Do you remember Rentaghost? If you grew up in the 80’s then you surely do. It’s one of those 1980’s tv programmes that you either loved or hated.

Written by Bob Block it was initially only commissioned for 5 episodes. It has been described as a pantomime comedy, which on the face of it is a very good description – it did have a pantomime horse! Perhaps the best known character was medieval poltergeist Timothy Claypole, played by Michael Staniforth. Staniforth also wrote, composed and performed the title track.

Rentaghost is also well known for having Sue Nicholls (Audrey Roberts) as Nadia Popov the sneezing, flower allergic ghost (I wonder if that ever did anything for Alf Roberts?!). Molly Weir also featured, as Hazel the McWitch, so did Kenneth Connor as Whatisname Smith. Perhaps the most famous alumni of Rentaghost is Lynda la Plante. She briefly played Tamara Novek (a cousin of Nadia Popov – and she also was allergic to flowers). Definitely cementing the show’s reputation as a pantomime comedy was Christopher Biggins, who starred as Adam Painting, a local entrepreneur.

It is unlikely that you’ll ever be able to see this popular children’s 1980’s tv programme on DVD due to the complex copyright issues that surround it. In the days before videos and DVDs became popular, many of the actors’ contracts did not contain clauses for video royalties. Subsequently, some of these actors are blocking the release of Rentaghost on video or DVD. The first series is available, but it’s from 1976!

To read more about Rentaghost, please see ClassicKids Tv or Wikipedia.

Grange Hill

OMG!  If there was ever a must watch television programme for me then this was it.

Grange Hill started in 1979 when I was still a couple of years away from Secondary school. It was the ultimate in cool at the time, I don’t think that there can be much debate on that. I remember that me mum tolerated it, although if he was ever at home at the time it was on – very rarely – the old chap would insist that the TV went off.

The first icons delivered by Grange Hill were of course Peter ‘Tucker’ Jenkins and his gang, Benny (Green) and Alan (Humphries).  Then there was Mrs ‘Ma’ McCluskey and Bullet Baxter, not to mention Trisha Yates and Cathy Hargreaves.  And these were just the first lot!

I guess that the Grange Hill characters with whom I most closely identified were the likes of  ‘Zammo’ McGuire, Ziggy Greaves and ‘Jonah’ Jones. Later, I was quite into the Luke ‘Gonch’ Gardner gang too. Of course I will never forget the  ‘Gripper’ Stebson and Roland Browning axis, Gripper, proving that Ben Elton in The Young Ones was right, ‘Oh, come on, sir. We’re the only kids in Britain who never say ffffffffff…’  And who can ever forget, ‘Danny Kendall… dead!’

For me, the secret of Grange Hill was the seamless introduction of new faces.  As evidenced by the list of my favourite characters, they didn’t all appear together, but the are all but indistinguishable in terms of their era.  Phil Redmond, Grange Hill’s creator, could devise a hundred more television series but he’ll never come up with anything quite like Grange Hill.

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Multi Coloured Swap Shop

Ok, ok. It started in 1976, but I don’t remember watching it when I was only six. It was an 80’s phenomenon alright! Having said that, it gave way in 1982 to Saturday Superstore – Mike ‘Auntie’ Read taking over the mantle (surely cudgel) from Noel ‘Tidybeard’ Edmonds.

But enough of this, what about Swap Shop?  Well for a kick off, it wasn’t TISWAS.  Featuring Edmonds (never really liked him, mesel’), Keith ‘Cheggers’ Chegwin, Maggie Philburn and John Craven, Multi Coloured Swap Shop bestrode Saturday mornings in my formative years, as I yearned, nay ached for the chance to get up and turn over to watch Tarrant and the guys on the other side.  Sadly, this was the one time when me mum put her foot down and told us what we were going to watch.  Boo hoo.

I can still recite the now defunct telephone number – 01-811-8055 – wouldn’t it be cool if BT could allow us to dial the number and leave us a message on answering, something like, ‘Hi there, you’ve got through to Multi Coloured Swap Shop, unfortunately, you’re 27, 28, 29… years too late.’  But they don’t, probably.  Perhaps you could try it and let me know?

Anyway, one of the first times I saw it, I though that I had seen a ghost.  No I really did.  A girl from our school had recently died and Maggie Philburn was an absolute spit for her.  It shook me for a while, I can tell you.  Cheggers was his manic self, wind, rain, snow, sea spray, you name it, he was out in it.  I think that he was the nearest thing that they ever got to what was going on over on ITV, but even that was in a controlled, BBC kind of way.  And John Craven was, er, John Craven.  Enough said, he presents Countryfile now…

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Like its counterpart on the Beeb, Multi Coloured Swap Shop, TISWAS actually started in the seventies.  In fact it started in 1974, then as an ATV (Midlands) only show.  It went (almost) national in 1977 – the year after Swap Shop started – did the ITV bosses have some strange inkling that this was what they needed to face up to the smug beardy git on the other side?

Chris Tarrant was the main protagonist of TISWAS, ably assisted by… wait for it boys… Sally James, ‘marshalling’ a gang that included at various times Michael Palin, Bob Carolgees, Spike Milligan, Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry, Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and many more.

There was the Phantom Fan Flinger, (an alliterator’s dream), the buckets of water, The Cage, the being-pulled-up-by-your-ears-from-under-The-Desk, The Dying Fly and much much more.

Unfortunately, TISWAS didn’t last for very long into the 80’s, being finished by ITV in 1982 – ratings were on the slide and perhaps the anarchic nature of the show was a little too near the knuckle for them.  Telly execs eh?  Anyway, as I mention on my post about Swap Shop, this was the only TV issue that I really remember my mum putting her foot down and telling us what we were going to watch.  So perhaps my memory of TISWAS is not the best, but what I do remember, was very funny.

In a final, tenuous, attempt to up my TISWAS creds, I did know a girl at University (well, a girlfriend of a friend) who had appeared from under The Desk.  I don’t think that this really counts though does it?  No, I thought not.

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Cheggers Plays Pop

This complete load of old nonsense was an absolute blast from start to finish.

The show started in 1978 and ran until 1986, with some 70 episodes and 4 Christmas specials (1980 – 1983).  This was madcap Cheggers at his very best.  After the preliminaries (i.e. the theme tune), the show would start with our hero dashing out to centre screen and going ‘Yerrrsss!’

Then the fun would really start, two teams of school kids, a red one and yellow one, would answer all sorts of pop trivia, jump round on inflatable things, get covered in foam and stuff, generally have a whale of a time, then there’d be a musical interlude from one current pop colussus or another, more jumping around and then time to go home.  Or in Keith’s case, out on the lash… allegedly, possibly…

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Johnny Ball

There aren’t a great many television presenters who could make maths and science cool.  Johnny Ball is one of them.  From 1977 right the way through the 1980’s, up to about 1990, this man probably was children’s television in the UK.

He seminal show has to be Think of a Number.  Starting on BBC1 on 12 April 1977 right up until 31 October 1984, there were a total of 36 shows, spread equally over 6 series.  Running in parallel was Think Again, which ran from 9 January 1981 until 15 October 1985 with a total of 29 shows over 5 series.

Looking back on it, the guy just oozed class.  If you want a comparison, he did maths and science in an OU (clothing) stylee for kids, but made it interesting, exciting, beguiling, fascinating.  My best memory is when he took a cut out of the British mainland and proved that the centre of gravity of Britain was somewhere around Blackburn.  Of course, this took no account of the height of Ben Nevis and the rest of the Scottish Highlands, but who cares?  We didn’t, cos we wuz kidz…

He would dress up to portray famous mathematicians / scientists from history, from Galileo, thru Newton and Einstein to John Napier (the inventor of logarithms) and beyond.  He also used to love the odd pun, such as ‘Why is the nose in the middle?  Because it’s the scenter!’  They didn’t ever get any better than that!

Of course, there was a very wide range of topics, from energy, the body, materials, wealth, time, odds and probability, planes, gravity etc etc…  It was great stuff, and a very important part of my childhood.  Thank you Johnny Ball!

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Now, Jackanory was one of those BBC Children’s programmes that went a very long way to making my childhood what it was.  Of course it was around long before the 80s, starting in 1965 and continuing right up until 1996.  However, it was a constant through the 80s – well at least up until I started getting in too late to watch it.  It’s funny, but although it was on every night (well it seemed like it was) there are only a couple or three of the storytellers that stick out in my mind.

The first one who springs top mind is Bernard Cribbins.  Now he was the most prolific of all time, so he must have been quite a feature on the show throughout the 80s.  I’m hoping that my memory’s not playing tricks on me here, but I am sure that one of the characters to whom he gave life to was Mortimer, aka Arabel’s Raven.  Written by Joan Aiken and illustrated by Quentin Blake, Mortimer and Arabel got to up to lots of high jinks in the thirteen books that she wrote from 1972 to 1995.  Cribbin’s (who else would it have been?) gave voice to Mortimer’s two word vocabulary “Kaaark!” and “Nevermore!” with a certain gusto.

Then there were Kenneth Williams’ various tellings of stories on the show.  His rendition of Agaton Sax was particularly memorable as were his versions of Sneeze and Be Slain and James and the Giant Peach.  Mind you I laughed like a mindless thing at most stuff involving Kenenth Williams throughout the decade.  Finally there were the Jonny Briggs stories as written by Joan Eadington and told by Bernard Holley.  These were delivered in a calm easy manner by Holley and are for me perhaps the most easily remembered of all the Jackanory episodes.

Inspector Morse

Inspector Morse was an ITV show which first aired in 1987 and went on to run for 13 years.

Based upon the eponymous set of books by Colin Dexter, which actually only ran to 13 stories, there were a total of 33 episodes of Morse shown on TV.  You will no doubt remember that the iconic title role was played by John Thaw – in a sublimely cerebral far cry from his earlier incarnation as DI Jack Regan in the Sweeney.

Morse was ably assisted by his side-kick DS Robbie Lewis, played by Kevin Whatley of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fame.  In a departure from the books, the TV Lewis is (obviously) a Geordie, whereas Dexter’s original characterisation has him as a Welshman.

What I liked most about Morse was the gentle pacing of the narrative.  For all its gentle pacing though, I’m sure that there was no padding, everything was vital to the plot.  The show was a metaphor for the due process of the law.  The wheels of the law grind ever so slowly, but it always seems to get its opponents – Morse seemed to do very much the same and he too always got his man (or woman).

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, far from it, and I certainly remember one argument with friends at University one idle midweek night when we were arguing over what to watch on telly.  They lost that one and they never quite got over it, dubbing my hero as Inspector Morose.  Morse – Morose. Geddit!  Oh, how we laughed.

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Tomorrow’s World

I defy anybody who was a child of the 80s to deny that they loved this programme.

OK, ok, so you girls out there can be excused as this was perhaps boys’ stuff, but what stuff?!

Along with TOTP and A Question of Sport, Tomorrow’s World was one of the holy trinity of Thursday night programmes that were essential viewing in our house.  There were us two boys and our sister, and significantly it was Dad’s night in.  Mum was not really into the show; I doubt that she ever really watched it – she was usually out at Ladies’ Club on a Thursday.  It was her loss then, the technological dreamworld that us boys so loved.

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But who were the presenters?  Well, first and foremost there can be no greater stalwart of the show than Judith Hann.  Having started on the show in the mid 70s, our Judith was regular, dependable and a downright safe pair of hands.  Of course she offered a glorious opportunity for parody to Pamela Stephenson, but then how many women who were on telly at the time didn’t offer the same?  There ‘s one to ponder.

Then of course we had (my favourite) Kieran Prendiville.  Now we all know that KP (as I’m going to call him) went on to pen such classics as Ballykissangel, but he was a relatively short lived presenter on TW (as I’m going to call it from now on).  KP was the one who famously smeared jam all over a copy of the Bee Gee’s CD Living Eyes.  I was upset when we found out that he had decided that this ‘science lark’ (my phrase) wasn’t for him and he went off to write about that priest and the landlady.

Coming on to TW at the time that KP left in 1983 was Peter Macann.  Now I don’t suppose that this was a coincidence.  However, Macann didn’t seem to have quite the same gravitas as KP – I don’t know why and it might just be my opinion but I just can’t remember him. Joining the fray (surely, team) in 1985 was Preston lad Howard Stableford. Howard was much more to my liking.

A thin slice of Thursday evening from January 1984. Includes TW plus a trailer for Saturday Superstore followed by the start of TOTP.

He joined a team which also contained Maggie Philbin. Now, I’ve a confession; I was then and I am now a big fan of Ms Philbin (sorry, can’t call her Maggie, for the obvious reason).  She was, to borrow another phrase from the Young Ones, ‘sweetly pretty’. When Multi-Coloured Swap Shop finished in 1982 she had managed to escape to join TW in 1983.  She was at the time married to Keith Chegwin, another escapee from M-CSS. As his career (and, one supposes, his life) started to nose dive, her star was in motion in the opposite direction.

And finally, perhaps the last old-school presenter of TW in the Baxter / Woollard mode was Michael Rodd. He was a presenter between 1972 and 1982 so although he wasn’t around for much of the eighties I think that he encapsulates what TW was more than any other presenter during my time watching the show.