19 August 2013

Henry's Cat

When the TV broke down, Henry's Cat gave it a thump...

The TV set immediately started working, and the Prime Minister came on giving a speech. This seemed worse than not having it working, so Henry's Cat switched it off...

Let's start with a joke! Why did the chicken cross the road? To see Gregory Peck! Henry's Cat and Chris Rabbit were told this "joke" by a three-headed dragon. It's actually a mangling of a joke which begins: "Why did the chicken go to the cinema?" But I prefer the three-headed dragon's version! My family, friends and colleagues never laugh when I tell the joke to them. But I always do.

You're NOT laughing? Oh, well - suit yourself! Let's press on...

First question: what is Henry's Cat's name?

Er... pass.

Oh well, second question: why is Henry's Cat simply called "Henry's Cat"?

Er... pass again.

Actually, in a year 2000 DVD release, creator Stan Hayward gave us the story behind the mysterious absence of a name for our favourite 1980s TV moggy, but back in my favourite decade we had no idea, and it all added brilliantly to the quirkiness of the show. And for those who like the mystery of it all, I won't spoil things! The details are available on the Henry's Cat Special Edition DVD, which sometimes crops up on on-line auction sites.

Henry's Cat in book form and on video cassette in the 1980s, and on DVD in the 21st Century.

Stan Hayward created Henry's Cat in the early 1980s, and Bob Godfrey (of Roobarb fame) animated, directed and narrated the show. The BBC wanted a new series for its children's programming. Rather than do another series of Roobarb, Bob Godfrey asked Stan Hayward for a fresh idea for the new show. And Henry's Cat was the result.

It started out as a series of five minute shorts on BBC1, first broadcast in the 5.35pm slot, just before the news and weather - made famous by such past greats as The Magic Roundabout and Hector's House - on 12 September 1983.  

From series three, the episodes were lengthened to fifteen minutes and the stories became rather more elaborate and sophisticated.

Henry's Cat hits the box on 12 September 1983. Look at those line-ups! John Craven's Newsround! Fame! Hi-De-Hi! The cuttings from my local newspaper archive were apparently headed "24-HOUR TELEVISION", but we didn't actually have 24-hour telly in those days. The full heading was: "24-HOUR TELEVISION AND RADIO". Yep, you COULD listen to the wireless all day and all night - even way back then!

There was a special Christmas Day Henry's Cat episode for 1983, shown on BBC 2 - The Christmas Dinner.

 The 1985 Henry's Cat Annual...

Sadly, Bob Godfrey died this year, and in the Guardian obituary by Stan Hayward, some useful insights on just who Henry was supposed to be were given:

Henry's Cat is never seen in profile, and he doesn't have a name, as the first story was based on Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. The boy, Henry, got lost in the second story and was never part of the TV series or the published books. 

 Henry's Cat was laid back and liked watching the telly, reading and eating - not necessarily in that order. Anyone for jelly baby sandwiches?

He had ambition - often inspired by TV programmes he saw. In 1984, he set out to be World Champion Bender - having seen a spoon bender on the box. But when Henry's Cat bent Big Ben, he found himself on the wrong end of an ear bashing from none other than Margaret Thatcher herself. Never mind. The body-popping Statue of Liberty was a great success, and Henry's Cat set up "Wally Tours" for eager tourists to view his worldwide bending miracles. 

Telly and books often provided the inspiration for Henry's Cat's wild and colourful dreams. 

 Daydreams or night dreams, Henry's Cat could very easily find himself being Sherlock Holmes, fighting three headed dragons, or unexpectedly encountering a pirate video on the high seas as part of Captain McGregor's trusty crew, out hunting for treasure.

 But Henry's Cat was actually pretty wise. "Glamour is mostly pie in the sky," he once said. "But life is mainly a pie in the eye."

Although Henry's Cat could talk, he was, when all was said and done, a cat, and he could also give a very impressive "MIOW!"  In the opening sequence debuting in the second season (1984) - inspired by the old MGM logo, which involved a lion growling most impressively, we saw Henry's Cat giving two very wonderful MIOWS! - with his head framed by the first "O" in the words "Bob Godfrey Films Ltd".

An original 1980s Henry's Cat badge. "Eat, drink and be purry"? Sounds like excellent advice to me!

Henry's Cat wasn't the only regular character on-screen. His best mate was Chris Rabbit, a blue rabbit - and, much as I adored HC, Chris was my favourite character. Hyperactive to the max, Chris bounced around, enthusing about everything, and, although I wasn't quite as lively (or downright barmy) as him, I definitely sensed a kindred spirit there! He couldn't half rabbit, that rabbit!

So could I. Some people say I still do!

Chris's hobby was UFO spotting. He enjoyed studying the sky for flying saucers through his binoculars, and writing down the registration numbers of those he spotted. And he saw quite a lot. Henry's Cat took a look, and couldn't see anything, which either says a lot about Henry's Cat's eyesight, or Chris Rabbit's mental state! 

 Henry's Cat enters the world of politics: "Many others offer false promises, that they do not keep, but I will keep my false promises - that I promise."

Rather more in the background than Chris Rabbit were other friends of Henry's Cat - including Pansy Pig, who loved doing gymnastics. Henry's Cat was most concerned when Pansy became convinced she was ugly, and organised a TV show called Blind Dates. The idea was that the contestant had to choose between three possible suitors, hidden behind a screen. Isn't that rather like Cilla Black's Blind Date, you ask? Even the title? Blind Dates? Blind Date? Well, yes, but Henry's Cat's dates were plural, Cilla only had one. 

Henry's Cat's other friends included Phillipe Frog, who was French, and liked underwater guitar playing, Ted Tortoise, who was training to be a boxer, Denise Duck, who liked water sking, Douglas Dog -  who loved kite flying, Sammy Snail - tightrope walker... er, I mean, slitherer,  and down-to-earth Northerner Mosey Mouse. Constable Bulldog was the local bobby on the beat. He was a traditional cop (''Ello, 'ello, 'ello!") who enjoyed flower arranging in his spare time.

The gang in 1984 - Douglas Dog, Henry's Cat, Chris Rabbit, Mosey Mouse, Pansy Pig, Phillipe Frog, Sammy Snail, Henry's Cat, Denise Duck and Ted Tortoise.

Henry's Cat had two notable enemies: Farmer Giles, whose life our yellow friend unwittingly disrupted on several occasions (well, anybody would be upset to find Myrtle the cow floating on her back in the village pond, spouting water and thinking she was a whale), and Count Rum Baa Baa of Paranoia - a very rum sheep indeed - in fact, a criminal mastermind.  When Rum Baa Baa kidnapped Father Christmas and threatened to cut off his pom pom, the world held its breath. But Henry's Cat and Chris Rabbit came to the rescue, and Christmas was saved.

Like me back in the 1980s, Chris Rabbit was a very enthusiastic bloke. Unlike me, he didn't become an '80s fashion victim as rabbits don't wear clothes.

Bob Godfrey said: "Henry's Cat is completely dozy, he doesn't know anything and of course Chris Rabbit is mad and he thinks that he knows everything, but in actual fact he knows nothing, and so these two together... they are both, you know - barmy!"

From the 1983 Henry's Cat book, The Whale, based on a first series episode, Chris Rabbit has the answer!

Chris Rabbit was a powerhouse of ideas and information. He'd read the history of America on a Cornflakes packet, for example, and was able to prime Henry's Cat when the yellow feline was gripped with a sudden desire to become President of the USA.

It was all a matter of sitting for a Presidents' exam. The person scoring the highest points became President, the one scoring the lowest became Vice President. Having gone to all the trouble of catching a bus from England to the USA, Henry's Cat failed the exam because he went off into a daydream and then fell asleep.

Oh well, never mind.

"Nothing succeeds like excess," says Henry's Cat on this favourite mug of mine. Well, it WAS the 1980s!

In series one, Henry's Cat and his pals came up with a new dance craze. After the Birdie Dance, the Henry's Cat crew entered a TV talent contest and brought us the Disco Doddle, which gripped the nation - and, in fact, everybody was so busy doing it that the Prime Minister feared the country was going to grind to a halt and sent in the paratroop to the TV studio to stop the fun. The studio audience was sent home with the Prime Minster's apologies and a bag of chocolate buttons.

The series was, and is, wonderful, because it has child and adult appeal. 

 Henry's Cat could always turn to Chris Rabbit  for advice...

My fond memories of characters like Henry's Cat (and Chris Rabbit, of course!) help make the big, boring, thoroughly corporate 21st Century world a little more bearable for me. I'm a big kid at heart.

Having immersed myself in Henry's Cat episodes for the last few days, this morning I found myself sitting on the bus, back in the real world, glumly chewing on a Chewy Mint, going into work. UGH! After five days off, the prospect did not really thrill me. Suddenly, inside my head, I heard Chris Rabbit's shrill, hyper-enthusiastic voice: "THAT'S WHAT I'D LIKE TO DO! THAT'S JUST WHAT I'D LIKE TO DO!"

It didn't make me feel any more enthusiastic about my break coming to an end and having to return to the daily grind.

But it did make me smile.

16 August 2013

Brookside - Groundbreaking Soap - Real Houses, Soap Bubbles And Lots More!

The Collins family faced the trauma of Paul's redundancy and a downwardly mobile route to Brookside Close; Jimmy Corkhill was up to no good; Barry Grant wanted dosh and fell into bad ways; Pat, Sandra and Kate faced a mentally disturbed gunman; Sheila Grant faced a late-in-life pregnancy and endless problems from her kids and hubby; Marie Jackson took her "FREE GEORGE JACKSON" campaign to Downing Street; Harry Cross and Ralph Hardwick bickered at the bungalow; and nice yuppie Heather Haversham had a hell of a time...

"From the outset one of my main aims was to reflect Britain in the 1980s..." - Phil Redmond, 1987.

In 1981, Phil Redmond, frustrated that his ideas were failing to reach their potential because of decisions made by others, formed his own TV company - Mersey Television - and put forward the idea to the soon-to-be happening Channel 4 that the company might like a twice weekly soap. The idea was accepted. The soap was originally to be called Meadowcroft, but was later renamed Brookside.

From the "Sun", February 2, 1982. Actually the provisional title for this show, which turned out to be "Brookside", was "Meadowcroft", not "Meadowcraft" and the creator was Phil Redmond not Redmund! Still, "Coronation Street" producer Bill Podmore's confident attitude is worth noting: "I enjoy competition... especially when we are going to win."
Phil Redmond was determined that Brookside would be a show reflecting life in the 1980s, and the technology and setting was also cutting edge. Redmond bought some houses which were still in the process of being built to form the setting for his show and made full use of the lighter, smaller cameras available in the early '80s to film in them. The use of real houses was an absolute first for soap - truly revolutionary.

Most of the houses would provide homes for his characters, others would house the various departments needed to produce a popular drama - technical, wardrobe, canteen, etc. 

The trouble was, the houses used for other things were empty as far as the plot was concerned in the early years - which rather dented the 'reality' of the show. Why had some houses simply remained unsold?

The first episode was shown on Channel 4's opening night in November 1982.

TV Times, 1988 - "South" was a Brookside "soap bubble", shown as part of the schools series "The English Programme". What was a soap bubble? A short series of programmes featuring characters from Brookside in a different scenario. The first, Damon & Debbie, was shown in 1987.

Brookside was so non-cosy, it shocked many viewers. And left wing. I was left wing (nowadays I don't trust any politicians), but none of the people round my way went on and on about being poor or social issues as much as the folk in Brookside. In fact, many got rather upwardly mobile as the decade went on.

But Brookside gave UK soap a much-needed boot up the backside, and the effects can still be felt to this day. If only the soaps hadn't become so sensationalised in more recent years, Brookside included! But nowadays everybody's obsessed with serial killers and explosions. 

Without Brookside, I'm sure BBC bosses would not have turned their attentions to producing their own all-year-round soap - and then EastEnders would never have been created!

 Brookside ended in 2003.

We'll be returning to the Close soon.

Annabelle Collins with husband Paul. Love his '80s jumper! The Collinses faced many traumas: son Gordon was UK soap's first regular gay character; daughter Lucy dallied with bad lad Barry; and whilst Annabelle initially wanted to be friends with her lower class neighbours in the Close and Paul despised them, the trend was reversed in later years, with Paul becoming more of a "people person" and Annabelle succumbing to snobbish impulses. When Paul, training for a charity fun run with "commoner" Matty Nolan, allowed Matty to use the Collinses' shower, Annabelle was disgusted!

06 August 2013

House Music And Garage Music... Separate, Not The Same...

Joanne has written:

Were the dance music genres of the 1980s, House and Garage the same thing? I remember as a kid them being referred to separately, but I recently read of something called "Garage House" on a not very accurate site, and thought I'd turn to you for the answer!

Yes, they were separate, Joanne. House music as a distinct genre of electronic dance music began in Chicago - 1983 was described as "Year Zero" for house in the Channel 4 documentary, Pump Up The Volume. House, of course, hit the mainstream in the mid-1980s. Garage I knew little of until the 1990s, when I heard talk of "house and garage". There was also talk of something called "shed" at that time. It all seemed quite witty, but I was married by then and no longer part of the nightclub scene so know little about Garage. It apparently began in the early 1980s in New York and New Jersey, USA, and was influenced by the same sudden explosion of electronic instruments - synthesizers, drum machines, etc - as house.

The origins of the two genres are separate though.

01 August 2013

1981 - Mr Rubik - The Barron Knights

The Barron Knights gave us the album Twisting The Knights Away in 1981, and reflected the year's main craze on the cover and in one of the tracks - the Rubik's Cube! The Cube blasted out from behind the Iron Curtain, Hungary to be exact, where it had been known as Magic Cube, to become Rubik's Cube in 1980 - re-manufactured to Western World safety and packaging norms.

Small numbers of Magic Cubes had seeped into the West, but there were never enough to spark any major craze, and the Magic Cube was not pliable enough to allow speed cubing, which would become a major feature of the Rubik's Cube craze. The small seepage of Magic Cubes caused some confusion and even the mighty BBC to slip up in its 'I Love...' series, when it claimed the Rubik's Cube arrived in the UK in 1979. It did not actually exist then, and the small numbers of Magic Cubes which seeped over here via a small niche puzzle company largely passed unnoticed. Just check out any UK newspaper archive. The BBC was inundated with complaints and moved the Rubik's Cube to 1980 on its 'I Love...' website. 

As the series had also goofed with the space hopper (UK newspaper articles reveal it was a huge craze from the time of its release in the spring of 1968 and not thrilling and new in 1971) and several other items, pop culture historians now approach the series with extreme caution.

But in the case of the Rubik's Cube, the BBC can't be wholly blamed: rather misleading tales that the tiny niche puzzle company Pentangle in England launched the Magic Cube in the UK in 1978 had been circulating since the early 1980s - taking no account of the tiny numbers available and the Magic Cube's differences to the 1980 Rubik's Cube. As we say, the UK newspaper archives are a great recorder of past crazes, as are magazines of the time.

From the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine's review of 1981 - the Year of the Cube in the UK.

Sadly, the 1980 Rubik's Cubes were also in woefully short supply at first. Although the trademark was registered in the UK on 7 May 1980, the first of them did not arrive until later in the year - and still stocks were low. In the spring of 1981 more Cubes arrived. The craze flamed, and was so ferocious that the colourful little object become one of the main icons of the 1980s. 

Hear the Barron Knights' humorous Rubik's  Cube song below, with some clever modern day Cube animation that just suits the mood - and evokes very powerfully the spirit of 1981! Mr Rubik was, of course, the puzzle's inventor, Erno Rubik, and much more can be read about the Cube by clicking on our "Rubik's Cube" label below.