MANY Bugle readers might recall them as the halcyon days of children’s TV, those precious times when we’d sit on the edge of the settee to enjoy Watch with Mother, the title for a series of programmes that held the attention of the nation’s youngest from 1950 onwards.
It was the BBC’s first coherently planned combination of education and entertainment, and happily brought into our lives characters we will never forget such as Andy Pandy (first seen in July 1950), Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men (1952), Rag, Tag and Bobtail (filling the Thursday slot in 1953), and The Wooden Tops who arrived on our screens in 1955.
These enduring characters created a certain stability of routine from Monday to Friday. Who could ever forget Bill & Ben on a Wednesday prancing about the garden with their puppet strings always visible, their hands made out of large gardening gloves, and feet of hobnailed boots? Little Weed, their friend and neighbour who always kept counsel, and the mystical gardener who was never seen, but was nevertheless feared by Bill and Ben, who would scurry back to their flower pots as soon as they saw him, communicating in the only way they knew how with ‘flibadobs’ and ‘flobadobs’.
Then there was Andy Pandy, the chubby faced toddler who lived in a picnic basket, who was first joined by his inseparable pal Teddy, then later by a rag doll called Looby Loo.
Or could the most enduring memories be of Rag, Tag and Bobtail, the hedgehog, mouse and rabbit, who had their adventures in the hedgerow; or the favourite family of them all, The Woodentops, starring Daddy Woodentop, Mummy Woodentop, Mrs Scrubbit in the kitchen, twins Jenny and Willy, and baby Woodentop who always resided in the arms of his mother. The family was complete with Sam who helped Daddy Woodentop in the fields, Buttercup the Cow, and a rascal of a hound called Spotty Dog. Even when lines rolled down the TV screen because of interference from a poor signal it didn’t stop the enjoyment, and for the vast majority of Black Country folk, a certain fondness for these humorous and fluffy characters still exists.
Another character much loved by young TV viewers of the late 1950s was Jungle Jim, and he is Alan Keeling’s pick of Yesterday’s TV for this week. He was a character based on a comic strip hero created by Alex Raymond and proved very popular on the big screen for which sixteen movies were made that ran for approximately 70 minutes. Good cinema attendances for all the Jungle Jim films persuaded the producers of the show to make a television version based on the same characters and using much of the same tried and tested story lines, and the Hollywood star who headlined both the films and the TV series was none other than ex-Tarzan actor Johnny Weismuller.
Twenty-six monochrome half-hour episodes were made for the small screen by Screen-Gems (Columbia) under the production of Harold Greene, against a studio background that depicted Nairobi, and each thrilling episode began with Jungle Jim diving off a rather high cliff into a river below.
Other members of the cast included Martin Huston as ‘Skipper’ (Jungle Jim’s son), Norman Frederic as ‘Kaseem’ (Jim’s man-servant), plus the two animal stars of the show, Tamba the chimpanzee, and Skipper’s dog Trader. Other guest actors included Pierce Lydon, Pat O’Hara, Woody Strode, Harry Hickox and Keye Luke. The individual shows bore adventurous titles, including ‘Voodoo Drums’ and ‘Blood Money’, and here in the Black Country, Midlands ITV viewers enjoyed watching this series over fifty years ago in 1957 as part of the ‘ABC Family Hour’ which began at 5.30 pm on Saturdays.