Recently, I sat down to watch an episode of a kid’s programme which mine have taken a shine to, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants. In truth, not the worst offering I’ve ever had to endure. In the Night Garden, can take that accolade.
It was frantic, loud and an assault of riotous colour. To ingratiate its audience, it bandied about terms like, ‘snot’, ‘fart’ and ‘bum’ with the ease of an over-reaching Instagrammer trawling for likes – ‘Double tap if you agree guys!’
“Have you seen that show that they’re watching?” I enquired of himself. “Yeah. It’s grand like. But, it’s no Round the Twist.”
What followed was a literal Reeling in the Years recap of the television shows we were privy to as children.
The advent of HTV was greeted with more enthusiasm than a Kennedy visit. In pubs the land over, men would pass on the sage knowledge of the correct positioning of the aerial so as to garner maximum reception. Buoyed on by Big Mick’s assurance, they would duly send their offspring onto the roof of the home to adjust same on their return. My husband still remembers his Dad sending, at different intervals, one of them scurrying up on the slates to tackle same: “He said more to the north-east.”
It was years before any form of digital, and then cable, TV would enter our home, such was the inability to secure any signal on account of the abundance of trees. Or, at least that’s what we were told. Broadband also eluded us for a considerable amount of time.
However, not only was our means of securing adequate signal questionable but, so too were some of our viewing choices. Kids’ TV back in the day, for the most part, did not mollycoddle its viewers. Yes, we had Rainbow and Bosco (granted the little flame haired puppet could be a bit testy at times) for some gentle nursery rhymes and the like but, overall, the offerings tended to lend themselves to caustic and acerbic wit.
Most importantly, they were not condescending towards children. There were no such things as ‘in jokes’ for the adults, just jokes. Granted, some have aged better than others while their counterparts can now be viewed as being wildly un-PC and downright inappropriate.
“It was about WHAT?” exclaimed our eldest as he regained his breath after choking on a piece of rigatoni due to laughing.
Blank stare from our child.
“It had a really great theme tune: ‘Chico, Chico, the Rainmaker, Chico, Chico, the Rainmaker, Chico, Chico the Rainmaker, Chicopacobacawana make the rain’.”
Further blank stare.
My husband advised against trying to explain Worzel Gummidge as it would be wasted on them and: “That show was weird. I don’t know why you liked it so much.”
We did however agree on a strong stable of mutual favourites: Sharky and George, Count Duckula, Danger Mouse, Round the Twist, Wanderly Wagon and the spin-off, Fortycoats. Cable, and eventually digital, TV exposed us to the likes of Alf, Who’s the Boss?, Family Ties and the holy grail of nineties TV — The Simpsons.
The first episode I ever viewed was the offering, ‘Treehouse of Horror’ which was also the inaugural Halloween special. Fresh off our ‘Trick or Treat’ high, still wearing our bin liners and witches’ hats while clutching our Quinnsworth plastic bags of dodgy apples, monkey nuts and the occasional Twix, we piled into the sitting room to watch Matt Groening’s interpretation of Poe’s, ‘The Raven’.
To this day, it still remains my favourite of all of the ‘Treehouse’ specials. Not least because of its sheer brilliance but also because we no longer had to endure the brunt of the townies jibes as being the poor relations due to our paltry channel offering.
We had arrived. We could discuss episodes of Gladiators in school with our friends after the weekend. We could moan about our parents watching soaps instead of Glenroe which made us feel worldly and boastful in the same breath. We had chart countdowns and presenters who we had previously only seen as the pull-out poster in Bliss magazine. Watching TV felt like an occasion. Saturday morning TV was a religion in itself. Early rising was mandatory to watch the entire programming schedule, fuelled by copious bowls of Coco-Pops which your mother allowed only at the weekends.
But all is not lost. That sense of occasion can still be created with my kids today. It now just involves flicking off the wifi.