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How is it expected to work with these amateurs?

12th-18th June 2021

Hullo there!

And welcome to another Creamguide from a week that’s mostly filled with the Euros, though we have tried to find some other programmes and if nothing else takes your fancy we’ve got some snazzy clips of Fred Harris and Brian Cant. Letters to


12th JUNE


10.15 Trooping the Colour
Last time this happened, we pondered if it was the only event the Beeb had shown every year since the war, only to find out that it didn’t happen in 1948 because of bad weather and 1955 because of a train strike. And of course it went for a burton last year like everything else, although we did get a pocket-sized bit of pageantry with an audience of one. A bit more like it this year, still in the grounds of Windsor Castle but with a thousand soldiers taking part, and the excitement of the honours list before it, of course.


21.00 Phil Collins at the BBC
Well, this’ll be a thriller. Actually although Phil is a pretty cheap punchline, it seems it’s only in this country where he’s something of a national joke, as across the world he’s been regularly acclaimed as one of the greatest drummers of all time, and famously loads of hip-hop artists have unironically cited him as one of their favourite ever artists and a huge inspiration. But it’s fair to say that his self-consciously “normal bloke” shtick can be a bit tiresome, and for every great song there’s about half a dozen tedious slabs of self-styled “quality pop”. Let’s hope for loads of the former on this, alongside sundry other clips including his memorable appearance on The Two Ronnies.


11.30 The Big Match Revisited
And for those of you who don’t like sport, there’s sport, although this action from 1980 is about as far removed from the current state of the game as the Victorian era would have seemed at the time. We’re rather darting through the second half of the season, as we’re already at the end of March, when Palace’s season has long since petered out, but it’s good news for Saddlers fans as ATV take a rare trip to Walsall.

BBC Radio 2

13.00 Pick of the Pops
One of those weeks where the second year is actually earlier than the first year last week, which we’re sure will be welcomed by some. Mind you, the first year is 1975, which is often cited as the worst ever year for pop music, although that seems to be because there was no really dominant musical genre as far as the singles chart goes - there was a lot of prog around, but only on LP - and so the Top 20 is so often a bizarre selection of records that shouldn’t have even been in the same shop, let alone the same listing, though in among the novelties there’s some nice soul and disco, plus the mighty Fox. Then it’s 1983 where no doubt Gambo will sail straight past The Imposter but we don’t mind hearing George Benson with the greatest key change in the history of recorded music.

BBC Radio 4

20.00 Stewart Lee - Unreliable Narrator
This should be an enjoyable affair, given Stew’s obvious delight in misleading, confusing and irritating his audience. In this programme he’s going to ask why, if we apparently appreciate truth, honesty and authenticity, why we so enjoy such obviously tall tales from unreliable narrators - and ponders if it’s all fun and games until people in power start using the same approach.


13th JUNE

Talking Pictures TV

21.00 The Champions
England are playing today, so in the eyes of the broadcasters if you’re not interested you’re officially a sap, hence BBC2’s screening of Summer Holiday opposite the match. This is still continuing in the evenings, getting we think its first network outing since it nicely filled the teatime slot on BBC2 25 years ago. As we said last time we billed it, in many ways this seems the ultimate of all the sixties action shows, thanks to its memorable theme tune, its low-rent transatlantic glamour and the numerous guest appearances from pretty much every actor operating at the time, although Creamguide’s dad watched it last week for possibly the first time since the original broadcasts, and proclaimed it a load of rubbish, so swings and roundabouts.


14th JUNE


21.20 Victoria Wood
As you can see it’s a bit of a quiet week outside the Euros, though if you’re desperately searching for an alternative here’s something every night this week which we don’t think has had an outing for a while - something of a change from around its original broadcast when BBC1 repeated them pretty much every six months. It’s her series of playlets from 1989, which were hugely acclaimed at the time, but seem to have fallen out of favour a bit since. Victoria later suggested she didn't really enjoy making them and on day one of recording she realised she should have done them in front of a studio audience, so they fall a bit flat, some of them seem a bit too much like sketches stretched out far beyond their natural length and, generous performer though she was, she doesn’t get enough funny things to do in them herself. But sub-par Victoria is still better than most people’s best work, so worth another look surely.

Not sure why it’s taken us so long to get to this one, given it made such an impression on generations of kids and, like many other people no doubt, it was the first telly show we can actually remember watching. It’s....

PLAY SCHOOL (1964-88)
It’s a famous fact that, after a power cut derailed its opening night, Play School ended up being the first ever programme on BBC2 on 21st April 1964. But in many ways it was just as innovative and challenging as the shows the new channel were putting out in primetime, as it was devised at a time when there was a major debate about the quality, or otherwise, of pre-school education. First producer Joy Whitby engaged the services of numerous experts in learning and literature to devise her nursery school of the air, while the presenters were chosen to be “resourceful young men and women, many with children of their own”. Gordon Rollings and Virginia Stride were the first presenters, and many of the familiar aspects are already intact, including a rather odd-shaped Humpty.
Joy Whitby and her (mostly all-female) production team got the mix almost exactly right, and for those who could see the new channel, its eleven o’clock slot quickly became a regular fixture, parents trusting them to engage and entertain their children. But that wasn’t many, as BBC2 took a while to become available nationwide and you needed a new set to pick it up, and the first most people saw of it was a run in the afternoons on BBC1 in the summer of 1965. In 1968 it started its familiar pattern of a first showing at 11am on BBC2 and then a repeat around 4pm on BBC1. By that point it had already made a thousand programmes, as celebrated here by Julie Stevens and Colin Jeavons.
It didn’t look it, but Play School was a hugely progressive programme, always looking to introduce new experiences and cultures to its audience. One way it did that was in its choice of presenters, who were drawn from all kinds of backgrounds, whether that was teaching, acting, comedy or music. Brian Cant was famously hired after being spotted playing a figure on a Roman urn on a schools programme and attending an audition where he was thrown a cardboard box and asked to row out to sea. Johnny Ball, meanwhile, was a former stand-up comedian who made his debut in 1967 and here’s one of his earliest episodes, an OB (now in colour, you note) alongside Marla Landi, a regular on the programme in the early days despite English being her second language. Watch out for Johnny having the thankless task of having to sing and eat at the same time.
By the early seventies, Play School was an absolute institution, running five days a week, 52 weeks a year, and an absolute landmark in most kids’ (and parents’) routines. The huge number of hours produced meant the production team, and the presenters, had to be incredibly imaginative, and for a while a regular catchphrase behind the scenes was “Go and do something interesting with umbrellas”, based on the idea that even bad weather shouldn’t stop them doing something worthwhile. The show absolutely burst with ideas, although one thing that didn’t appear very much was actual children - there were pretty much never any in the studio, nor any surrogate children like the puppets in Rainbow, and in the films they were always peripheral to the action. This ensured nobody got in the way of that crucial link between the presenter and the viewer.
By 1974, the show celebrated its tenth anniversary in fine form, with Chloe Ashcroft and Derek Griffiths welcoming some other familiar presenters to a special party. And as they mention, Play School had caused such a stir the format was sold internationally, with many countries producing their own versions. Australia was the first to the party, in 1966, and it’s still running there to this day, like its parent show a fond memory for generations of kids and the starting point for a number of famous faces, including Neighbours’ Anne Haddy and, for many years, Trisha Goddard.
Indeed the profits made from selling the format abroad meant there was some extra cash for a spin-off. Starting in 1971, Play Away was initially little more than a weekend edition of Play School, but its placing on a Saturday teatime, usually between two films, brought it a much wider audience, and it soon broadened its horizons to become a much funnier, sillier show, stuffed with gags and songs and performed in front of a lively studio audience. Brian Cant, in many people’s eyes Mister Play School, was the star, but many of the Play School regulars took a turn on the show to showcase their wider talents, and it was a popular series that enjoyed a marathon run of thirteen years.
Music played an important role in both Play Away and Play School - not only did many hosts, like Rick Jones and Toni Arthur, come from a musical background and could sing and play instruments, but there was always live music in the studio, and many top names in jazz and folk would regularly and happily do stints in the Play School band. Unsurprisingly the show spun off into several records and much of the music really is exceptional, the most famous probably being Rick Jones’ Bang on a Drum, a genuinely amazing piece of music that was famously sampled on some seminal house tracks twenty years later.
The presenters on Play School in the late seventies include some of the most famous and beloved names in kids TV - the likes of Carol Chell, Floella Benjamin, Carol Leader, Don Spencer, Chloe Ashcroft and, our favourite, Fred Harris. All of them enjoyed their time on the show and learned loads, and most continued to enjoy parallel adult careers, the great Derek Griffiths, as seen up there, saying he once played a murderer on stage one night and then presented Play School the next morning. Stuart McGugan famously combined several years on Play School with a long-running role on It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and later revealed that when people asked him why he still messed around on kids TV, he’d say “five shows and five repeats, every six weeks” and, after a pause, they’d ask him if he knew of any jobs going. That said, the presenters all knew their place and after their stints they were never told when, or if, they’d be invited back.
In 1979, Play School, and BBC2, celebrated their fifteenth birthday with a special programme presented by Barry Took. By this point it was one of the most famous shows on TV and absolutely part of the telly furniture - famously the only programme that could interrupt coverage of the party conferences. The biggest stars, though, were the toys - maybe not Hamble, but Eric Morecambe was famously a regular visitor to the studio to say hello to them, especially his favourite Big Ted.
In the early eighties, though, changes were afoot. The programme had always moved with the times and aimed to reflect the latest thinking in pre-school education, and editor Cynthia Felgate - who’d been there since day one as a production assistant - wanted to continue doing just that. Hence in 1983, Play School moved house! We have vivid memories of this, with the familiar old house being packed up, with the final week of the old format coming in September 1983, which also coincided with its five thousandth episode, and a move to BBC1, with the schools programmes heading in the other direction.
The new look Play School was the biggest departure for the series since the beginning. The new set, theme tune and graphics were a bit of a surprise, but it was the change of format that was the biggest jolt for the young audience - rather than the familiar double act presenting the programme, there was now a single presenter each week accompanied by an array of co-stars who would often just pop in for a story or a make. The famous old clock was replaced by a Heath Robinson-style contraption, and there were new sketches and puppet characters alongside the famous old toys. It was a much faster-moving show, and was a clear attempt to move with the times and appeal to a more sophisticated child audience, but the changes seemed a bit too abrupt, the production team receiving hundreds of complaints from parents of baffled kids. Worst of all, some of the most popular and familiar faces, like Brian Cant, appeared far less frequently.
It wasn’t long before some of the more alienating changes were rolled back, with the return of a familiar clock, the likes of Brian Cant and Fred Harris making more regular appearances again, and a rather less frantic pace. Despite the controversy, most kids got used to it and it was still produced to the very highest standards. In 1985 the afternoon showing was dropped, but to make up for it to those who had started school there was an additional compilation show on a Sunday morning. Up there is the latest episode we can find from 1987, with old favourite Chloe Ashcroft accompanied by new recruit Robert Kitson, while earlier that week a tyro storyteller and illustrator called Russell Davies made his one and only appearance.

By this point, however, Play School was coming to an end. Anna Home, who had been involved in the earliest shows and was now Head of Children’s Programmes, felt it was still rooted in its earliest days and a world of toys and nurseries which no longer existed, and despite attempts to update it, felt that radical change was required. It turned out that Cynthia Felgate, who did so much to make the show a success, was the one to finally kill it off, her new Felgate Productions company winning the contract to produce its replacement in Playbus. The last new episode of Play School went out in March 1988, although there was no mention of that on air - unsurprising given it was immediately followed by six months of repeats before the very final broadcast in October.

Over thirty years later, Play School continues to have a major impact - not just in the memories of the millions of kids who grew up with it, but also as many of its personnel both on and off screen went on to enjoy great success with the many pre-school shows that followed it. Of course, now the Beeb has a whole channel and so there isn’t the requirement for a single show to do everything, but for generations it remains a much-cherished series.


15th JUNE

Talking Pictures TV

20.00 Danger UXB
This week’s Creamguide appears to be written by Creamguide’s dad, but we know he’ll appreciate this run because on all the previous runs he’s managed to miss the same exact episode each time. It’s funny how that often happens, and indeed the reverse where you keep on stumbling the same episode of a series every time, and we’d welcome any memories of that kind of phenomenon. As we’ve said before, this was a hugely popular series in its day, and one that still stands up thanks to it all being shot on film, compared to its studio-bound seventies period drama stablemates. Unfortunately it was very expensive, and they ran out of true stories from World War II to adapt, which meant there was only ever one series, but this channel have certainly made the most of it.


16th JUNE

Sky Arts

23.00 Comedy Legends
Peter Sellers’ story is very much the ultimate sadness-behind-the-smile, as while he enjoyed absolutely amazing success as the man of a thousand voices who kept the nation spellbound as one of the Goons, and one of the few British comic actors to enjoy sustained success in Hollywood, he was famously an incredibly private man, and behind the camera there were plenty of failed marriages, fall-outs and health scares. Here’s Barry to spend much more time on the on-screen action, though.


17th JUNE


17.00 Blue Peter
Despite being unveiled in a blaze of glory, the new set looks quite a bit like the old one - although that’s sort of the point, as it is actually the old set recycled, with an entertaining feature last week where Mwaksy found out how they did it. And we do like the new alternative seating area as it has a bit of a Saturday morning vibe about it. This week it’s got Denmark vs Belgium for competition.

Sky Arts

22.00 Discovering Sci-Fi on Film
This is a bit of a low-fi format, pretty much just a Sight and Sound feature on screen, but none the worse for that and certainly worth a look for those who ponder why there isn’t much serious film discussion on TV like these, unlike the golden age of the Film programme and Moviedrome. It’s Ian Nathan, Neil Norman and Stephen Armstrong, who have given themselves ninety minutes to decide on the 25 best sci-fi films of all time. And that’s all there is to it, really.


18th JUNE


20.00 Top of the Pops
England vs Scotland kicks off at the same time as this episode begins, so the tweetalong might be a bit sparse tonight. Whenever you end up catching it, Jakki is in charge tonight, who alongside the Reverend Mayo seems to have become social media’s favourite of the current hosts, and while the new chart rundown is a bit strange - as starting the Top 40 at number 38 is always going to look a bit weird - it does feel like the show is getting a bit more of a shift on. Though this one’s from the day the Gulf War ended its effects are still being felt with an appearance by, cough, Massive.
20.30 Top of the Pops
Then it’s Campbell with another laughably eclectic line-up, with the good news for shoegazers being the debut of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Red Nose Day is on the horizon as well, so that means a play for the official Comic Relief single, though unfortunately Victoria Wood’s Smile Song doesn’t get much airplay and it’s the other side we’ll hear throughout its chart run.

And that's that...

But we’ll try and find some more programmes for next week’s Creamguide.
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