether Henry was the name of the cat or indeed its owner, but if you wanted somebody to defeat a super-villain criminal mastermind sheep called Rum Baa Baa, then Henry’s Cat is your man (er… cat)
While it must have cost broadcasters a small fortune to buy the rights to branded (i.e. you can make a lot of merch from them) cartoons in the 1970s and 80s, there were a lot of Lidl / Aldi-style cartoons for tightly budgeted British Broadcasters to snap up, which were sort of like the branded ones we all knew and loved but tasted that little bit different.
While I do not have any real point of reference to actually know what a Smurf tastes like, I would suggest that Snorks in comparison might well taste a bit like Iceland popcorn prawns—cheap and with very little actual meat in them. While the Smurfs are universally known and loved, the Snorks were less so and were used by the BBC to fill in the time before Blue Peter or Rentaghost was on.
Maybe it was because they got soggy footprints everywhere they went or because they smelt of fish, but the Snorks never even got even a fraction of the pop culture love or popular as their blue-hat wearing cousins. Ah well, at least they weren’t the ‘Paw-Paw Bears’ (who probably taste like Buffalo wings in BBQ sauce).
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