And welcome to another Creamguide, this week with some bits of business about Johnny Morris, because why not. Plus the regular listings and your lively letters to email@example.com.
22.00 Top of the Pops: The Story of 1979
Straight into the postbag, and here’s Matt Broad with Gordon Giltrap news after he featured so heavily in our Holiday feature the other week. “Gordon Giltrap lives in Dorset and his daughter used to work at the school gym that I am a member of. In fact, Gordon used to play at the school on occasion and I was allowed to come in an watch one of his shows for the students. Incredible guitarist and at one point performed live recording overdubs with seven different guitars. He of course played the Holiday theme tune. Very gifted player and a privilege to watch him. Has been in ill health though so lucky to have had the chance when I did.” Sadly we missed Gordon on Pops in 1979 because he was on a Yewtreed episode, but there’s some fun stuff on this one, which seems a million years ago now both in terms of the year itself and the repeats. The Nolans are on hand to talk about being gobbed on by Richard Jobson, the dick, while we finally get the answer to that burning question, how did the Winter of Discontent affect The Dooleys?
19.30 ABBA's 30 Greatest Moments
Says here it’s ABBA, on the EPG it says it’s Ant and Dec! Probably still worth a look regardless. We’ve pretty much written off those new ABBA records, to be honest, and it’s not like we’re desperate for them when they’ve got so much other top stuff we can listen to over and over again, though the Saturday evening slot suggests we probably won’t get much of our favourite type of ABBA, gloomy early 80s Visitors-era ABBA.
21.30 Dad’s Army: Secret Lives and Scandal
Been a testament to how many events that have managed to take place safely this summer that we’ve had very few occasions where Dad’s Army has managed to take up its traditional place in the first thing in Creamguide on a Saturday teatime, so here’s Channel 5 to fill the gap. We think the title is rather over-egging it, to be honest, although we’re promised an intriguing look at the cast’s real life wartime exploits.
BBC Radio 2
13.00 Pick of the Pops
It was only a few years ago that Gary Davies hadn’t been on the radio at all for a decade, happily concentrating on his role on the business side of the music business, but these days he seems to be never off the air, seemingly on a quest to present every programme on this station. We don’t mind that, he seems a lovely bloke and we’re sure he’ll do a good job standing in on this show for the next fortnight. Certainly on Sounds of the 80s he seems happy enough to play all kinds of oddities and novelties, so if anyone’s going to play the genuinely brilliant Arthur Daley ‘E’s Alright as part of an entertaining 1982 chart, it’s going to be him. After that it's 1994, from just after he left Radio 1, with Sean Maguire and Soundgarden.
21.00 When Ruby Wax Met...
We don’t see much of Ruby Wax on TV these days but she was a pretty innovative broadcaster. The Full Wax was an entertaining affair that happily sent up the entire chat show genre and had a great impact in showcasing the comic talents of Joanna Lumley, leading to Ab Fab, and other veteran performers who relished the chance to subvert their established screen personas. Then later in the decade came her interview series, spending several days with her subjects to get under their skin, and although it didn’t always pay off - we remember her saying Liza Minnelli and David Gest were obviously a happy couple, only for them to announce their divorce literally the next day - there were some eye-opening and much talked-about encounters. Ruby’s not watched any of them since and over the next three weeks we’re going to join her doing so, addressing the elephant in the room immediately by starting with her rather grim encounters with Trump and OJ Simpson.
20.00 The Secret World of Biscuits
When we get the train from up north into Euston, which we do a fair bit, we always watch out for the McVities factory on the line as the sign we’ve nearly arrived, and we also like the fact it still has “You have to go a long, long way to find a better biscuit” in huge letters on it when they haven’t used that slogan for about thirty years. This should be a fun show, with musings on Penguins, Clubs and some other fondly remembered but sadly discontinued items.
We won’t say this is quite the first sign Christmas is coming, as we’re still trying to eke out of a bit of summer, but of course this series is going to run all the way through the colder months and by the time it finishes it’ll be spring. But the big news is of course that we have a new host, and it’s probably about time because John Humphrys seemed to be rather phoning it in towards the end. We’re very happy about the replacement as Clive Myrie, for it is he, is probably our favourite newsreader, having bags of authority - helped by his distinguished career as a foreign correspondent - but also a wonderfully warm delivery, and we’re sure he’s going to do an excellent job. But we’re not just watching it for him, there’s a quiz going on as well, with rounds this week on Springsteen and Roger Moore.
BBC4 are celebrating Pride Month with a stack of repeats, many of which have been on quite recently, but here’s a particular item of interest with this episode of ‘stEnders from January 1989. The reason we’re seeing it again is because it caused a bit of a stir at the time as it featured soap’s first ever gay kiss.
We were thinking this week that Animal Park is very much the modern-day Wacaday, at 9am every morning during the summer holidays and watched by kids and holidaying adults alike, and that inspired us to reflect on a fondly-remembered nature show and its even more fondly-remembered host. It’s...
ANIMAL MAGIC (1962-83)
Johnny Morris got into broadcasting via a method that could only have happened in the pioneering days of television. He was holding court in a pub one night telling stories when a BBC producer happened to be at an adjacent table having a drink and asked him if he’d like to do that on telly. Kids of the fifties will doubtless remember him as The Hot Chestnut Man, where he’d tell a tall tale every week in his engaging, whimsical manner. In the early sixties, Desmond Hawkins, head of the Beeb’s embryonic Natural History Unit in Bristol, wanted to make an animal programme for children and, as an established face on kids TV and as a former farm manager with a real love of animals, Johnny was the obvious choice, with the first episode broadcast in April 1962.
The first programme featured contributions from Gerald Durrell and Tony Soper, though the most memorable moment came from Johnny’s encounter in the studio with a monkey, who proceeded to clamber all over him. Johnny took it all with good humour and the sight of a presenter who was happy to get their hands dirty, literally, was a pleasing diversion from the rather stiff and formal hosts of the time (though Johnny still wore a smart suit for the first few years). The show was an instant hit and the mix of the odd filmed report, clips from the Beeb’s vast archive of natural history footage and animals in the studio - with Johnny carefully denoting where each one had been brought in from - was to become a familiar one for the next two decades.
And this was all topped off by one of telly’s top theme tunes, the magnificent Las Vegas by Laurie Johnson, which remains hugely memorable to this day, not just among those who were around at the time to hear it in this context. Originally a fortnightly series, Animal Magic went weekly a year later and in its early days almost ran all year round, producing its hundredth episode in 1967.
Johnny’s most famous role, though, was as the man who talked for the animals. Most programmes included a visit to Bristol Zoo, just down the road for the studio, where Johnny dressed as a zookeeper - such a familiar appearance a lot of the audience probably assumed that was his proper job - and joined in with the animals, supplying a distinctive soundtrack by overdubbing them with comic voice-overs. This was an extension of Johnny’s famous narration of Tales From The Riverbank and was hugely popular with the young audience - although even then there were complaints that this anthropomorphism of animals was an unsuitable way of teaching children about the natural world.
Here’s how the show looked in 1975, where the theme tune has had a bit of a rearrangement, which we’re sorry to say we think sounds pretty nifty. Still studio-based, as it would be for the entirety of its life, Johnny welcomed numerous guests, both human and animal. Johnny didn’t have any formal qualifications in zoology and was clearly at his happiest chatting away and admiring the animals, while a host of co-presenters, including David Taylor and Sheila Young, added a bit of grit to proceedings, or as Johnny would often say, “have something important to tell us”. This lead to some (slightly) more journalistic features, the programme not shying away from discussing the less cuddly side of animals with news on conservation and endangered species.
One of the many regular guests who brought animals into the studio was Terry Nutkins, at that point working at Woburn Safari Park, and his obvious enthusiasm for the subject and engaging, unaffected delivery saw him installed as Johnny’s co-host in 1979. As Johnny was in his sixties by now this did add a bit more dynamism to proceedings, and although the show was largely still the same (another rearrangement of the theme tune notwithstanding), it did attempt to move with the times, features in the early eighties including a look at animals that were similar to ET, and inviting Toyah the pop star to meet Toyah the macaw.
By this point Animal Magic wasn’t the only nature show on kids’ TV, as in 1978 it was joined by Wildtrack, initially fronted by former Animal Magic regular Tony Soper alongside Su Ingle. Devised and produced by Mike Beynon, this was a bit more grown-up than Animal Magic, with none of the anthropomorphism, and the intention of inspiring the audience to get out and about and look for animals itself. It was also blessed with another top theme in John Barry’s Florida Fantasy, as you can hear when we join it in 1982, with Tony having been replaced by Michael Jordan.
Animal Magic and Wildtrack happily co-existed for several years in the late seventies and early eighties, though the former was starting to look a bit long in the tooth. Wildtrack producer Mike Beynon started producing both shows and it felt a bit like Johnny’s amateur approach was clashing a bit with the more scientific leanings of the new breed of wildlife film-makers. Certainly compared to the barrage of facts from Wildtrack, Johnny’s whimsical backchat felt a bit like it came from another age, but young kids especially still got a lot out of it. One of Johnny and Terry’s co-stars at the time was Terry’s own sealion Gemini, as memorably serenaded by Johnny in 1981.
Animal Magic did broaden its horizons a bit more in the early eighties, with more location filming showcasing animals in their own environment rather than expecting them to perform to order in the studio. A two-part special in 1981 saw Johnny and Terry go as far as Japan, in order for Terry to rescue a pair of dolphins from a dolphinarium in Tokyo, while another episode saw a jaunt to Nutkins Towers on the Isle of Skye.
But an era was ending and Animal Magic produced its final episode in 1983, though nobody seemed to notice at the time, with clip shows and repeats keeping it on air through to mid-1984. Indeed it wasn’t until November of that year that someone seemed to notice there hadn’t been any new shows for a while, and the Beeb confirmed that it had indeed ended. This was a pretty controversial decision at the time (not helped by the papers reporting that Johnny had been informed by some less-than-tactful exec that “we don’t like your programme and it’s been running too long”) with the suggestion that it had been axed because Johnny’s brand of anthropomorphism was now considered inappropriate, being unsophisticated and not educational enough. However it’s worth remembering that the Beeb continued to use that method on shows like Heads And Tails and Two By Two with Derek Griffiths throughout the eighties and beyond- the difference being that those programmes were aimed at very young children. And indeed Johnny was actually offered another series instead of Animal Magic, presumably aimed at that younger audience, but he turned it down and went into semi-retirement. He never really moaned about it, though he later said he was a bit disappointed that the genre now required specialists and there didn’t seem to be any room for enthusiastic amateurs like him.
It’s unfortunate Animal Magic ended on a pretty rancorous note, but it was clear it had run its course - when it started it was still in the era of Children’s Hour, where there were so few programmes they had to cater for kids of all ages, whereas in the eighties there was a more sophisticated audience and Animal Magic’s uncomfortable blend of silly sketches and hard fact was starting to fall apart at the seams a bit. Indeed it’s worth comparing Johnny to a fellow long-serving kids TV host in Tony Hart, who around the same time moved from Take Hart to Hartbeat, embraced new ideas in presentation and subject matter, and enjoyed continued success for another decade. Seemingly, though, there was no way to change Johnny and Animal Magic without losing his whole appeal. Wildtrack continued, and then in 1986, the true successor to Animal Magic arrived in The Really Wild Show - still mixing facts with fun, and with Nutkins in charge, and to great acclaim. And with another killer of a theme tune, of course.
You can probably find plenty of people on the internet who are quick to tell you that Animal Magic was axed and Johnny was “banned” from TV, but the reality is probably a bit less sensational than all that, the programme one of a number of long-running kids’ shows, like Crackerjack and Screen Test, that all came to an end around the same time. But Johnny’s good humour and wonderfully warm personality ensured he remained a favourite for generations of kids.
11.30 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony
Well, as we mentioned the other week, the Olympics seemed to go as well as anyone was expecting, certainly from a GB perspective, and now it’s time for the Paralympics to get its moment in the spotlight. No awkward pay TV element for these games, with the lot on Channel 4 and More4 broadcasting non-stop from midnight to mid-afternoon, Clare Balding and JJ Chalmers jumping straight over from the Beeb while other presenters include Steph McGovern. We’re promised rather more presentation on site than we got for the Olympics, plus friends and family in the studio to add a bit of atmosphere, and it all starts with the opening ceremony, included here as we always like to feature the big telly events.
A rather less interesting addition to BBC4’s roster of classic comedies here, if only because the whole thing was on iPlayer quite recently, and we recall about 25 years ago (before things like Two Pints of Lager were on BBC3 every night) someone worked out it was the Beeb’s most repeated sitcom ever. Though there’s a reason why it’s on so often, obviously.
20.30 Rewind 1988
Some unscheduled football means we’re now a week behind on this series, so this is the episode we billed last week. So we’ll just repeat what we said then, so... once more we’re expecting a snazzy soundtrack to this episode with top Scottish bands like Aztec Camera nestling near the top of the charts. It’s a particularly sombre episode otherwise, mind, with two terrible tragedies in Lockerbie and Piper Alpha.
17.00 Blue Peter
Top fun last week when Adam put Richie (and incidentally, we wonder when the last time was this programme was presented by two blokes alone) through a fitness challenge you could do at home, including stacking a pile of books - said books including an almost complete collection of Blue Peter books and a couple of copies of the Blue Peter Green Book from the early nineties, clearly the nearest books to hand in the office.
21.00 Comedy Legends
This week we’re celebrating surely Britain’s poshest ever comedian, Joyce Grenfell. Grenfell’s routines were surely the very definition of an acquired taste, and even in the late sixties her material was considered a bit archaic, but those who did acquire it always loved her, and there were enough of them to make her the first comedian to get the honour of a memorial service at Westminster Abbey. We’ll hear some of her most famous routines here, as always accompanied by her old friend, and Play School regular, Bill Blezard.
21.00 The Story of Late Night
“When guests are boring he takes the slack/The network makes his break his back!” So sang The Beach Boys (not, you would have to say, at the height of their powers), one great American institution paying tribute to another in Johnny Carson. Carson is of course the main reason this series even exists, the great man pioneering and refining the various elements that to this day are a staple of every talk show. But nobody’s done it so well for so long, as we’ll see.
20.30 Top of the Pops
Well done to the Reverend Mayo for predicting There’s Nothing Like This would be remembered the song of the summer of 1991. Not quite, as another song on that episode would probably have a bit more of an impact, and of course the next time there’s a new number one, Mayo and all his mates will be long gone. That said, although number one is monopolised for so long (and number two as well, really), there’s some fascinating stuff in the rest of the chart this summer, we think, helped by seemingly a complete lack of any teen idols, with New Kids and Chesney down the dumper and Take That still slogging around on school tours, so all kinds of stuff gets into the top ten. In charge for the first one tonight is everyone’s favourite cool older sister, Jakki Brambles, and with a new do, Jax-fans.
21.00 Top of the Pops
And although teen pop seems a bit of a write-off, there’s a load of top dance music around, much of it enthusiastically championed by Goodiebags on the Evening Session, so it’s good he’s around to introduce the first studio appearance of The Shamen. Not a bad episode, this, actually, if not all brilliant musically then certainly an effective time capsule of the era, which is what you want. Yes, that Divinyls Cypher graphic was quite something, wasn’t it?