It all began when my son asked me which TV shows I’d watched as a child. I patted the cushion next to me and opened up YouTube. My son sat graciously—he even seemed a little excited for what might be coming. I didn’t bother concealing my enthusiasm as I punched the keys.
‘You have to see this show … And this … Oh, and we used to love this …’
So here they are, my childhood favourites, in all their black-and-white glory, complete with indoor aerial fuzziness.
WARNING: Some of these shows are frightening or contain sexual overtones, and should not be viewed by children.
1. Play School
Play School began in the year of my birth, 1966. I remember its early presenters: John (Hamlin), who always seemed to be undressing Hamble; Lorraine, who was in every TV show on the box at the time; Benita, my favourite lady; Don, my favourite man; and Alister and Jan, about whom I don’t remember much.
The best day, I thought, was Wednesday, when they brought in the animals, and the arched window was my favourite. I remember Warren who played the piano, and jumping up to sing ‘Five Little Ducks’ or ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, always with the actions.
The shows were broadcast in black and white, and one day when Lorraine told us that the handkerchief she was holding was red, I remember thinking, No, it’s not. It’s grey!
I couldn’t find many shows from the late ’60s and early ’70s on YouTube (there are lots from the ’80s and ’90s), but this out-take shows John’s wicked sense of humour:
2. Adventure Island
This was my second favourite show after Play School. I showed my son the first ever episode of Adventure Island, and as soon as I heard the glissando on the piano, I couldn’t help smiling. I looked at my son, but his brow was furrowed. ‘This is really weird,’ he said.
As a child, I didn’t want to miss a show. It was a serial—a new problem for the residents of Diddley-Dum-Diddley each Monday, which resolved on the Friday, when the baddies were, once again, defeated.
I thought Lisa was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, nearly as pretty as my bride doll. I loved Mrs Flower Potts and her house, but I didn’t realise she was played by a man until someone told me years later when I was at University. Clown annoyed me when he did something stupid which got them into trouble with Miser Meanie and Fester Fumble. And I absolutely coveted the Magic storybook from which Nancy read the stories.
Watching it again made me laugh: at Miser Meanie and Fester Fumble, and their banter. It would be hard to find two more likeable baddies.
There are a few clips from Adventure Island on YouTube and I wanted to post them all. Then I found this short snippet in which Lisa is given a life-sized, walking, talking doll (who is also a man dressed up). We think of TV as innocent back then, but watching this and the Play School clip above, I’m not sure it was …
3. Mr Squiggle
I then told my son about Mr Squiggle, the ever-so-polite man from the moon. Like ‘The Incredibles’, he had a special power: a pencil for a nose and the ability to turn any squiggle into an artwork. You never knew what he was drawing until he finished and turned it up the right way. Miss Jane was always so patient and kind, and had to pull Mr Squiggle back to earth if he started to float off. The grumpy blackboard annoyed me by telling Mr Squiggle to, ‘Hurry up! Hurry up!’ between drawings.
4. Andy Pandy
I loved this little guy, along with Teddy and Looby Lou, the rag doll who shared my name. I wished that Looby Loo would come alive when Andy Pandy and Teddy were around so they knew she could move, too. For some reason, she pretended she was just a floppy rag doll until they were out of earshot—maybe that’s how toys play hard to get …
I’ll admit to one or two tears when it was time to say goodbye at the end of each episode. Teddy and Andy would climb back into the toy basket, Teddy already falling asleep, and sing the goodbye song.
Time to go home,
Time to go home.
Time to go home.
Andy is waving goodbye.
But they never closed the lid of the toy basket, which annoyed the obsessive-compulsive in me …
Watching it again, I can see it’s not the most action-packed show and none of the puppets speak, something I don’t remember noticing at the time. At the time, I thought Andy Pandy was a real boy …
5. Bill and Ben
Given that the plot development in Andy Pandy is a little slow and my son was starting to squirm, I thought I’d liven it up with ‘Bill and Ben’.
It didn’t work—it’s even slower. And creepier. ‘Stop!’ my son said as soon as the show started, and leaned over and pressed pause. ‘That’s freaky. I’m going to have nightmares.’
I don’t remember feeling creepy when I watched it as a kid. Nor do I remember it being so slow, or that the narrator had a pompous voice, or that no one could understand Bill and Ben. Little Weed’s screech, however, I did remember …
So I quickly moved onto the next programme in the line-up:
6. Kimba the White Lion
Before ‘The Lion King’, there was Kimba. As soon as the show started, I began to sing along with the theme song—there are some things we never forget, no matter how long since we’ve heard them …
Kimba’s father is killed in the first episode, however, my son wanted to keep watching and so did I. It’s themes still rang true—anti-hunting wild animals, pro conservation and humans and animals working together.
I couldn’t help but be struck by how far animation had come …
7. Sesame Street
I can’t write an early childhood TV list without mentioning ‘Sesame Street’. Ernie and Bert, Big Bird and Mr Hooper (RIP, dear Mr Hooper), Susan and Gordon, the Count and Cookie Monster. There are so many funny skits, most of which went over my head as a youngster, and songs that I still know by heart. Like the Number 7 song with the ‘Alligator King’:
8. Captain Pugwash
By this stage, my son was completely over my trip down memory lane, so I thought I’d recapture his attention with ‘Captain Pugwash’ and some pirate humour:
I barely remember this show, but again, as soon as I heard the theme song and saw the eyes rolling about inside their stationary bodies, I was taken back. I admit, once more, to being an adult before a kind friend pointed out the humour in Master Bates’ name …
We finished the little journey through my early childhood TV and I released my son from captivity. As I wrote this blog post, it occurred to me that all of these shows had been on the ABC. In fact, my two favourites, Play School and Adventure Island, were actually produced by the ABC, as well as Mr Squiggle. I suspect they appealed to me more than the others because they were Australian—familiar accents, similar sense of humour—and I related to them …
I could have kept going with the list of ABC shows I’ve watched and enjoyed throughout my life—Why is it So? with Professor Julius Sumner Miller, who frightened me; the iconic Countdown; The Inventors, for which I was allowed to stay up an extra half-hour to watch; Harry Butler; Towards 2000; Mother and Son; The Gillies Report; The Degeneration; The Big Gig; Frontline; The Games; Kath and Kim; The Chaser; GP; Brides of Christ; Leaving of Liverpool; Police Rescue; SeaChange …
And a few decades later, when I had my own kids, I sat them in front of ‘Play School’, the perennial favourite, and ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’, and they were entertained. Not only that, but they learned something: they heard our Aussie accents and saw our homegrown shows.
I grew up with the ABC and it’s close to this middle-aged woman’s heart.
Over to you …
Does anyone else remember these shows, or am I too ancient? What shows have I forgotten? What did you love to watch when you were a kid, especially a pre-school kid?