Belfast Telegraph

Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Rainbow... what was your favourite children's TV show?

Swwap Shop or Tiswas, Blue Peter or Magpie? Kerry McKittrick finds out who was a fan of what

Even now just a few bars of the theme music can make you feel all warm and happy and nostalgic.

"Sw-aaaaaaa-p Shop, na, na, nah, na, na ...." Or maybe it was the rousing stir of the Sailor's Hornpipe that heralded another episode of Blue Peter, complete for a while with our very own Caron Keating as one the presenters.

The Seventies and Eighties were a golden era for children's television, from hard-hitting edgy dramas like Grange Hill and Byker Grove, to magazine style shows like Blue Peter and Magpie.

There was intense rivalry between BBC and ITV in the battle for viewers - both during the week and on Saturday morning when Swap Shop and Tiswas went head to head.

These were programmes for young people to get involved with.

Millions rushed home from school to be handed a cup of tea and a bun by their mum and settle down to find out what to do next with an empty bottle of washing up liquid and some sticky back plastic.

In school holidays, series such as Why Don't You? ensured that kids were parked in front of the TV to be told - without irony - that they should just switch off their TV set and go and do something more interesting instead".

Grange Hill was the fictional comprehensive that tackled issues such as bullying, sexual assault and drug use.

The cast even released a single in 1986 - Just Say No, which was tied into a gritty storyline about a character's heroin addiction.

Now, in this digital age there are dedicated 24-hour children's television channels with rolling repeats of Peppa Pig and iCarly, but the children's TV series of yesteryear hold countless fond memories for many.

Here we find out what some of our best-known faces were watching in their childhood.

Malachi Cush (33) is a singer/songwriter and broadcaster and lives in Donaghmore with his wife, Claire. He says:

"That crazy house programme - Fun House. I really liked that and as I got older, I had an eye for the twins who starred on it -- at that age you're starting to realise there's a reason for girls. I would have loved to have had a go on the show.

They also used to do a kid's version of the Crystal Maze, called Knightmare. You had a person who wore a big helmet, so they could only see their feet, and they had a team of friends directing them around a maze.

There were all sorts of puzzles - physical and mental - that they had to figure out.

There was also a dungeon-master called Treguard. I loved that programme. I also really enjoyed Dangermouse.

I have a brother and three sisters, but there's a gap of five years between me and my sisters, so I could watch whatever I wanted because they were away at university or studying. Mum and dad just put up with what I watched. I had to do my homework first before I watched TV, but I have to admit, I spent very little time on it.

I used to think I was hard done by having to spend a full day at school and then getting sent home with more to do.

I remember writing to Jimmy Savile -- all I wanted was a birthday party with a bouncy castle, but I don't remember him ever actually coming to Northern Ireland.

I was never a big fan, but I was shocked and disgusted when the revelations about him came out."

Mark H Durkan (36) is an SDLP MLA for Foyle and the current Northern Ireland Minister for the Environment. He lives in Londonderry with wife, Anne Carlin, and his son, Luke (10). He says:

There were a few programmes I really loved. The cartoon Around The World With Willy Fog, with Willy Fog as a lion. I was also a huge fan of Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. I actually bought the DVD box set for Luke a little while ago and he loves it to this day. I even had the theme tune to the series as the ringtone on my phone.

There were six of us in our house, but there wasn't much dispute over who watched what because we only had four channels and only two of those had children's television. Sometimes we managed to get RTE, but that depended entirely on the weather.

There were two boys and two girls and the only disputes were if the girls wanted to watch Tea Bag — the witch who had a sidekick called T-shirt — as I never really liked that one. She's not to be mixed up with Grotbags from Rod Hull and Emu’s Pink Windmill, though.

It was very different then from now, as you have 24-hour children's channels; you see houses where the kids control the TV, watching Peppa Pig, whereas we only had a small window before John Craven's Newsround and then Neighbours came on.”

Sandra Overend (40), from Bellaghy, is Ulster Unionist MLA for Mid Ulster. She is married to Nigel and they have three children, Courtney (13), Joshua (11) and Nathan (8). She says:

Coming home from school, I don't remember a big rush to watch TV. I was one of four, but my older brother would go straight out to milk the cows, as we lived on a farm, and my younger brother was five years younger than me, so there wasn't much competition. As soon as we came home from school, though, there was homework and it was only after that and tea that there would have been time for TV. I don't remember a lot of after-school TV, more the Saturday morning shows.

I was a huge fan of cartoons — Tom & Jerry and Road Runner in particular. I also loved the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Saturday Superstore — any of the programmes that they used to put people in tanks and pour gunge over them if they got a question wrong. I always fancied having a go at one of those, but I never actually did.

I also loved the Wacky Races, Penelope Pitstop in particular.

I remember Byker Grove and Grange Hill being around my time. I also remember being banned from watching Dr Who — it gave me nightmares, so my mum said I couldn't watch it any more. I love the new incarnation of it, though, and watch it with my own kids.”

Pete Snodden (34) presents the Cool FM afternoon show and lives in Bangor with his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Ivanna (3). He says:

I remember The Broom Cupboard on BBC, and Children’s ITV too. The two things I loved most as a kid were Saint and Greavsie doing their football show on ITV and then Airwolf was on after that. I even had a model of the Airwolf helicopter.

As far as kids’ programmes were concerned, I used to love Grange Hill — everyone did. There was also a show called Woof that featured a boy who turned into a dog on a regular basis.

Of course, there was also Fun House on a Friday afternoon, which featured the blonde twins. I always wanted to go to the Fun House so I could go on the go-kart ride. The teams had to change a tyre of the kart during the race and I always thought they were terrible at it.

I also watched all of the variations of Saturday morning TV. There was Going Live with Phillip Schofield and Sarah Greene.

I arrived home from school and the first thing mum made me do was get changed out of my uniform, as I was promised a snack if I did so. Then I could do my homework before watching TV, unless mum was feeling soft.

Even if she was, though, I still wasn't allowed out to play with my friends on the street without having done my homework. I couldn't get out of the house until my homework was done.”

Kerry McLean (39) presents BBC Radio Ulster each weekday from 3pm. She is married to fellow BBC presenter Ralph McLean and they have two children, Tara (7) and Dan (6). She says:

I'm from the era of Gordon the Gopher and Phillip Schofield. I remember Phillip had stone-washed jeans and badly highlighted hair, but I loved him. I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for him after that. I loved Why Don't You. Like everyone else, when I was mixing or making anything, I would pretend that I was one of the presenters on that. The other thing I loved was Bagpuss. I was delighted when I had a daughter, so I could go and buy her lots of Bagpuss things to have them in the house again.

I remember Byker Grove, although I was never very keen on it, but I did love Grange Hill. I can remember taking my 75p out to the shops and buying the Just Say No single they did.”

Marcus Hunter Neil (32) is a professional drag queen and make-up artist and lives in Bangor. He says:

I can remember the Broom Cupboard and Gordon the Gopher. My favourite was Ed the Duck, because I got one for Christmas one year and I used to pretend he and I were great buddies.

I used to love the likes of Round The Twist and In The Midnight Garden. They were both about ghost stories and even though they terrified me, I watched them all the time. There was also a programme called Zap which, now that I've got older, I've realised was for deaf children, as there was no dialogue.

When I was at primary school, my mum was at home in the afternoons because she worked part-time. When I was in secondary school, though, she started working full-time, so we could watch all the TV we wanted — until she and dad came home from work. Then we had to get changed and do our homework before dinner.”

Emma Heatherington (37) is an author and lives in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone. She has three children, Jordyn (17), Jade (12) and Adam (11). She says:

I can remember Rod Hull and Emu when they lived in the Pink Windmill. There was Grotbags the witch and they all used to say, ‘There's somebody at the door’. I loved that one.

There were six of us in our house and it was quite relaxed. We did get to watch a bit of TV after school, but because there were so many of us, we just did our homework in our own time.

It was all about Saturday morning for us. We got up early to watch Going Live with Phillip Schofield and then moved to SMTV Live after that. My sister and I were pop music fanatics, so we would have stood copying the dance moves in front of the TV. It all changed for us in 1990 when I was 14, as we got Sky in for the World Cup. That opened up a whole new world, and we got hooked on MTV.”

Sarah Travers (39) is a TV presenter and lives in Coleraine with her husband, Stephen, and their children, Jack (17) and Evie (10). She says:

I can remember Gordon the Gopher, but I don't remember Ed the Duck. I loved all the cartoons that were on, like Around The World with Willy Fog and Battle Of The Planets. That one even had a princess in it. There was also Thundercats too.

Before the days of the Broom Cupboard, I loved the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew Mysteries, but I think they might only have been on during the summer. Of course, when I was very small, there was Rainbow with Rod, Jane and Freddy, and Play School with Big Ted and Little Ted.

I have a younger sister called Jennifer and we watched TV together. When I was in secondary school, I would come home and have lots of toast and watch TV.

The older you got, the more you had to study instead of watching TV, but I also loved Neighbours.

Saturday morning TV was the best, though — Little House On The Prairie and The Waltons.

I actually think I featured on Saturday morning show Get Fresh years ago. It was presented by a guy called Gaz Top with a mullet and they did an outside broadcast from Portrush and it featured me in the background in my double denims.”

Endearing classics

Some of the most iconic children's programmes of the past six decades or so include:

Blue Peter: sticky-backed plastic and empty washing up bottles at the ready! This programme taught us how to do everything from recycling to gardening, to how tortoises hibernate, and the ultimate prize was the iconic Blue Peter Badge.

Tiswas: one of the first Saturday morning kids TV programmes, the name came from the acronym 'Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile'. It featured presenters such as Chris Tarrant and Lenny Henry.

Bagpuss: just 13 episodes about the striped cat were made, but it never left our hearts since its creation in 1974.

Peppa Pig: the animated TV series about a bossy pig and her exploits with her family and friends is a firm favourite with today's youngsters.

Rainbow: running for 20 years until 1992, Rainbow was the UK equivalent of Sesame Street. Puppets Zippy, George and Bungle lived with their friend Geoffrey, who tried to keep the peace.

Danger Mouse: an English mouse who works as a superhero/secret agent with his sidekick, Penfold the hamster.

Play School: a classic that ran from 1964 to 1982. Aimed mostly at younger children, the show's stars included cuddly toys such as Humpty, Big Ted and Little Ted.

Did it really mean anything if you preferred Swap Shop?

By Gail Walker, Deputy Editor

Apparently, as is the way with all these things now, the TV shows you watched when you were a child turned you into the adult you are today.

In an extension of the old 'Daddy or Chips?' rule, whether you settled down in front of Swap Shop or Tiswas apparently says something very profound about your psyche.

A fan of Noel Edmonds and his sidekicks, Maggie Philbin and Keith Chegwin, was a swotty, goody-two-shoes type who was never going to go off the rails - or so the theory goes. Those addicted to Tiswas and its gunge-dropping, pie-throwing anarchy were obviously free spirits constantly giving the V-sign to authority. (The fact theirfathers wanted to see a voluptuous, soaked Sally James and her boot collection is neither here nor there ...)

And the Saturday morning schedules were, of course, a reflection of the mid-week channel wars between the BBC's Blue Peter and ITV's Magpie.

BP aficionados liked nothing better than collecting used Cornflakes boxes and toilet roll holders and turning them into Advent calenders. The Magpie viewer was a tougher breed, an inner city kid who had probably just sloped home having mitched the day off school. Alas and alack, if only life were that simple.

Maybe it was the Seventies' permissiveness and the fact our parents didn't feel the need to be in their kids' faces all the time, but myself and my brother had a fairly free rein on what we watched on the old Decca.

True, we were by instinct on the Swap Shop and Blue Peter side of the argument, but we also knew how to cross the line. My brother is a fortysomething man of the world not easily scared by life, but to this day the mention of two words -- The Changes -- evokes a certain frisson of fear.

I think I was only about four years old when I drank in this Seventies science fiction drama about a kind of post-apocalyptic world where a sinister noise emanating from machinery causes the population to destroy them. I didn't understand a word of it, but I loved being that frightened.

Even now, I can hear the sinister drone that came from the overhead pylons. To make matters worse, in this strange and anarchic world the main character, a teenage schoolgirl, Nicky, had become separated from her parents who had fled -- I think -- to France. It was truly terrifying; the sort of, er, unmissable drama that children nowadays would never have the pleasure of being scared witless by. After each episode we'd go out for a walk across the fields following the pylons that strode across them, staring up at the overhead powerlines. And here's the thing -- there was a faint noise coming from them.

Should our parents have been more attentive? After all, at the same time as I was locked into The Changes, which I didn't understand but which had to be endured -- a metaphor for life if ever there was one -- I was still young enough to enjoy an episode of Rainbow as well. In fact, I still enjoy watching Geoffrey, Bungle, George and Zippy, four characters who, when you think about it, represent every type of man you will ever meet.

Bored at a meeting in work? Try playing the Rainbow game, working out which bloke is Geoffrey ... and which is Zippy. Endless fun. I also loved Bagpuss, one of the most gentle and beautiful series ever made about a cat that was "baggy, and a bit loose at the seams ... but Emily loved him".

Swap Shop or Tiswas? Blue Peter or Magpie? The thing is, children's TV in the Seventies and Eighties were like a trip to Woolworths and a chance to buy a big bag of Pick 'n' Mix.

Besides, in general we weren't mollycoddled back then -- public safety ads alone scared you witless, like The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water where the Grim Reaper watches as children drown in quarries and rivers: "The show-offs are easy ..." he gloats as a boy's flailing arms are swallowed by murky depths.

You see, there was the real-life horror of the Troubles and death and destruction all about us, even in rural mid-Ulster. My big brother? I also remember him pulling me to safety, running back through stampeding crowds through Wellworths when I stood still, rigid with fear, after a screamed bomb warning. Seconds earlier I'd been pondering "Dr Pepper ... or that new Lilt, Lilt or Dr Pepper?".

Scary, charming or fun, children's TV was all about escapism really. Blue Peter or Magpie? Whichever show had David Soul as a guest won every time.


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