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...

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