Rubbish Kids TV: The Legend of Tim Tyler

And you thought In The Night Garden was scary? Simon digs up the carcass of one of the 1980s' worst childrens' television programmmes. Do not campaign for its return.

The Legend Of Tim Tyler. Awful.

So stretched in the 1980s was the BBC childrens’ programming budget, that frequently the Beeb would shell out for re-dubbed versions of foreign imports. Of course, in the world of animation that’s hardly much of a problem. Particular when it came to kids’ cartoons in the 80s, where if the words happened to 100% match the mouth movements of the characters then you’d chalk that up as a one-off, and expect things to go back to normal fairly soon.

The thirteen parts of the live action German drama The Legend of Tim Tyler though required far more endurance. Seemingly redubbed in a portaloo next to Television Centre, The Legend Of Tim Tyler was an astonishing low point for TV, with spoken words and mouth movements existing in parallel universes that simply never seemed to meet. A German boy would appear to be laughing on screen, only for the sound to follow around a second later. In any other context, it’d be scary.

The show was actually a product of very late 1970s Germany, although we didn’t get it on the BBC until a few years after that. And it does have to be said that, even had the dubbing worked out okay, the programme still would have had problems. It was, bluntly, the kind of thing that could encourage ten year olds to invent drinking games.

The plot was simple: Tim Tyler is shown in the first episode laughing a lot. Then, along comes the evil Baron, a man who doesn’t really have any kind of laugh of note. So he does a deal with Tim whereby he has Tim’s laugh, in exchange for Tim winning every bet he ever makes in his life.

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There are so many inherent problems with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. Firstly, if the Baron had that power in this first place, then surely he’d have been wiser to hang on to it and use it to garner a laugh that way? Secondly, and perhaps this was lost in translation a little, but the dubbed laugh was hardly a cracker worth making a deal for anyway. At least get a throaty guffaw, or a room-stopping cackle. Not some weedy fart of a chuckle.

But then thirdly, when Tim starts realising he’s made a bit of a silly deal and he wants his laugh back after all, there’s nobody in the watching audience who didn’t know what he had to do. Tim, however, proved he was the thickest child in TV history by a considerable margin. That’s no small feat.

So while Tim guffed around for nearly thirteen episodes to try and resolve his plight – while various supporting characters commented on his lack of happiness before picking up their cheque and wondering if this was the kind of job they dreamed of doing when they were nippers – even the most brain-starved of kids watching the programme would be screaming the hugely-signposted ending.

But no: Tim instead then befriends a Nun, fucks around for another few weeks, before the penny drops and he makes his bet to get his laugh back. Then he looks smug! Smug! As if he’s come up with something clever, while the entire watching audience smack their heads with a mixture of desperation and relief.

This was not, no matter what tint of rose your spectacles come in, good television. There’s no huge Internet petition for a DVD release here, nor is there a raft of fan pages you’ll find. This was a shoddy idea in its native language, and drained of 20% at least of its quality through the dubbing work for which it’s now most renowned for over here.

It’s a legend alright, but not for the reasons originally intended…

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