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.


Peter Gray said...

lovely tribute and as you say the episodes are great for adults as well...lots of silliness and wonderful ideas...
Very inspired by it...had the Henry's cat draw cartoons book and cook book...also met Bob Godfrey!

Drew said...

I thought about you whilst I was writing the HC post, Peter - knowing what a cartoon enthusiast you are! I'm really glad you liked Henry's Cat. It was a great show. Must have been a great experience, meeting Bob Godfrey!

Peter Gray said...

I was speechless...Doh! my friend had to all the talking...though Bob drew me a nice Roobarb and Custard and signed it...drawn on an actual cell...its framed in the hall...
It was part of my degree in Graphic Design to go to animation was great seeing Bob's old machines..

Drew said...

Brilliant! I'm sure I would have been speechless too! I love Bob Godfrey's narration of Henry's Cat - particularly the voices of Henry's Cat, Chris and Mosey Mouse. There was one show in which Henry's Cat dreamt about fairy tales and was a wondering minstrel, singing his head off - it sounded very cats' chorus and went something like: "Oh, nonny no, here I go..." Fabulous! Bob and Stan made a great team.