Thursday, 28 July 2011

Heads And Tails, Here We Hoo-ba-doo-ba-de-ba-doo-ba-do-ba-be-do-doodah-doodah-doodah-doodah-do-mmmmm-mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Teddy Edward - who, incidentally, now resides in a Japanese toy museum, having been sold in the nineties for a frankly ridiculous amount of money, despite one of the original Camberwick Green soldier boys failing to sell at all around the same time (and you probably wouldn't get twenty seven pence for Uncle Casserole... but we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves there) - may well have been a prolific chronicler of his equally prolific overseas travel, but he clearly did all of his pointing-out-on-the-map-all-the-places-he-had-been in big writing on the back of postcards rather than in Eric Newby-troubling weighty journals. In fact, there wasn't even enough in the way of photographic stills and sub-Whicker's World narration stroke annotation to fill a full fifteen-minute Watch With Mother slot, and his photographically-illustrated cultural wanderings were related in mere five minute instalments.

This scheduling shortfall was duly made up by Ring-A-Ding, a videotaped studiobound ten minute effort in which Derek Griffiths improvised in front of some big pieces of coloured card. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have the entire ethos of mid-seventies children's television distilled into its purest scientific form. In the kingdom of presenters being expected to think on their feet in a 'white void' set, Derek Griffiths was king, and when you're faced with such pretenders to the throne as Brian Cant, Johnny Ball, Fred Harris and Floella Benjamin - some of whom we'll be meeting again later on - that's no mean feat. Formerly a would-be jazz-folker given to vocal yodelling in the style of Tim Buckley, by the early seventies Griffiths, like many of his peers (including the earlier-mentioned Toni Arthur and Lionel Morton), had fallen into children's television presenting almost by accident, and proceeded to spend the remainder of the decade doing his rubber-limbed thang across just about any BBC children's programme you care to mention, not to mention indulging in such extra-curricular 'is it canon?' activities as presenting Public Information Films about bike theft and (in animated form) the ridiculous 'Splink' campaign, and lending his contortive qualities to hazily-recalled Twister-infringing board game Bent Outta Shape.

Needless to say, his vocal talents and indeed songwriting abilities were often called into service for his TV 'gigs', and most viewers of a certain age will be familiar with his off-the-wall 'in-character' animal songs for Heads & Tails, and indeed his even-more off-the-wall-still wordless yodelling for Bod, previously likened within this convoluted stream-of-consciousness storyline to the output of sixties cello-sawing types AMM. Despite its minimalist approach, Ring-A-Ding clearly made maximum use of his musical resources, as on Music From BBC Children's Programmes we get - bolted together, as you may be expecting by now, into a single track - both the theme and a song used within an actual episode. The former runs to a mere twenty four seconds, though it's those mere twenty four seconds that have had many a collector clamouring for a copy of this album (and that's enough uses of the word 'mere' for this post). As again you might well be expecting, it's twenty four seconds' worth of Griffiths-strummed acoustic guitar, with doorknocker-thrapping, whistling, and short but to the point lyrics about how he's, well, going to tell us a story.

The story in this case - and the proto-postmodernist first verse amusingly outlines yet again that this is a story that Derek Griffiths is going to tell - is that of a boy named Ricky, who built an aeroplane to the bemused chagrin of his peers, which nonetheless ultimately 'flew' with the aid of his going, erm, "brum brum". Though this pleasantly early-seventies-chart-pop-like ditty was indeed used in Ring-A-Ding, this particular recording of it is in fact rather confusingly lifted - like some other track selections we've yet to encounter - from fellow BBC Records And Tapes release Sing A Song Of Play School, its inter-show use presumably the result of them temporarily sharing multi-talented producer Michael Cole, whose pronounced interest in Zen Buddhism presumably accounted for the 'less is more' stylistic approach of Ring-A-Ding. And the 'less' that we get here has certainly left one or two listeners wanting 'more', the undue prominence of this obscure entry on Music From BBC Children's Programmes leading to occasional speculation that there might well be a full-length Ring-A-Ding album out there somewhere. Sadly, if there is, then it's still gathering dust in the BBC Worldwide tape archive, with not even a test pressing ever having emerged. Though it has to be admitted that there's not exactly legions of collectors looking for one.

If you're looking for obscure 'lost world' children's television - and, lest we forget (though there's been so much rambling along the way that you probably have forgotten), that's what we came here looking for - then you'd be hard pushed to find a better example than Ring-A-Ding. Once shown in constant rotation and so well-known that it found its way onto this album, it's since fallen into almost complete cultural oblivion, and yet all of the pieces that it slots together are so familiar that you can almost feel what it must have looked like even if you've never seen it. Added to that, its apparent leanings towards spiritual philosophy (well, in the form of Derek Griffiths and some card, at any rate) only serve to intensify the feeling that we are on the verge of a breakthrough to that higher plane of consciousness where Barnaby is dispensing wisdom about how cultural obscurity will ultimately reach a critical mass which will then resolve itself into a clip appearing on Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe. And, by the sound of it, there's a fire engine bell echoing from somewhere in the Barnaby-planed distance...

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

I Can Say What I Like On The B-Side/Nobody Much Will Ca... Hello?

At the risk of coming across like a pale imitation of John Fowles (or, on the available literary evidence, more likely that robot calendar thing off of Once Upon A Time... Man)... OK, let me have a guess. The reason for the sudden dip in 'audience appreciation index' - now so low that it's making The Trial Of A Time Lord look like all three The Lord Of The Rings films combined - is that you're all a tad fed up of how long it's taking for each instalment of this ludicrous tale to appear (apart from Dave Bryant, who is simply fed up of being publically accused of liking that bloody Mrs Pinkerton record). This, it has to be conceded, is a fair point. It's been six months already, and we haven't even got to the end of the first side of Music From BBC Children's Programmes yet; at this rate, it's going to run in to the only reasonable timeframe for the proposed follow-on storyline (Spoiler, as the 'fans' have it, Alert). And, let's be honest about it, it's only five paragraphs at a time of stream-of-consciousness nonsense about Barnaby sub-dimensionally splitting into millions of showering fractal particles, so there shouldn't really be remaster-of-Loveless-length gaps between each five-paragraph burst. So yes, let's have this updated a bit more regularly, and you can all start reading again. Deal? Anyway, where were we...?

You may well have noticed that, thus far, Music From BBC Children's Programmes has yet to stray into the realms of the arcane and obscure. The nearest that it's come to anything gathering dust in the most neglected corners of the mass retroreminiscence, and indeed to anything gathering dust in the most neglected corners of the BBC Archive, has been 4th Dimension, and even that is at least semi-known from its Everett-and-Radiophonic-Workshop associations. What we've covered so far have been welcome - and in most cases enjoyable - inclusions, but they're all pretty much what you'd expect to find on an album with this title dating from 1976. In fact, if you drew up a list of shows that you expected it to contain the themes from - and that's a proper list, not that weird counting-off-on-fingers thing Peter Kay used to do when making dull observations about old-skool children's TV on clip shows - then you'd probably nail 99% of the tracklisting there and then.

But what of that other 1%? Well, it's composed of a small but jarring handful of shows whose inclusion must have seemed a foregone conclusion back in 1976, but that have since almost entirely vanished into, and indeed subsequently from, the cultural ether. You won't find them on DVD, or in fact even mentioned anywhere outside of TV Cream. These shows are - and pardon the grammatical mismatch - The Music From BBC Children's Programmes That Time Forgot. But Music From BBC Children's Programmes sure didn't forget them. And this, readers (those of you that are still left, at any rate), is where it really starts to get para-reality-psychedelia headsplitting, heading off into the same musico-cerebral realm occupied by, well, the theme music from Para-Reality-Psychedelia Smith's Cookery Course. Which was, incidentally, stolen lock stock and barrel for the theme music from Press Gang, but that's another another another anoth- ("oh don't start all that again...").

And you can bet that if anyone had visited said musico-cerebral realm, it was long-forgotten globetrotting medallion-sporting bear Teddy Edward. Once a regular fixture in the Watch With Mother schedules, but now scarcely remembered by anyone, Teddy Edward did his travelling to exotic climes with the aid of a natty motorised jeep and a procession of Richard Baker-narrated still photographs, interspersing proto-globalisation facts and figures about other cultures with surrealist whimsy about why those crazy humans insisted on wearing knotted hankies on their heads. It was, to all intents and purposes, like watching someone's holiday slides as rewritten by JB Morton, and better still it all played out to a deliciously funky jazz instrumental, led by one of those 'angry' flutes that a certain TV Cream contributor spent their childhood fearing signified the collapse of social order and the rise of The Yippies or someone.

But, unfortunately, that's all that there is to say about said theme music for now (though it was released on a record, but that's... hey, come back!), as - surprisingly - it's not actually included on Music From BBC Children's Programmes. So why mention it in lieu of whatever programme we should actually be talking about? Stay 'tuned' to find out. If you've not heard the remaster of Loveless before then, that is...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Killing Me Softly With His Moogs Funks Breaks

The point of all that background detail on If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was to bring us - in a very roundabout way - to the somewhat inappropriately named fifth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes. And as the two posts building up to this have been the least popular entries in the whole saga of The Golden Road To Unlimited Barnaby thus far, it had better be worth it. Still, that's what happens when you spend far too long wittering on about one of the least popular aspects of the already fairly unopular medium of radio. Wonder if it would have fared any better with a mention of une emission du service des sports presente par Jacques Vendou?

Anyway, one of Kenny Everett's regular inserts in If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was Rock Salmon - Private Investigator, a madcap spoof of old radio detective serials which started off with something resembling a proper storyline about Edward Heath being stolen, and degenerated into little more than weekly insulting of Mary Whitehouse. After the demise of If It's Wednesday, It Must Be..., Radio 4 were keen to retain Everett's services in a child-entertaining capacity, and duly installed him in a Saturday afternoon show, 4th Dimension. This had much the same format as If It's Wednesday, It Must Be..., albeit with a less belief-beggaring line-up, other contributors including broadcaster Phil Drabble, astronomer Patrick Moore, purveyor of finest 'improving' tedium about ballet-loving youngsters sent to live with stern maiden aunts Noel Streatfeild (yes, that's how it's spelt[CITATION NEEDED]), and impenetrable literary schoolboy 'Jennings'. If you could make it through all that without switching off in boredom - or indeed without stopping reading this blog in boredom, which is what all the 'cool kids' seem to be doing - there were also the exploits of Everett's great forgotten post-Rock Salmon pre-Captain Kremmen Wireless Workshop-derived hero, Captain Rex Radio, who sought to thwart the supervillainous schemes of mad scientist Ernst Krakov with the assistance of hippy cat Passionflower.

And the above is an even more roundabout way of getting to the point that track five was - yes, you guessed it - the theme from 4th Dimension. This was by Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the 'second wave' of Workshop composers who had been brought in largely because he had a rock music background and knew how to work those new-fangled 'Moog' things, and someone we'll be meeting a few times during this album. In 1973, EMI asked him to record an extra-curricular 'Synths Play The Top Pops'-style album for their famed Studio 2 Stereo imprint, much as some previous Workshop occupants had ended up recording a prog album for Island... but that's another story. The result was Supercharged!, where bonkers Kingsland originals like The Earthmen rubbed shoulders with Mooged-up renditions of the likes of Killing Me Softly With His Song, Cecilia and, erm, The Wombling Song. Sensing an opportunity, BBC Records And Tapes duly arranged for him to produce a similar album with his various TV and radio themes rearranged in a pop style. Unfortunately this was never really going to set the charts alight, containing as it did the themes from such iconic well-remembered shows as Scene & Heard, The Space Between and Just Love, and best known track Reg (the theme music for the BBC's African Service) is arguably only well known because it later ended up on the flipside of the Doctor Who theme... but that's another another story.

Anyway, it was from there that the 4th Dimension theme was extracted for Music From BBC Children's Programmes, its twangy electronic burblings presumably constituting a considerable portion of the 'moogs funks breaks' that get eBay sellers so financially unrealistically hot under the collar. It sounds, as all Paddy Kingsland's efforts from this time tend to, as though a failing Acid Folkie had tried to write a hit pop song, but had their idea stolen by a robot who then hid at the bottom of a very large well packed with echo units. This, in case you hadn't realised, is a very good thing, though let's save the discussions about rural-pluralism for another time please. It's a prime example of that odd period when electronics first discovered pop music, and as such very much sonically evocative of that all-important sub-psychotropic Barnaby-buys-a-Casio-VL-Tone era, and all the more effective for someone who had owned a 4th Dimension annual during that same timeframe without ever quite understanding what it actually was. Meanwhile, the 4th Dimension theme would surely have been a prime contender for the planned synth-showcasing original version of The Sound Gallery 2 before Funtastian Retrololz and his pals got their grubby terylene-shirted hands on the 'Loungecore' scene... but that's another another another story.

And if you are one of the readers that's loyally stayed with this perhaps rather taxing narrative lurch, which for some must have been as appropriately impenetrable as, well, an old Radio Times radio listing, then thank you very much indeed. And if you're one of the ones that hasn't, then come back! There's some Derek Griffiths in a minute...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Here's Baked Jam Roll In Kenneth Robinson's Eye

And so the downward trend continues. Like some blog post-based microcosmic re-enactment of the viewing figures chart for Heroes, the inexplicable record-breaking Torchwood: Children Of Earth-rivalling stitch-that-Hannah-so-called-Minx audience interest of but a fortnight ago has given way to a slump into single figures. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who are only interested in seeing Mr Swallow The Wharfinger and Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye by Timebox alluded to in the same sentence. It's tempting to speculate on whether this decline is index-linked to the warmer weather, or as former Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner once bizarrely speculated to people not being able to use their ovens properly, but there's no time for that as - even though, in a neat bit of postmodern meta-textual irony, the viewing stats are starting to climb dramatically even as this is being typed - this is a more than fitting moment to mention the similarly dwindling interest in children's radio in the early to mid seventies, and how as a result, BBC Radio 4 were able to get away with something called If It's Wednesday, It Must Be....

A magazine show for children broadcast in the school holidays throughout 1972 and 1973, If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was just one of many Radio 4 magazine shows for children broadcast in the school holidays. The most widely celebrated of these, and the one that will hopefully cause a healthy amount of visitors to alight on this page, was mid-eighties effort Pirate Radio 4, home to addresses to the nation by one Adrian Albert Mole (performed by Sue Townsend's preferred incumbent of the role, Nicholas Barnes), and brand new audio-only adventures for the 'Cancellation Crisis'-stricken Doctor Who, for the benefit of fans who could use their ovens properly. If It's Wednesday, It Must Be..., however, was marked out from all of its historical and latterday counterparts by its curious roll call of contributors, most of whom were primarly known for work for an older audience, and some of whom had caused widespread consternation even there.

For starters, it was presented by Kenneth Robinson, a radio anchor for whom the term 'loose cannon' could have been invented, and even then would be barely adequate. Regularly lambasted in the press for various outbursts, physically attacked mid-broadcast by Pamela Stephenson, and actually refusing to sign off live on air when he was eventually quietly 'retired', he was exactly the sort of figure that certain parties would use as a convenient stick to beat the BBC with in this day and age, and as such not exactly the sort of figure that you'd expect to find presenting a show for children. Nor, indeed, would you expect to find him introducing such contributors as electronic music pioneer and Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin; visiting American 'shock-comedy' troupe The Credibility Gap (featuring a pre-Spinal Tap Harry Shearer); Progressive Rock's only known resident poet Lady June; late night Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale; old-skool bandleader Benny Green; close-harmonising Franglais-parlezing satirist Miles Kington; surrealist poet Ivor Cutler; highbrow columnist and legendary drinker Jeffrey Bernard; and, especially, its two most prominent contributors - Kenny Everett and Vivian Stanshall - of whom more hereafter.

Had you been scanning the Radio Times back in the 'day', you'd have been forgiven for thinking this was some kind of late night experimental hoedown that had somehow broken free of its scheduling moorings. But it wasn't. It was concieved, produced and broadcast as entertainment for children, and what's more all concerned seem to have relished the challenge of refining their work to suit a younger audience. Kenny Everett, for example, was at that point trapped in a weird career no-man's-land, between being fired by Radio 1 (for making a joke about the Minister for Transport's wife passing her driving test because she "crammed a fiver in the examiner's hand") and the arrival of commercial radio, and was only too happy to have an opportunity to get back to tape fiddling-festooned audio lunacy. Similarly, Vivian Stanshall had still not quite found his artistic feet following the break-up of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and used the show to experiment with a series of frantically languid comic monologues about aristocratic misfits, which later evolved into Sir Henry At Rawlinson End. In short, this was everything that esoterica-favouring aesthetes now hold dear about radio condensed into one show aimed at children. You can keep your Chris Moyles, thanks.

Even by 1972, children's radio was about as popular as Here Is A Box has been over the past couple of weeks, but If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was so unusual that it became something of a cult favourite. Inevitably it didn't last, due more to the contributors' commitments elsewhere than anything else, and nor - you may be surprised to read - did it find its way onto Music From BBC Children's Programmes. To find out why, then, we've spent an entire post banging on about a seemingly irrelevant programme, you'll have to stay 'tuned' for the story of what happened next...