Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Newsreel Past

Like all good stories, this starts once upon a time. Like no other stories ever, let alone any good ones, this also starts with some incidental music from Doctor Who.

It was November 1988, and Starburst, the long-defunct monthly bible of all things sci-fi and fantasy (they really ought to have kept their original title, Opal Fruits), were running a review of The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album. As part of the general inability to decide whether they thought it was any good or not, there was a brief history of the countable-on-one-hand releases of Doctor Who music over the years. One such mentioned item was something called The World Of Doctor Who, reportedly originally the b-side to the theme from famously dull 1973 adult drama about the scientific realities of space travel Moonbase 3, and which later, they oh so casually remarked, "found its way onto a Music From BBC Children's Programmes album".

Well, that was more than enough to send one particular pre-internet imagination into overdrive. Not so much over The World Of Doctor Who, though they did make it sound like some kind of Brian Wilson-style Pocket Symphony rather than a load of screechy effects flung at a half-hearted funk backing with the Roger Delgado-heralding 'Master Theme' tacked onto the end, more over the potential contents of the casually-referenced album. This would, some hasty Pertwee-skewed mathematics indicated, date from around the mid-seventies. In other words, the exact era that played host to all those hazily-recalled first-awareness-of-television fringe-of-the-memory shows that had retreated so intangibly into 'The Past' that you might as well have just made them up (something that, in the case of Rubovia, I was regularly accused of having actually done).

What transcendentally obscure delights might be found within its grooves? Rentaghost? Cheggers Plays Pop? Barnaby? The tracklisting just kept writing itself, in ever more evocative and exciting post-Glam pre-Punk ways. And indeed the cover just kept drawing itself too, an ever-evolving psychedelic splurge with Dylan The Rabbit, Mr Benn and indeed 'Cheggers' thrust listenerwards through the magic of clumsy graphic design. Music From BBC Children's Programmes, it seemed, was the key to the gates of some sort of retro-nostalgic nirvana, with a bit of Doctor Who incidental music thrown in for good measure.

The only problem was that this apparent Noah And Nelly In The Skylark Of The Covenant wasn't exactly going to be easy to track down. BBC Records And Tapes had deleted it from their catalogue many years beforehand, so simply walking into a shop and buying it was out. It wasn't really the sort of thing that second hand record shops bothered touching with a bargepole at that point in time, either, so simply walking into a second hand record shop and buying it was out too.

The only hope, it seemed, was charity shops - but these were the days before they wised up to the financial potential of a copy of Bringing It All Back Home with a huge coffee mug ring on the cover, and all 'Long Players' tended to be flung haphazardly into the sort of cardboard box that required anyone who'd been within ten feet of them to be treated for mould inhalation. And even if you had circumnavigated the weird characters standing at awkward angles whilst pursuing the same Decca Stereo Sampler tracklisting for hours on end, and avoided the urge to punch Mario Lanza in his irritatingly recurring cardboard face, there's no guarantee that you'd find a copy that hadn't been smeared with peanut butter and used to line a rabbit hutch by its previous one careful owner. But these were mere trivialities. Music From BBC Children's Programmes had to be found. The Master had spoken.

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