The more I think about the television programmes that I used to watch as a child, the more that come floating back into my memory…some are, thankfully, alive and kicking online thanks to those who kept endless hours of videotapes and have since uploaded them to YouTube. I am one of those who has endless hours of videotapes but, as yet, haven’t progressed to uploading any…but there’s plenty of time for that. We have other matters to contend with!
THE PRETENDER (1996-2000)
This one is a mystery to me. On the surface this story of a specially gifted man, with the ability to instantly master any skill, escaping from a secret agency and travelling the country taking on a different jobs and helping strangers should have been much bigger than it was. Even though it ran for four series and a couple of TV movies, The Pretender appears to have been largely forgotten and that, to me, is a crime. A hugely entertaining and extremely underrated action drama, it stars Michael T. Weiss as Jarod and Andrea Parker as Miss Parker, the woman forced with the task of bringing Jarod back. I have nothing but fond memories of this show and am sad that its not been repeated anywhere or, for that matter, available on DVD here in the UK. I think a Pretender resurgence is much needed and it starts now! Google it, YouTube it and spread the word. There are Pretenders among us…
WATCH IT FOR: The opening set-up
GRANGE HILL (1978-2008)
Classic kids drama set in a London comprehensive school that launched a thousand careers. A generation of kids grew up with the antics of the students at Grange Hill, reflecting everyday life and struggles that teenagers faced. The brainchild of Phil Redmond, it went on to tackle sensitive issues as teenage pregnancy, abuse and drugs – the latter being responsible for a hit record and a trip to the White House. Characters such as Tucker, Zammo, Gonch, Mr Bronson, Mrs McCluskey are all ingrained in our memories as is the show itself, harking back to the halcyon days of old.
HOME IMPROVEMENT (1991-1999)
One of my absolute favourite sitcoms, Home Improvement follows the daily trials and tribulations of Tim Taylor, a TV show host raising three mischievous boys with help from his long-suffering wife, loyal co-host and genius neighbour. Based on the stand-up routines of its star Tim Allen, this is a show for all the family. Its funny, touching and, with the added set up of having a show within a show, it is fresh and inventive. With a cast that includes Patricia Richardson as Tim’s wife, Zachary Ty Bryan, Johnathan Taylor Thomas and Taran Noah Smith as their three sons and Richard Karn as Al Borland, Tim’s co-star on Tool Time it ran for almost a decade and over 200 episodes.
THE EQUALIZER (1985-1989)
“Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer. 212 555 4200” This was the basic set-up for the show starring Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a retired intelligence agent turned private detective. The violence on the show was, at times, gratuitous and somewhat over the top but it appeared to be firmly in reality thanks to Woodward’s compassionate portrayal of the hero. He was often joined on his crusades by Mickey Kostmayer (Keith Szarabajka) who usually ended up doing the leg work and the full-on action stuff. It was rare to have a British lead on an American show, but Woodward more than managed to handle the role.
Tony Hart was the best art teacher you never had at school. He had already been a fixture on British tv screens from Vision On and Take Hart, the latter of which I vaguely remember thanks, in part to the introduction of Morph! But it is Hartbeat that I remember fondly from my childhood. Although I never could (and still can’t) draw, I was fascinated by Hart’s style. His delivery was that of a kindly uncle who would show you how to draw the simplest of things and then show off by creating a massive outdoor piece from bits of scrap metal or some such. He was often joined by Margot Wilson and Colin Bennett as the bumbling caretaker Mr Bennett. But it was Morph and the Gallery that became the mainstays. Plus Hart’s endearing charm.
WATCH IT FOR: Hart’s skills
MATT HOUSTON (1982-1985)
The classic tale of a wealthy Texas businessman who moves to California and dabbles in his favourite hobby of private investigation. This appears to be another one of those shows that nobody else remembers but I loved it, especially because its star Lee Horsley was one of those wise-cracking super cool private eyes that I love so much. Flash cars, penthouse apartment and oodles of beautiful women around him. Can’t believe there aren’t more people around who remember this show…maybe I lead a sheltered life and spent too much time watching cheesy US programmes!
WATCH IT FOR: The opening theme
THE BIG BREAKFAST (1992-2002)
The one tv show that was guaranteed to wake you up in the morning! The ship that launched a thousand stars including Chris Evans, Gaby Roslin, Johnny Vaughan, Denise Van Outen, Liza Tarbuck and many others. It was bright, noisy, funky and very much of its time. Its what the early 1990s needed, a fresh wake-up call to counteract the stuffy news lead programmes that had taken over the airwaves. Phone in competitions, celebrity guests and space aliens! What more could you possibly need first thing in a morning?! I have to say, on a personal note, the glory days of this show don’t lie with Evans and Roslin. For me, Vaughan, Van Outen and Tarbuck are the ones I remember. Creating catchphrases, games and memories I still refer to today! Long since gone, the weekday schedule between 7am and 9am is very dull in comparison!
WATCH IT FOR: The theme tune
SCHOOL OF COMEDY (2009-2010)
Children pretending to be adults in funny situations has ‘trainwreck’ written all over it but School of Comedy succeeds where most others would have failed. The success lies with the charm and chemistry of the leading troupe of up-and-coming stars. Its funny, rude and absurdly bizarre in places. Its what would have happened if Bugsy Malone had done stand-up! Will Poulter, Jack Harries, Charlie Wernham, Beth Rylance and Ella Ainsworth take turns playing odd characters in ever odder situations. But its Poulter who shines brighter, from his performances here it was clear he was destined for bigger things.
THE RED HAND GANG (1977)
A bunch of precocious kids calling themselves The Red Hang Gang solve mysteries in their neighbourhood and getting themselves into trouble. It was short-lived but has managed to remain strong in the memory mainly due to the funky theme tune. I recently purchased the DVD and have relived the whole cheesy series. It doesn’t disappoint, even though it is extremely dated now!
WATCH IT FOR: That funky theme tune!
EERIE, INDIANA (1991-1992)
Marshall Teller’s family moves to the small country town of Eerie, Indiana (Pop. 16,661). There, Marshall discovers that Eerie, as he puts it, “is the center of weirdness for the universe”. Elvis lives there, so do a pair of twins who stay young by sleeping in Tupperware, and many other strange things. Each episode, Marshall and his friend Simon collect evidence about the creepy things that happen there. This harks back to the days of the great anthology series’ The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits where the odd and bizarre exist in an element of reality. Omri Katz and Justin Shenkarow are superb as the two leads in this offbeat kids show that isn’t just for kids!
WATCH IT FOR: The opening set-up
Another countdown bites the dust…come back soon though, there’s plenty more where that came from!