Thursday, 19 July 2012

Happy Birthday, Sooty!

Though he may always be 5 years old in TV Land, in reality Sooty is 64 years old today - and still going strong thanks to Richard, Matthew and Harry :)

I'm not sure if anything is planned for his 65th next year, but for now you can view the 50th anniversary documentary (uploaded by the Sooteries Channel), which aired on ITV back in 1998 - around the time when Matthew Corbett retired from the series under the name "Sooty and Co":

And when you're done, you can either read my review on the 2011 Sooty series, or revisit a few classic episodes from the playlist below!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Mike Pearse - Finders Keepers

In honour of the London 2012 Olympics, here's another fab Mike Pearse story from mid 2000 (when the Millennium dome was still "new" at the time):


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bernard's Watch

There is a well-known saying: "Don't fix what isn't broken." And in recent years, where the Television / Film media is so psyched about 'rebooting' classic characters of the past (often with mixed views on their handling) this idiom has become more apparent for me. So here's another example:

Back in the mid-90's, the concept of a magic watch that could stop time had been about knocking about for a while until it was eventually picked up and developed by the very friendly Andrew Norriss (who also wrote "Matt's Million", "Aquilia", "The Brittas Empire" and "Woof!"). What began as a 15-minute one-off soon spanned into a charming TV Series known as Bernard's Watch.

The show was about a boy called Bernard, who is always late for everything until he is given a magic stop-watch that could stop time. With this, he always had time to spare in his day-to-day routines (lucky chap!) and often used it to help others in need.
It featured Liza Goddard as the Storyteller, David Peachey as Bernard Beaseley and Jack McKenzie as the Postman (bearer of the Magic Watch).

The series, as with many programmes throughout the 90's, was perfectly British. Clever stories told at a smooth, calm pace, ideal for afternoon viewing after school. The show proved a great hit, running for five seasons between 1997 and 2001, and Andrew wrote a vast majority of them. Later in its original run, Bernard was joined by Granddad (Barry Jackson), friends Karen Hewitt (Phoebe Allen) and Sam Vernon (Samantha Birch) and cousin Lucy (Elizabeth Mello) for fresh storylines, who all promise to share the magic watch as long as they don't use it for selfish or unlawful deeds.

And that was how it was at the time. Until, four years later, someone in charge of the "revised" CITV format thought it would be a good idea to revive and reinvent Bernard's Watch as well...

The entire show was reworked from the ground up, with new characters, different actors and a new setting; ie, Pentup Primary School. The "new" Bernard (Ryan Watson) was not only younger, but cheekier and naughtier, and spent a majority of the show causing mischief with friend Nathan (Ezrah Roberts-Grey). The storylines you could tell straight off the bat, which consisted of putting up with - and putting down - their bullying schoolteacher Ms Savage (Kay Purcell) and 'popular girl' Nicolette (Rosie Day), whose sole purpose of their lives, it seemed, was to make Bernard's as miserable as possible.

In short, what was once a quiet series now became a flashy, annoying sitcom with lazy humour for the intended target audience (at least those on sugar rushes). No different to what one would predict from "Drake and Josh", really.
The watch concept was slowly pushed further and further into the background until the show's title lost all meaning (which saw it renamed just "Bernard"). And when the watch was used (once per episode), Bernard only used it in the tired "boy-vs-girl" or "child-vs-teacher" battle for some lame scheme or other. Oh yes, the special effects for the "stopping time" scenes were impressive on a bigger budget, but when you actually analyse the show's writing format for Seasons 6 and 7, it's just a whole lot of "shiny-shiny"...

However, Andrew Norriss had nothing to do with the reboot, which was a mercy. He left the show on a high since Season 5, 2001, due to budget costs, which meant the reboot was handled by a whole new team, including various writers. I got in touch with Andrew back in 2006, expressing my praise for his work and the despair of the new Bernard. His response revealed some answers as to why this decision was made:

"Now this is interesting, and I still don't know if I did the right thing. I was asked if I would give permission for a revised B's Watch to be made and said yes. By and large I've never thought it right to be too precious about an idea. They're only stories after all and if someone wants to earn a living using an idea like the watch then good luck to them, I thought. I didn't like the result, and completely agree with your analysis - but then I don't like a lot of stuff on tv. Can't stand the soaps, but for millions they're the best thing going on. I'm very loathe to say one item is better than another. Just that I liked it gentler and kinder."

Thankfully, the new format wasn't as well-received as Granada Kids had hoped. After only two seasons and 26 episodes, between 2004 - 2005, the revival died a slow, painful death. You can't end on a bigger downer than this, can you?

To this day, the series can still be seen in repeats on the CITV Digital Channel - although to my delight, it mainly consists of the original 1997 - 2001 episodes. Because, stories they might well be, it's the development of the characters and the ideas surrounding the watch that made it far more interesting than whatever went on in Pentup Primary. For its time (no pun intended) it was a very different and original concept to enjoy, and it's a shame that it couldn't have been left well enough alone by those who didn't have a clue.

I doubt that anyone would see sense about rebooting a classic series, especially when it removes all the qualities that made the original so memorable in the first place. In truth, I'd sooner have the originals on DVD or kept in regular viewing on the small screen than have a new series / movie made altogether - unless TLC actually plays a part so that new fans and old are both satisfied...

View the original Five Seasons below - including Andrew's favourite episode, "The Right Time"!


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Tony Hart and Morph

Tony Hart with SMart presenter Kirsten O'Brien
Tony Hart (1925 - 2009) was perhaps the best thing that happened to the BBC for many inspiring artists, myself included. Before Digital Art Software like Photoshop become as big as it has today, Tony showed many of us what can be done with the traditional methods of pen, pencil, paint, chalk, crayon, paper and various other techniques. It's a shame that his old shows such as Take Hart or Hartbeat have yet received a second TV Airing or even a DVD release because this is the type of presenting that's missed in today's hyped-up generation, especially when art is involved. Being an artist isn't as big a joke as Spongebob's "behind the scenes" features make it out to be...

Tony's natural deliverance and "on the spot" creations make his programmes so much more enjoyable than anything "staged", IMO. And he has done many things for children's programmes at the time, including designing the iconic Blue Peter logo.

Old Friends - Tony with Morph
Not only that, but Tony also brought into our lives the fantastic Morph and Chas. While Wallace and Gromit have become their best-loved characters of all time, it was Morph and his chums that helped put Peter Lord and Nick Park's Aardman Studios in the Animation Directories. And like many popular stars, Morph and Chas began as secondary characters in Tony's Take Hart series, often seen interacting or messing about with Tony in dozens of Intermission Skits. In fact, the two characters proved popular enough to be given their own series - The Amazing Adventures of Morph, with Tony all the way as storyteller and (I presume) writer.

Morph and Chas
In later years, Morph and Tony would help each other along the way to remain in the hearts and memories of the small screen viewers. Snippets of TAAOM would be edited with new animation for The Morph Files, where all traces and vocal work of Tony would be replaced by Neil "Bob the Builder" Morrissey. While Neil was fine in his own way, there's something about Tony's gentle voice that's become a staple in Morph's roots. And I find it a shame and surprise that The Morph Files have somehow found its way to DVD before TAAOM, the latter which I literally grew up with.

However, the next Morph series, Morph TV, made amends when they were gracious enough to reinstate Tony's old art tutorials for the next generation to learn from. And though Tony has long since passed on, his legacy still lives on in spirit.

As for Morph, as well as being a feature in SMart (1994 - 2009), he and Chas have since returned to TV in Ricky's Radical Reinventions (2012) and plenty of the old sketches are available for viewing on Aardman's official YouTube Page.

Who knows what Morph and Friends will get up to next!

For now, take a trip back in time to 1980 with The Amazing Adventures of Morph!

Before his retirement in 2001, Tony Hart presented several more art-related programmes throughout the '90s - at one point, he dealt with the antics of The Art Box Bunch!


Saturday, 7 July 2012

Kodee's Canoe - Check it out!

From Nitrogen Studios Canada comes a great new addition to their portfolio - having produced animation for Max and Ruby, Jacob Two-Two, Happily N'Ever After, Yo Gabba Gabba and the pioneers for first bringing Thomas The Tank Engine to CGI, here they've brought forth a delightful little series for the pre-school market, which teaches children the amazing world of nature - all with a canoe :)

If you can't wait for Kodee's Canoe to air in your area, then check out the website and download their interactive apps already available, from storybooks to fun games. It's already got the makings to become a timeless classic for the modern generation.