Doctor Who Fan Wars, 1964 Style


Although there's a lot to be said for the simpler, less media-intensive times in which the likes of Doctor Who, Monty Python and The Kinks put in their earliest appearances, the unfortunate flipside to this is that there's very little reliable or detailed evidence of just how they were recieved and discussed at the time, or what early fans' favourite song or episode was or... well, anything that would nowadays be indelibly all over Twitter within seconds. Just occasionally, though, you'll stumble across something rather revealing in the most unexpected of places, like this letter printed in the Radio Times dated 6th February 1964 (and presumably written while the first Dalek story was airing):


Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman would doubtless have been delighted to read that his intention to fuse family-friendly sci-fi hijinks and heavy-handed educational hoo-hah had proved such a success with at least one viewer. Less impressed, however, was one Lillian Roberts, who wrote to make her feelings known in no uncertain terms. And right in the middle of Doctor Who And The Inside The Spaceship to boot:


This tedious outbreak of proto-columnist sniggering at nothing in particular in a programme that they were mysteriously still watching despite professing so vociferously to dislike then prompted one Jean Glazebrook to submit a further missive, basically saying "put a sock in it, you're not funny":


And, ladies and gentlemen, nothing much has changed from that day to this.

"...And This Is Our Two Hundredth Edition!"


Well, it looks like this is the two hundredth post on this blog. And to celebrate, I've put together something rather special...

Back in the sixties and seventies, especially in the throes of the year-round 'as-live' black and white era, TV shows reaching their two hundredth episode were ten a penny (or, in old money, two hundred a twenty pence, or, in actual old money, 6s 6d). Unfortunately, due to this very same timeframe and turnaround, most of these two hundredth episodes are long since lost, wiped back when nobody thought that they had any cultural or monetary value beyond the following Wednesday. From Episode Three of Doctor Who And The Fury From The Deep, which might actually exist in some huffy prat's lockup, to the two hundredth edition of Ready Steady Go!, which also might actually exist but Dave Clark's too busy telling us how he was more famous than Julie Christie, Worcestershire Sauce and The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association combined to have time for anything so trivial as telling anyone which tapes are actually in his possession, they're... not very good examples really, are they? Still, there are many, many more that were seen once or at a push twice and that was it, and nobody has the faintest idea of what might have happened in them, or even if they were marked as the two hundredth episode in any way. And, you guessed it, I'm now trying to get the faintest idea of what might have happened in five of the longest lost yet most prominent examples. Starting with...


Play School (BBC2, 25th January 1965)


In an example of the aforementioned as-live black and white high turnaround so textbook that they might as well have shown a film about it through the Square Window, Play School was only a little over six months old when it clocked up its two hundredth edition, doubtless to the accompaniment of that weird tick tocking clarinet music. And not only is this long gone from the archives, it quite probably wasn't seen by very many people in the first place; at that point, the newly-launched higher definition second BBC channel was only available in a couple of transmitter regions, and even then few viewers owned the expensive new sets required to receive it, and BBC1 had yet to start repeating the show in the afternoons. So we've already got our work cut out for us here, though those few scant details that are available are actually much more useful than they might appear on face value.

For starters, this went out back when Play School still employed a daily 'themed' structure; as this was Tuesday it will have been 'Dressing Up Day', and therefore will have opened with the presenters standing next to a prop coat rack and picking out what bits of costume they needed for that day's stories and songs. The presenters in question were long-serving camera-blur-provoking high-speed hyperactive headcase Julie Stevens and short-stay four week wonder Paul Danquah - a noted 'kitchen sink drama' actor and patron of the arts who was one of surprisingly many ethnically diverse presenters used by Play School in the early years (and also openly gay, though few would have been aware of that at the time) - so it's safe to say that whatever those songs and stories might have been, they'll have been delivered in a somewhat boisterous fashion. Paul and Julie were joined for this edition by storyteller Enid Lorimer (also a regular on Jackanory around this time, of which more in a moment), presumably reading one of her self-penned children's stories, and by a slightly different line-up of toys, with Humpty, Jemima and Hamble (the first two in earlier and noticeably more 'sixties' designs) joined by original lone one-size-fits-all 'Teddy', whose tenure on the show came to an abrupt end when he was stolen during a recording break. So, all in all, this would have been a slightly yet significantly different take on the familiar format. The kind of missing piece of the jigsaw that makes you wish they really had just kept everything after all.


Late Night Line-Up (BBC2, 5th April 1965)

BBC2's daily late night open-ended swivel chair-mounted arts'n'culture proto-Parsons squabblefest clocked up its two hundredth episode only days before the channel itself celebrated the first anniversary of its technically shambolic launch, so it's likely that any actual in-show celebrations were held over to the 20th April. That said, it's impossible to say this for certain on the basis of the Radio Times billing; to be honest they didn't always bother printing much for Late Night Line-Up beyond the title and time, sometimes not even bothering with the latter and opting for 'NEWS followed by...' instead, so frankly the fact that this one reveals that the show was at least scheduled to be presented by Denis Tuohy, Michael Dean, Nicholas Tresilian and Philip Jenkinson is more of a starting point than might normally have been expected. For this edition came just after Jenkinson had been brought in to talk about films, just before Joan Bakewell arrived to lend a dash of mid-sixties pop-art intellectualism to proceedings, and while the show was still staying very much within its initial remit of discussing that day's output on BBC2, so it's fair to say that a quick look around elsewhere in that same Radio Times should give something of an idea of what they might have talked about.


Assuming that they didn't bother with Play School, the first item on the agenda would doubtless have been that night's edition of Humphrey Burton-helmed high arts hoedown Workshop, which featured renowned operatic types Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart performing excerpts from some of their favourite pieces and discussing their interpretations of them, to the accompaniment of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernadri (who appeared 'by arrangement with Sadler's Wells Opera Company'). As it had been picked out as a highlight on the previous page, written up in a jaunty 'you thickos can like Don Giovanni too' style approach, it's likely that the brow-furrowing trio would have found considerable mileage in it. 'The Pen', the third episode of Francis Durbridge Presents... A Man Called Harry Brent, which starred Gerald Harper, Brian Wilde, Anna Wing, Edward Brayshaw, Judy Parfitt and one Brian Cant (and, Doctor Who fans, Story Edited by John Wiles and Produced And Directed by Alan Bromly), was also deemed worthy of a preview and so doubtless would also have found its way into their opinionated nattering. Elsewhere, the winningly-named Gadzooks! It's All Happening featured top pop sounds from The Animals, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and, erm, The Three Bells, HM The Queen was still watching The Virginian, and Gay Byrne challenged Katie Boyle, Thelma Ruby, Charlie Chester and David Healy to Pick The Winner. Well, they had to give Philip Jenkinson something to talk about.



Jackanory - The Little House In The Big Woods 2: 'Out In The Dark' (BBC1, 25th October 1966)


In later years Jackanory would go bonkersly overboard at the merest suggestion of an anniversary - even sometimes if it wasn't their own - and commission all manner of week-long celebratory 'special readings' and what have you. Which is why it's a little strange to see that the two hundredth edition rolled around so quickly that they seemingly just put out a regular scheduled edition without any hint of an acknowledgement. This was the second part of the mysterious Red Shiveley's reading of The Little House In The Big Woods, the first in Laura Ingalls Wilder's long series of backwoods frontier days memoirs (described by Radio Times as "an American children's classic; it is a true story of family life a hundred years ago in the lonely and often dangerous backwoods of Wisconsin") that would ultimately give rise to a certain ceaseless drone of televisual tedium of end titles tumblage infamy. Unusually, there was no photo accompanying any of that week's editions in Radio Times, either of 'Red' or a generic scribbled woodcabin, so instead from the adjoining page here's a rare alternate edit of one of those 'Tea and TV' ads we were talking about recently:


Unlike a signifcant number of early Jackanory stories this one was never repeated, and perhaps unsurprisingly it's not amongst the dozen or so sixties editions that are still around, but some impression of what it might have been like can be gleaned from the credits; particularly under the tutelage of original showrunner Joy Whitby, Jackanory always attempted to give each week of stories its own distinct stylistic flavour, and these log-chop-centric adaptations came accompanied by illustrations from the BBC's prog album cover-anticipating in-house graphic designer Mina Martinez, violin from jazz fiddler and occasional Beatle collaborator Jack Fallon, and songs from Play School presenter and part-time singer-songwriter (and future Yoffy) Rick Jones. Pure speculation here but given the timing and the overall 'home on the range' ambience of the story, he could easily have been heard performing his proto-Acid Folk jangler The Flowers Are Mine, released as a single only weeks later. So, all in all, rather a low key and olde worlde muted sort of a way in which to mark such a notable milestone. Still, given that the one hundredth episode had featured a story about 'Golliwogg', this could have been a lot worse.



Top Of The Pops (BBC1, 9th November 1967)

Well, we've immediately got a problem here. And it's a problem that doesn't so much present itself as leap out brandishing a cigar shouting 'eueureurgh' and demanding that we keep in mind that it's got us a lot of machines. Yes, as you'd probably already guessed, the two hundredth edition of Top Of The Pops was presented by TV's Scrawny Old Bastard himself, and as such the fact that it no longer exists is entirely academic; if it did, it would have been locked away by now anyway, Savile-free pop performances and all. No, really - that's the ridiculous extent that they're now going to in the name of 'compliance', and recently, an archive music documentary was prevented from using a clip of The Faces on the basis that it came from a Savile-helmed Light Entertainment show. We have to tread a bit carefully here, but it's time to get on a soapbox, then sort of step off it and half back on again. While the BBC obviously has its reputation and pre-emptively defending itself against pillocks like Grant Shapps to think of, not to mention the feelings of victims and the risk of prejudicing ongoing investigations, and in any case nobody should be bowing to the moanings of entitled archive TV prats who want to see any and every Top Of The Pops repeated in full just because they feel like demanding it and anyway Simon Cowell something something, at the same time it has to be said that nobody is protecting anybody by preventing us from seeing a mimed music performance without a single second of Sir James in shot, and that there's a case for arguing that pretending that he just didn't happen is actually kind of similar to how he was able to get away with whatever he did get away with in the first place. So, with this in mind, here's a screengrab from another extant Savile-fronted Top Of The Pops that in no way presents a bleakly ironic metaphor for how the establishment might have drawn a discreet veil over his activities to suit their own ends:


Mind you, whichever side of the 'he's not yet been found legally guilty in any legal court of law!!' fence you fall on, there can be little doubt that his links would have consisted of little more than a handful of repeated catchphrases and putting his arm around young girls in the audience in a worryingly forceful fashion, so we're not really missing much there. What's more interesting are the actual missing performances, though some of them are perhaps not as missing as all that. The repeated footage of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick & Titch performing their proto-psychedelic gibberish World Music mantra Zabadak is presumably the same performance that does still exist from another edition, which is good news for all fans of girls with big hair doing that shimmering arms dance in a manner that suggests they may have 'had something', while Donovan's Zen-explaining There Is A Mountain was represented by an official promo film which is presumably still sitting in a record company vault somewhere. The Who's similarly repeated rattle through I Can See For Miles may be gone but their undoubtedly more thrilling performance on Twice A Fortnight still exists, Gene Pitney and The Kinks did Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart and Autumn Almanac on plenty of other shows that managed to dodge the big magnet, and while this was a different performance of Baby Now That I've Found You by The Foundations to the one that shows up on Top Of The Pops 2 every three seconds, you can be fairly certain that it wasn't THAT different.


On the totally lost side, and rather thankfully, there's The Dave Clark Five doing Everybody Knows, which as it was a 'ballad one' probably saw them doing 'meaningful' swaying in lieu of their usual risible trooping onstage routine and then leaning from side to side with their instruments in a manner that suggested anything other than actually playing them. This would normally be the cue for Dave Clark to remind us that they sold almost as many records as The Beatles back in the sixties, but there's a crucial difference; during the course of a handful of years, which they both began and ended as the most famous individuals on the entire planet, The Beatles underwent an astonishing and never-emulated artistic evolution which became an artistic - and social - revolution, fundamentally shifting and redifining the way in which the entire world saw not just music but cinema, literature, art and even class division, religion and drugs, whereas by 1970, The Dave Clark Five were still trotting out inexcusably pedestrian covers of Get Together in the hope that they could score a hit before The Youngbloods had a chance to release their original over here. So, all in all, the only real loss here - and in many ways probably the best performance - is Val Doonican doing If The Whole World Stopped Loving. Sadly, he never did get to do O'Rafferty Went To Cheshire.

So, really, this is the least 'lost' two hundredth edition of all of these, as you could easily recreate it in your own home with the aid of YouTube, a mop, a vomited-up barrage of meaninglessly deployed catchphrases, and the sound of a police car pulling up outside your window.


Pipkins - Snap (ITV, 5th July 1978)

And finally, we have an ITV show. Yes, you did read that right. An ITV show. From 1978.


It always seems to be the BBC who have to dodge the hail of missiles whenever the subject of lost archive TV is brought up, but while they perhaps made some short-sighted decisions during the brief but prolific timeframe when they didn't consider it worth hanging on to anything much of their output, ITV's franchise-based business-driven structure and liking for buyouts and regional reshuffles has meant that, until genuinely very recently, the output of any given ITV company passim was at risk of hand-changing obliteration once Jenkins From Accounts got an eyeful of how much tape storage was costing the new rights holders. Even now some things are still at risk, not least the large volume of TVS programming (including such big hitters as C.A.T.S. Eyes, That's Love, The Boy Who Won The Pools and the UK version of Fraggle Rock) that has ended up in the possession of Disney, who intelligently shredded all of the accompanying paperwork and now as a result can't do anything with any of it, leading to genuine concern that the day might come when Walt's Boys fling it all into a big skip in the car park. The mere possibility of that is arguably reason enough to wallop That Bastard Mouse in the mush with a cryogenic suspension temperature control.

ATV, the entertainment heavyweight headed up by Lew Grade, lost the ITV Midlands franchise in 1981 and the rights to its archive went into owner-hopping freefall, with the unfortunate consequence that material was being binned well into the nineties. Only one episode of Timeslip now survives in colour with the rest in black and white, most of Rushton's Illustrated has vanished into the televisual ether, and most frustratingly of all, Goodbye Again existed on glossy full-colour videotape as late as 1989; now all you'll find are black and white film copies and some audience laughter-free colour inserts. In fact Sapphire & Steel almost went the same way, but you'll have to read my DVD-accompanying book about the show to find out what happened there.


In such exalted company, it's perhaps not surprising that the long-running lunchtime show Pipkins - the one where everyone says "ha ha, the pupats were a rubbesh!!" even though they were supposed to be - should have suffered particularly badly from tape-chuckage, but even so it's a touch staggering that over three hundred of them disappeared over the years with only a handful (if you have giant hands) of master tapes surviving. A couple of dozen more have subsequently turned up as off-airs preserved by various cast members, but this tally does not include the two hundredth episode, Snap, of which TV Times noted "The card game snap is great fun - unless you play it with Hartley. He has become a snap bore and gets close to cheating". And, well, that will have effectively been the entire episode, albeit saturated with sarcasm, surrealism, and frame-defying puppet slapstick. You can probably more or less work out what happened yourself without actually needing to see it, but just in case you needed a bit of extra context; this was in the era when the opening titles featured that blaring brass fanfare and Hartley Hare being flattened by paintings of his puppet co-workers, the show itself featured second human overseer Tom as played by Jonathan Kydd and the redesigned 'jam roll ears' Topov puppet, Tortoise will not yet have acquired his multi-level-harrumph-facilitating dumb waiter, Pig's voice will have been provided by Elizabeth Lindsay, and given how much both were being used around this time, there's a fairly good chance that both Hartley's ruralist Uncle Hare (i.e. the same puppet in a 'bumpkin' hat) and Tom's pal Jo will have featured in the episode. Whether Octavia, Mooney or The Doctor put in one of their seemingly random appearances, however, is anyone's guess.


And now, as an encore, the recently wiped two hundredth episode of The 11 O'Clock Show. What, it's not been wiped yet? OK, wait there, I'll be right back...

TV Tea

It's not normally the done thing around here to just post a load of photos with very little context or explanation, as, frankly, we're more about Buzzfax than Buzzfeed. But just recently I've come across this frankly bizarre running ad campaign in some old issues Radio Times, and I thought that it deserved a bit of a wider audience.

It's one of those ads for a generic product rather than an individual brand of the sort that you don't really see any more, in this case an attempt by the Tea Marketing Board to extend their 'Join The Tea Set' campaign - once so widely known as a slogan that it was namechecked in a single by mod/psych band The Eyes - to anyone who'd plonked themselves down in front of the telly for a good old watch of Quick Before They Catch Us. What's more, on at least one occasion, it explicitly references the BBC as the best accompaniment to a quick bit of tannin-slurping.

Quite what link they're trying to make between TV and Tea here is spectacularly unclear. There are some vague hints about how it might help to pass the time while TV 'Clown' and 'Girl' are pissing about for eight million years while you wait for your programme to start, or that drinking it might provide a sufficiently tranquilising dosage to prevent you from becoming too scandalised by the latest taboo-challenging instalment of The Wednesday Play, but in all honesty you could equally have placed an advert about how whiskey in general will enhance your ability to figure out what in the name of superfluous full stops was going on in the average episode of R.3. Or, as some wag is no doubt chortling to themselves by now, a sub-Rutles advert for drugs to take so you are all drugs when The Magic Roundabout is drugs on drugs, lol. And anyway, Blur might not have had quite so much success with a song called Tea And TV.

There have of course been many TV shows that tried punning on 'tea' as a titular gambit, from Dee Time and Rich Tea And Sympathy to Teetime And Claudia and Children's ITV's enduring sci-fantasy sitcom T-Bag And The Many Changes Of Title. Then there was of course TTV, which started as an insert in the disastrous early eighties Here Come The Zanies-era Play School reboot with a load of sub-Guy Smiley puppets parodying the recently-launched Breakfast Time, and subsequently inexplicably mutated into a programme in its own right featuring rancid puppet cat Scragtag introducing filmed inserts from on top of a bin. Yeah, so thanks for reminding me of that, Don Draper.

Anyway, here are all of the members of the purported 'Tea-V' set that I've been able to find so far, so why not stick the kettle on, put your feet up, and watch the tel... have yourself a read of some of the fine articles on this here site? You will, you will, you will, you will...


UPDATE! More examples of the ad campaign have now come to light, both of them with a bizarrely unrealistic 'tannins and Telegoons will get you in her pants' vibe...


And finally, as a bit of a bonus, here's a letter to Radio Times about the tea-drinking habits of your Top TV Pals:




You can find a lot more about a lot more obscure and forgotten TV shows in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 4


When we last left The Fierce Flowers, Princess was still trapped inside a now-miniaturised Fierce Flower, and G-Force were wrestling with the moral complications of weighing up the need to set the malevolent plant life ablaze on a scale that would cause Bob Flowerdew to sink to his knees shouting "NOOOOOoooooooooooo" against the possibility that they might still be able to locate and rescue their teammate. Which it has to be said is something of a better recap than 7-Zark-7 manages at the start of the second episode. After consulting a computer, wittering about how the newly released spores "wait only for rain to bring them sporouting into menacing life" and informing all and sundry that he will be maintaining a Red Alert until further notice, he whizzes down a transporter tube thing into his usual command centre, indicating that - despite his solemn promise at the end of the previous episode - he did indeed leave his post before Princess was rescued.


As if to underline the fact that Princess hasn't been rescued yet, we see the rest of G-Force moping around at that sandwich place that she had been looking after in the previous episode. Jason and Tiny snark at each other over who's the most responsibe for the situation, Mark volunteers that "I never thought I could get so angry at a bunch of flowers", and Keyop indulges in an extended bout of a-a-aaaaaaaaaing, resulting in him shedding a lone splashing tear that shows Princess disco dancing in its reflection. "Mark's taking it harder than all of us", observes Tiny, "he and Princess, they had good vibes". Whether they were related to disco dancing is left to the viewer to decide.

Over at the laboratory, Chief Anderson has deduced that water acts as a catalyst for the plant growth - you don't say - and that they need to find a chemical that will permanently prevent this. He then goes off on some odd contextless free jazz improvisation about them thriving in the vicinity of volcanos and proliferating in swampland and even growing in the hottest deserts, all of which has about as much relevance to anything seen in either episode as a plot strand from Lost, and gives the impression that a significant amount has been cut from this episode too. Something that is only strengthened when G-Force react angrily to seemingly nothing, and slope off leaving Chief Anderson to mull over his findings while a flower in a tank rages behind him.


It's not the only one raging, either, as in an alarming sequence of quick cuts we see a small army of flowers parading through the sewers, smashing through concrete and so forth. "Luckily we had advance warning and had evacuated all people from the threatened cities", notes 7-Zark-7 in a handy distraction from the obvious snips made to the footage, though he doesn't see fit to offer any such explanation for the flower that suddenly emits a light beam thing that cracks open the ground; a property that is never referred to again. And as if all of that that wasn't enough, a TV news report implies that the flowers are now intentionally starting fires. Visually dazzling as all this may be, it's also highly bewildering and decidedly off-script, so perhaps it's fortunate that at that precise moment, Mark's communicator picks up a signal from Princess.

Yes, she's still alive inside that flower, and has worked out a way to send a distress call without her horticultural captor noticing. G-Force immediately set off to rescue her, and 7-Zark-7 notes that "she means a lot to me" and reiterates again that he won't leave his post until she's back, but there's a complication; the 'Federation Council' has voted to send in attack units in an attempt to eradicate the flowery menace. 7-Zark-7 bemoans that he warned them that this would only release more spores but that they didn't listen; we can only assume that he didn't actually try very hard at all. G-Force are going to have their work cut out for them, though, as without the aid of an explanatory scene, Zoltar and company have already located Princess and tied her up in a weird electronic bondage thing (perhaps the reason why we didn't get to see an explanatory scene), and are hoping to lead them into a trap.


Chief Anderson, meanwhile, is busy having a snarky one-sided conversation with the flower in the tank when he cuts his hand (on a... handrail?), and the drops of blood that consequently splash onto the bouquet-unfriendly specemin cause it first to throw an almighty tantrum, then to keel over and conk out. From this he deduces that they are unable to withstand exposure to haemoglobin, but the fact that they'd been merrily digesting females left right and centre gives another unpleasant suggestion that we're being redubbedly shielded from some less than enlightened overtones in the original.


Meanwhile, G-Force have tracked the signal to 'the city's old water plant', and after smashing through the wall in The Phoenix, they do some natty business with backflips, electric lasso/tightrope hybrids and - of course - metal bird things, and easily overpower Zoltar and company, who beg for mercy and... Mark lets them go because of 'morals'? There must have been a proper reason in the original. At the same time, Chief Anderson and 7-Zark-7 unleash a spray that they've synthesised from 'an iron molecule in haemoglobin combined with water', which puts paid to the flowers and they fizzle out en masse in an extraordinarily protracted sequence that puts the climax of The Evil Dead to shame.

There's just enough time for a couple of wisecracks and morals from the departing G-Force (no prizes for guessing who said what out of "it'll be a while before I buy flowers again", "they look so pretty and harmless" and "they should never have been taken from their home planet") and it's over to 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 for some rounding up; "Zoltar will have to come up with something else now, and of course he will, that's why I keep a twenty four hour watch... I don't think my trigatron(??!?) could have stood up to many more hours of pressure like that", and "[bark]" respectively. "I'll be alright as soon as my electrobank gets a quick one-hour recharge", muses the former, though it's clearly going to have to wait as this is indeed one of the episodes where a badly drawn rendition of one or more of G-Force comes to visit him. And on this occasion it's Princess, almost unrecognisable apart from her costume (and even that's a little debatable), who thanks her robotic associate and kisses him, causing the episode to end on a rather worrying 'BOING' sound. Ironically, the producers of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman would probably have cut that out of Battle Of The Planets.


So, that's The Fierce Flowers, and while it's some considerable distance from being a truly representative example of Battle Of The Planets - even aside from all the nearer-the-knuckle-than-usual content, there's no sign either of the Firey Phoenix or of Zoltar's grovel-inducing floating head thing superior 'O Luminous One' - it's not remotely difficult to see why it made such a lasting impression on everyone who saw it the first time around, many of whom probably couldn't even name a single other episode title (not even Attack Of The Space Terrapin). It's an uncomfortable collision of cosy action thrills and spills and dark futuristic-yet-primal terror - almost like a crossover between Castle and Ring - and was certainly far removed from the sort of troubles encountered by the well-spoken flat-capped youngsters that were prone to hanging around God's Wonderful Railway. Some may well now scoff at its chopped and changed sanitised nature, but you do have to ponder on how many people later got into other 'cooler' areas of film and TV and what have you precisely because of Battle Of The Planets, and in any case, there's a very strong sense that in some ways these episodes may actually have been made worse by the re-editing. There are a lot of gaps and leaps in logic that your mind is left to fill in, and the puzzling nature of the narrative jumps can sometimes leave you wondering if they'd left out something that was actually worse than it really was. Erm, if that makes any sense at all.

After the first episode's appearance as part of Buzzfax, according to the Radio Times billing, 'Buzz' was back along with 'Results of Back Page Puzzle'. And you can't really get a stronger underlining of just how different The Fierce Flowers was from anything else on offer than an immediate handover to some semi-animated bits of Ceefax smugly explaining how to decipher some Clive Doig-posed code. After all, it's not like there was some other imported entertainment on offer that morning to compare it favourably against...

Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 3


Roger Finn thundering through the 'Broom Cupboard' and telling a departing Andy Crane live on air that he'd done a "bloody good job". Caron Keating more or less having an orgasm whilst getting a massage during a Blue Peter expedition to Russia. The Housemartins doing The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death on The Wide Awake Club, lyrics about The Queen throttling children and all. For no readily obvious reason, eighties children's television was seemingly full of blink-and-you'll-miss-them-and-then-refuse-to-believe-anyone-who-actually-did moments of unintentional unsuitability like these. And we haven't even started on the more widely acknowledged I'd Like To Ask Five Star Why Are You So Lego Man's Head Fell Off clip show-friendly side of things yet.

Yet there's one thing that all of the above, and so many more incidents like them, have in common. They were, to greater or lesser extents, random and spontaneous instances of something 'going wrong', and nobody planned for them even to take place, let alone to be transmitted. Less celebrated, yet in some ways more disturbing, were some others that were actually intentionally thought up, scripted, filmed, vetted, cleared, and shown to an audience who were in no way expecting anything like it to assault their Charles In Charge-anticipating critical faculties. The jarring sweariness of The December Rose and The Cuckoo Sister, the Bronski Beat-backed racially-fuelled punchups in Sticks And Stones, the infamous 'Gro-Bust'-flinging catfight in Aliens In The Family, Sophie Aldred's negligibly-necklined costumes in Knock Knock, the troubling and barely legally acceptable insistence of the producers of The Queen's Nose on using Melody as anything from a wet t-shirt model to a bukkake receptacle, and pretty much anything that ever happened in Grange Hill. Well, apart from when Ro-land stole some 'Minto' bars.

As we've already discussed at some length, the appearance of Princess' thinly concealed lady area in the opening titles of Battle Of The Planets would definitely fall very much into this category. But the two-part story The Fierce Flowers went off in a completely different direction and into what was at the time - and still now if we're being honest about it - totally uncharted territory for children's television. Without a word of exaggeration, it presented unsuspecting viewers with disturbing jolting hints of eco-horror, emotional brutality, and even worrying hints of proto-'torture porn', all of it only just about kept in check by the deft re-editing that Sandy Frank Entertainment had deployed to make the more adult-orientated Japanese original suitable for younger dubbed international audiences. You're probably not unreasonably thinking that this widely held opinion is actually just a collective hazily-recollected mass distortion of childhood thrills, and that closer and more recent examination would no doubt reveal The Fierce Flowers to be in fact rather tame. Well, I've examined it closely and more recently, and 'tame' it is most definitely not.


Admittedly, though, it does start in a deceptively tame fashion. Part 1 of The Fierce Flowers opens, somewhat inevitably, with an establishing shot of 'Centre Neptune', the underwater residence of those controversially-inserted sex-and-violence-replacing plot-hole-covering comedy robot narrators 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1. The former, as is his chirpy C3P0-infringing wont, is busily informing the audience about how much he loves the thankless task of monitoring the entire galaxy for surprise attacks by alien domination-seekers SPECTRA, when he is suddenly interrupted by 'Susan', the Caramel Bunny-voiced flickery light-represented Artificial Intelligence housed in an Early Warning Station on - cough - 'Planet Pluto'. For technologically bewildering reasons, 7-Zark-7 has a 'crush' on Susan which causes him to blush - yes blush - uncontrollably whenever she compliments him. There's no time for any of this now, though, as she's calling to report that an unidentified flying object has apparently been launched by SPECTRA from the 'Crab Nebul-ay'. Which isn't a 'sultry' mispronounciation, as Zark immediately repeats it, and that's about as far from 'sultry' as you can get.


Aboard said Nebulay-flung unidentified flying object, birdy-faced Captain Morlok is reporting to SPECTRA head honcho Zoltar - whose gender, it should be noted, randomly alternated in the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a complication that was averted in Battle Of The Planets by the pretence that he was periodically deputised for by his 'sister' - about his latest plan for conquering the Earth. He doesn't say too much about what it actually entails, though Zoltar's exclamation to nobody in particular "greetings Earth people, I am sending you flowers from Spectra", followed by what appears to be Richard Herring's laugh, does rather give the game away somewhat.


Hardly surprisingly, this is followed by a sinisterly surreal sequence of unsuspecting passers-by cooing at a huge swathe of blossom falling gently from the sky, which cuts to a downpour of torrential rain, upon which the fuckers start germinating with nasty-sounding rasping electronic burbles. Within minutes, they've self-cultivated into big spidery lotus things that look like they mean business. And if that wasn't unnerving enough, they suddenly get up on their hind tentrils and start walking, developing a really quite unpleasantly undertoned liking for cornering young women in alleyways. 7-Zark-7, not unreasonably, considers this an apposite moment to alert G-Force. From the look of it, he might also have saved us from things getting even more visually ugly.


At that moment, G-Force are all in their pre-'Transmute' off-duty proto-Britpop civvies, and are hanging out in a sandwich bar that, for no readily obvious reason, Princess is looking after for a friend; though, given that her name in the Japanese original was Jun and there's a great big letter 'J' outside, maybe it's actually technically her own translationally-inconvenient sandwich bar. Cheapo disco sounds play in the background while Tiny pulls a face about the lack of 'Spaceburgers', Keyop splutteringly helps out with the washing up on a promise of payment in 'apple pie', and Jason and Mark are already frowning over front page newspaper reports about the agressive floral proliferation. Yep, he's really on the ball is 7-Zark-7.


As the others set off to investigate the flowers, Princess stays behind for a moment to lock up, and - you guessed it - that's when we get a really creepy shot of an advancing flower reflected in the glass she's cleaning. Clearly unconcerned about the absence of 'Spaceburgers' from the menu, a couple of them have made their way into the sandwich shop, and even after 'transmuting', Princess find that she needs all the kung fu kicks and assistance from her trademark electrified yoyo thing that she can get. Eventually, after a lengthy fight, she manages to overpower all of the pollen-powered intruders, of whom there can be no debate about their rather audience-inappropriate allegorical properties...


Over at the research centre headed by their Mr. Benn's Neighbour-lookalike scientific advisor Chief Anderson, G-Force are being briefed on what he's been able to deduce about the flowers so far. Presumably filling in for a fair amount of snipped material, he informs the assembled Transmutees that the plants are carnivorous, and have been subjected to sufficient scientific analysis for 7-Zark-7 to have been able to devise a protective suit that will enable anyone swallowed by one to withstand their digestive effects. Which is handy, because he's also deduced that in order to be able to fully understand them, someone will have to be swallowed by a flower and survive. Princess, it transpires, has already been selected for the honour. Why not send Keyop, you might wonder, as he's smaller and we could do without him saying 'rou-boot-deet' every three seconds anyway? Oh, because the protective suit 'seems to work particularly well on females', apparently. This, coupled with the scenes of female commuters being chased and cornered by flowers and some clearly toned-down overtones elsewhere, suggests that something rather worryingly misogynistic has been lost in translation. Thank fuck, then, for 1-Rover-1.

In fairness Keyop does offer to go in her place, apparently not having paid the slightest bit of attention to what's just been said, but Princess insists on undertaking the mission herself, and heads off on her motorbike to the sound of yet more daft funk (which, amusingly, sounds not unlike Daft Punk). Keyop, against her wishes, tails her in his rubbish bug-like car thing, and witnesses her being swallowed by a flower in a really quite unnerving and quite unpleasantly sexualised manner. Needless to say, on seeing this he goes "a-a-aaaaaa" and flees the scene, only narrowly avoiding ending up as suit-deficient flower food himself. A pacing 7-Zark-7 observes that their plan seems to have 'backfired', which is a bit strange given that this was their exact plan all along, and 1-Rover-1 assists by 'barking'. He also tells us that the rain is 'unusual', and that he suspects that it may have been generated by SPECTRA. Yes, thanks for that, Columbo.


Meanwhile, the remaining members of G-Force are sitting around recapping all of that stuff about the protective suits working better on women. Fuck knows what they were actually saying in the original, as the action then cuts abruptly to a truly nausea-inducing weirdly tinted scene of Princess convulsing inside a flower. Back at the conversation, we find out that this is an even worse situation than it appeared on nauseatingly tinted face value, as in the drier weather the flowers have shrunk considerably. Yet it appears they can think of little to help their miniaturised petal-enclosed friend other than that they should wait and "let Zoltar play his hand". As luck would have it, Zoltar is indeed playing his hand, and after reflecting on the success of the plan so far and handily revealing that the rain was caused by his taking over of Earth's 'main reservoir', he sends a batallion of Armed Motorised SPECTRA Units to put G-Force out of action. Unfortunately, his uniformed bikers are easily averted by some deft highway manouvres from Mark and company. Yeah, it was worth waiting for him to play that hand, wasn't it.

With that little diversion out of the way, Chief Anderson outlines his plans to simply bomb the flowers out of Percy Throwerdom. Everyone agrees with this course of action apart from Jason, who angrily breaks ranks over the risk that indiscriminate flower-torching poses to the still-trapped Princess. He's overruled, though, as nobody can see that they have any other choice, and to the strains of what appears to the a distant relative of the theme from The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, Mark jets off in a sort of converted crop duster to set fire to huge swathes of flowers. As he does so, he's haunted by really quite freaky visions of Princess giggling whilst spinning round in front of a psychedelic backdrop. And after all that, it turns out that it was a totally pointless exercise anyway, as Zoltar scoffs that "fire cannot destroy them, you have only released more spores". Well, that's one way of setting up a second episode.


As the flowers set about repollinating themselves, 7-Zark-7 delivers an inappropriately chirpy episode-ending monologue about how his work defending the galaxy must go on, though he won't leave his post "until we've rescued Princess". They really ought to make their mind up what their actual gameplan is. Even allowing for the fact that the two wittering droids were introduced to give the programme a lighter edge, this is a very jarring way to close proceedings. And we've got another twenty five minutes of it left...


NEXT TIME: Princess gets drawn by someone with their eyes shut and their hands tied behind their back, Mark ghostwrites My Booky Wook, and 7-Zark-7 fails to be of any use whatsoever...