Saturday, 15 July 2017

Bug Alert! (1996)

As far back as anyone can remember, puppet characters have become as big a part of our lives now as Camera Phones or Oyster Cards do - while CGI remains mainstream, it's lovely to know that physical characters will always be around to inspire and amuse.

When Jim Henson first created Sesame Street, many shows have followed the familiar path made by Big Bird and the rest of the gang, by helping to educate and inspire generations of children the world over, and which is still going on strong today. Mind you, many puppet characters have also been a source of entertainment, whether you prefer the Muppets (as does everyone) or Hacker T. Dog on CBBC - or from the mid 90's, the satirical Spitting Image for adults.

But the real beauty in some children's shows - again, as Sesame Street have shown - is that puppet characters are pretty universal, no matter what age you are. Especially when you can have a little fun in the writing department...

Here is one such example where you watch an episode from this series and think: "How on earth did they get away with this?!"

Created and written by director Peter Eyre and puppeteer Francis Wright, Bug Alert told of the antics of Grub Bug, Plug Bug, Doodle Bug, Mystic Bug and Buggins, giant insects who all live in the kitchen of a house somewhere. Going by their names alone, each of the characters had particular foibles that played a part in giving its viewers something to do or learn from. Doodle Bug showed how to make arts and crafts, Grub Bug offered simple recipes to try out and Mystic Bug gave some worldly facts through her crystal ball.

Meanwhile, the characters would often engage in some rather bizarre adventures around the house. Like Plug Bug finding a baboon in his sink, or Doodle Bug hypnotising everyone with a magic gnome...

Really, it was a comedy series with an educational aspect somewhere in the middle. Each of the 70+ episodes had a theme of the day, teaching its target audience about colours or animals or the weather, among other things. And to vary things up, it also had music numbers and jokes courtesy of Grunge and Slop or Gorgon and Zola respectively.

After a 3-year gap, the third series moved to Channel 4 in early-2000, which saw the bugs themselves moving house and deciding to open a café. Throughout all three seasons, as the episodes went on, the storylines become more insane and the jokes more...well...clever. The cultural references, the banter between the characters, the many innuendo jokes that went way over the kids' heads. Even Grub Bug himself seemed to be an exaggerated caricature of Basil Fawlty, right down to the moustache. Rewatching the show now, I can only imagine the parents' faces with what was allowed back then...!!

The bugs inside your kitchen!
It's sad to think that only a handful of VHS cassettes and DVDs have been released after all this time. Were it not for YouTube - and the mad ideas in the writing process - this show would have very likely been forgotten.

Of course, special thanks goes out to the puppeteers who were part of the madness that is Bug Alert. In particular Francis Wright, who has been no stranger to kid's shows, having also worked on Wizadora, Beachcomber Bay, Art Attack (as The Head!), The Spooks of Bottle Bay and various episodes of BBC Schools. All of which (and more) you can read about here from his own Weblog!

Series 1 & 2

Series 3