Sunday, 25 September 2011

Fourways Farm (1993)

Farms have had an impact on Children's TV over the years, going by the great number that have been made for younger viewers - Tumbledown Farm by Dick King-Smith, Dappledown Farm starring Brian Cant, Forget-Me-Not Farm starring Mike Amatt. Even today we have such gems such as Big Barn Farm and Mist: Sheepdog Tales, which teaches children about farm life or basic life lessons through talking animals.

Whether with puppets, animation or live-action, all have the same format, but each in their own way stand out in terms of storytelling for youngsters to watch and learn from.

Fourways Farm is no exception. Back when Channel 4 used to air educational shows during lunchtimes, this series was one of them (as well as Sesame Street, but that's another story). It was a stop-motion animated series produced by Case Television, as part of the 4Learning Primary Science block between 1994-1995. It was a fantastic show where the animal characters, all voiced by Martin Jarvis, taught viewers basic science - consisting of nature, the weather, forces, health and other topics. It offered a variety of characters that were a great source of ideas, from Godfrey the gloomy horse to cheery Davenport the dog, and the cunning rats known as Uno, Duo and Trio.

Chris Ellis created the show and wrote every episode. And it's thanks to him that the episodes were able to teach the viewers something new in the form of a clever, fun story each time. Even today many fans still remember it - and although there isn't a proper DVD release made for the public, one is never too far away from finding a "rare" VHS Cassette or selection of books from eBay or Amazon.

So enjoy a few episodes from the Playlist below and see just why many fondly remember Fourways Farm!


Saturday, 24 September 2011

Happy Birthday, Jim Henson!

In honour of Jim Henson's 75th birthday, Google shows us a behind-the-scenes feature on their latest "Google Doodle", as well as a brief overview on how Jim's legacy in the art of puppetry has changed and inspired over the years =)

Meanwhile, why not check out the Muppet Mindset Blog, which showcases everything Jim Henson - including regular updates on the forthcoming Muppet Movie!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Olly the Little White Van

As I've said before, though I'm still a nostalgic chap at heart - whether for the 50's Golden Age to the 90's Silver Age, or the surrealism of the 80's - there are times when a modern-day show still manages to get my attention by achieving in two vital areas: namely animation and scripting.

And this little pre-school series seems to be another runaway success from what I can make out!

Olly the Little White Van tells of a cheery, helpful van, and his Driver Stan, who is "always glad to lend a hand" to his friends in the cheery town of Bumpton. With a mixture of vehicle and human characters, there's plenty of friends for Olly to help - including best mate Bazza, Jethro the Tractor, Royston the Fire Engine, Miss Florette the Greengrocers, and many more!

The characters' voices are all brought to life by Justin Fletcher - already famed over on CBeebies for developing and starring in Tikkabilla, Something Special, Gigglebiz and the Tweenies, to name but a few.

Created by Ideas At Work, the series aired on the CITV Channel sometime in early May, and apparently has gained quite a fanbase from viewers since. Having eventually got round to watching several episodes from ITV Player, I can see many reasons why!

The stories maybe short, running just over five minutes, but the writers clearly pack in a lot of energy and fun dialogue to keep the kiddies' interest, and don't shove lessons down the throats of their viewers. From that, you can tell that this is a wholly British Product to be sure of!!

Each episode contains a brief song to drive (no pun intended) the story along, with everyone bouncing and bobbing like a black and white "rubber hose" 'toon from the 1930's.

Mind you, in the vehicles' case, they literally do just that - swaying and rolling and jumping like mad, giving the series a true "animated" feel from your average pre-schooler show. The team behind the superb CGI quality seem to have been inspired by Pixar's popular Cars movies - with perhaps a touch of Chuggington to boot - in terms of adding more character to their...erm...characters. The vehicles may not appear or move very realistic, but the animation team at Birmingham are clearly having fun all the same! ;-)

In short, I'd recommend Olly to anyone looking for a suitable series for youngsters. It's fun and colourful with likeable characters, and an amazing look and style that you simply can't help but grin at. It's another series that you can watch with your kids without being bored by it!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Never Forget...

Ten years today when the world changed forever. But we shall never forget the many heroes who fought so bravely...and the lives of the innocent who were lost...

Friday, 9 September 2011

Fab Fables

The latest ING Direct adverts have gained my biggest interest over the last few months of their airing - whereas Hollywood and Television Shows are finding bigger, better and more exciting ways to construct CGI Animation (as demonstrated with the hilarious Compare the Meerkat adverts), the advertising agency responsible for these selections, BMB, have opted on hand-crafted puppets and live-action shots.

And they all look superb; each character looks distinctive and carefully built, with every ad told in a style of an Aesop Fable in link with ING Direct. Below is a behind-the-scenes video on how the ads are shot and hearing the crewmembers' inspirations and thoughts on them as a whole:

In fact, these delightful adverts remind me a lot of another forgotten BBC Series back in the 90's - Tales of Aesop, which was shot in the same wooden puppet style as by means of retelling the classic Aesop Fables, all narrated by Tom "Doctor Who #4" Baker =)

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Winjin' Pom

It's completely natural to find a few forgotten gems from specific companies when one looks close enough - y'know, the stuff you knew they created and had remember seeing decades ago.

Stuff like Hanna-Barbera's Loopy De Loop, Cosgrove Hall's Victor & Hugo, those two episodes of It 'ain't Half Hot Mum that were lost during the first broadcast...

But out of the most obscure shows I've posted about so far, this is about as rare as the unpreserved J50 locomotives. A Children's TV Series created and produced by, of all companies, Spitting Image Productions (of Spitting Image fame)!!

The Winjin' Pom was a very short-lived series - consisting of 6 half-hour episodes in the early 90's - about a magical, flying camper van known for his grumbling by a band of Australians (the Gullagaloona Backpackers) on a mission to travel the world. But the Pom brings more bad luck than good when an evil Mafia vulture, name of Jay Gee Chicago, discovers the Pom's magic abilities and tries to hijack it for his own criminal deeds with his allies Howard Hyena and the Crow Brothers, Ronnie and Reggie.

"Stone the Crows!" The Pom and Aussies try to outrun the Crow Brothers.
Unlike Spitting Image, which often parodied famous celebs with rather...risqué humour, Winjin' Pom was scaled down for a slightly younger audience - although thanks to ace scriptwriter Richard Carpenter, this still offers plenty of humour in brief songs, slapstick, word play and terrible puns (as well as several in-jokes for the adults to chortle at!).

The series also impressed me with the many medias used - combining puppetry, stop-motion animation, greenscreening and live-action models to keep the visuals just as madcap as the storylines.

And to bring all the characters to life the vocal talents consist of Adèle Anderson, Mark Arden, Stephen Frost, Alison Jiear and William Todd-Jones (renown for plating Mopatop from Jim Henson's Mopatop's Shop).

The Pom gleefully "chokes" the Moon in 2D Animated segments before the ad breaks!
The only connection I had with this series at a young age was through a sole episode on an ageing VHS video, which dear old Mum had recorded from one of ITV's popular Saturday Shows at the time, Ghost Train. It was just as well that I kept it to this day as I would soon know how rare this show really is - the only source of merchandise it had was a book of all six episodes adapted into a novel (by Terrance Dicks) and a magazine - both of which I was very fortunate to nab!

The cover of the Winjin' Pom in novel form - illustrated by Graham Higgins
It's quite a surprise and shame that Spitting Image Productions chose to either ignore or fail to fully distribute what is possibly their only venture into Children's Production. Last I checked, the series is/was owned by Hit Entertainment, although news on whether the rights have been passed on have remained unknown - especially with a severe lack of an actual DVD release.

But as with many things in this life, this series is short but sweet. So if you come across a show that no one else has ever heard off - from a book to a single episode - keep it safe and Google for it. You never know the worth it may have to this day!!

 For now, until someone does decide to do something with this forgotten series, you're welcome enough to purchase a home-made DVD of all six episodes - CLICK THIS LINK!

And if you're lucky, try nabbing the book as well from Amazon!

A rare sneak peek of the series in action - Alison Jiear's performance as Bruce the Red Back Spider!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Pat (Ventura) on the Back

Hollywood, if you ever find time to stop and listen to people talking instead of money, here's some much-needed advice -

If you're still sure that reviving old-school cartoons will reel the ca$h pigs in, least find the right people to do the job properly - who know the characters inside out - who know how to handle them carefully - who know what makes them say or do stuff that's actually FUNNY.

And hopefully the right people who won't stuff them into unnecessary, clichéd-to-death feature-length movies. Seven-minute cartoons. Short but sweet, that's what Warner Bros. taught us in the Golden Age. Is that so much to ask??

Pat Ventura is one of many, many cartoonists who still respect the squash-n-stretch, slapstick style we've all grown up with "back in the day". He's literally worked everywhere with everyone in writing, directing and designing whatever's given to him - Disney's Aladdin and Roger Rabbit, Hanna-Barbera's Tom and Jerry Kids, even The Baby Huey Show produced by Film Roman from '95 - and in each he's done a very good job in the entertainment section, especially keeping each character faithful to their style of humour while injecting plenty of his own.

When Hanna-Barbera launched their What A Cartoon! showcase series, Pat was of the young cartoonists given a chance to have some fun and make a name of himself. Next to creating Sledgehammer O'Possom and Yucky Duck, he also created two animated shorts featuring Tex Avery's memorable characters George and Junior. While Pat's style may not be to everyone's taste, at least the cartoons Pat helped to create have done what they were made for - to make me laff =D

Check out Pat's George and Junior cartoons below - then visit his blog to view more of his work. Including character sheets, storyboards and billions of sketchbook pages!!