Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Why I’ll be chasing up One Man and His Dog

Frances Burscough

Country folk across the UK must have whooped with delighted recently when More4 announced the return of The World Sheepdog Trials to our TV screens for the first time in donkeys’ years.

For anyone who’s younger than 30, I’m guessing you won’t have a clue what that is, so let me explain. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Sunday night television consisted of a litany of wholesome programmes which were more or less obligatory because there was so little choice in those days and, besides, nothing else happened on a Sunday night, did it? Even pubs shut early.

These included Going for a Song (an antiques programme, presented by an old man called Arthur Negus); Stars on Sunday (a religious programme, presented by an old man called Jess Yates) and One Man and His Dog (a sheepdog programme presented by an old man called Phil Drabble)

Incredibly, in spite of the fact that the programme essentially showed little more than old men in tweeds and border collies rounding up sheep, the latter was so popular that in the early ’80s it attracted over eight million viewers. Seriously. Eventually though, after a number of years, the sheer thrill of it began to wear off and people switched channels in favour of something more exciting, such as Songs of Praise and Antiques Roadshow.

And guess what? Now it’s back, after the pundits at More4 saw a gap in the market, er, for programmes about old men in tweeds and border collies rounding up sheep. How it will be received by a new generation of audience used to reality TV gimmicks, catch-phrases and celebrity exposes remains to be seen but I’ll be tuning in just for the sheer nostalgia of it all.

All of which has put me in a very retrospective mood for the days when telly was a lot simpler and far less cynical than it is now. And when political correctness didn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Hands up who can remember any of my top five ’70s favourites which never quite stood the test of time:

The Singing Ringing Tree AKA Das Singende, Klingende Bäumchen

Crazy name, crazy show! This German fairy story mini-series was shown on the BBC every Christmas without fail for years and told the story of a wicked, vain princess who got her comeuppance when she demanded a unique magic tree as a gift from her suitor. Lots of adventures ensue involving an evil cave-dwelling dwarf, a magic fish, a talking bear and lots of other weird and freakish characters. I loved it so much I managed to track it down on DVD to show to my boys. The verdict?: “Absolute crap.”

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Who can forget this crackly, black and white TV drama based on the famous adventure story by Daniel Defoe? I certainly can’t. It inspired me so much when I was a kid that I still to this day can hum all the wonderful swash-buckling tunes from its soundtrack. Again, I tracked it down on DVD to show to my 21st century boys. “Absolute crap”, they concurred.

The Galloping Gourmet

Completely crazy TV cookery show starring the New Zealand chef Graeme Kerr in a studio full of drooling women. As he prepared his dishes, he famously teased and tormented his desperately, err, hungry audience with sexual innuendos, lascivious asides and every saucy pun under the sun. Then at the end of the show he picked a random woman to sit at his candle-lit dinner table and tuck in. A particularly memorable episode was the one when he made Spotted Dick. Ooh matron.

The Herbs

Another weird and wacky children’s programme featuring stop-frame animated puppets about a magical herb garden in a posh country estate where all the plants come to life as different bizarre characters, each with their own song as soon as the narrator says the magic word “Herbidacious!”. To this day, I cannot prepare a fresh pesto or make a tossed salad without singing “I’m a very friendly lion called Parsley” and “I’m Dill the Dog, I’m a dog called Dill (my tail I’d love to get, I’ve never caught it yet!)”.

Kung Fu

The mystical adventures of a half-Chinese Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine (played by David Carradine as an adult and Keith Carradine as a teenager) who travels through the American Old West armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, to find his half-brother, Danny Caine. The story relies as much on flashbacks to his intense upbringing with the blind Master Po who calls him “Grasshopper” and who taught him the mystical ways of Kung Fu. Absolutely riveting stuff.

Once again I bought the entire series on DVD to “share” with my kids. No prizes for guessing their verdict ...

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