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.

The Box of Delights

The Box of Delights is a children’s novel written by the English Author, John Masefield and was published in 1935.  The BBC’s 1984 television adaptation formed the central part of their Children’s TV schedule in the run up to Christmas in that year.  Starring former Dr Who Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlins, and Sir Robert Stephens as the villainous Abner Brown.  Devin Stanfield played young hero, Kay Harker.

In a nutshell, Kay Harker is travelling home on the train at Christmas time.  In so doing he gets mixed up in the machinations of Abner Brown and his cronies in their quest to own a magic box which enables its owner to shrink, fly and to travel into the past.  Of course the current owner of the box, Cole Hawlins – an ancient Punch and Judy man, is keen to avoid Brown obtaining the box.  He therefore entrusts the box to Kay.  After many trials and tribulations – an unbelieving policeman; a car that can fly and best of all, Nick Berry as a rat – good triumphs over evil as Kay eventually prevails against Brown.  If it wasn’t a Children’s story, I’d call it a rollicking good adventure.

I love The Box of Delights.  Of all the Children’s TV series from the 1980’s, it sums up Christmas the best for me.  The snow and the Christmas music / imagery is extremely evocative.  If the special effects look a little clunky from our twenty-first century perspective, well too bad, to a greater or lesser extent its part of the charm.

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Friday 4 April 1986

Now I don’t want to come across all maudlin here, but there’s no getting away from it.  We had a cancer sufferer in our immediate family.  A cousin of my Dad’s, who lived across the road from us, to be precise.  I remember that he’d been suffering for a long time with what he thought was a bad back.  He’d been everywhere to get his back sorted, but eventually the correct diagnosis had been revealed, and by now it was too late.  My mum took him to Wolverhampton for treatment.  A desperate attempt at chemotherapy or some palliative therapy, I don’t remember very well, but he didn’t live for very long afterwards – I think that it was in June that he died, aged 40 something.

I’ve just taken a look ahead in my diary, but I can’t find any other mention of our poor cousin.  I do remember his death though (I was watching the World Cup when his girlfriend came across the road in floods, naturally) and his funeral.

Us kids, being what we were though, were hard at it playing Fox and Hounds up the old railway line and of course a game of football was fitted in too.  And in the evening, we watched Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which was ‘bl**dy marvellous’ again.

Monday 7 April 1986

Oh dear, we had thought that Spring had sprung, but according to today’s entry, it was an ‘utter b*****d of a day’.  It was wet and windy, and surprise surprise, there was nothing at all to do.  I was frustrated by the fire, which I could not get to light, well not until I had put three firelighters on it.  Why, there wasn’t even much on the telly.  Boo and indeed, hoo.

No homework or revision reported, I should have been doing some Physics.

Wednesday 9 April 1986

Oh no.  Another ‘boring’ day.  Again, I played Football Manager on the C64.  I also went to the library, and amongst all those books I was still bored.

At least Man Utd could offer us some entertainment as they lost 2-1 at home to Chelsea this evening.

And over on Channel 4 we had some seminal 1980’s TV, Prospects.  Following the adventures of Jimmy ‘Pincey’ Pince, played by the late great Gary Olsen and Billy, played by Brian Bovell, Prospects was a cult hit for Channel 4 – one of the programmes that only Channel 4 could make.

The sun sets on the Thames, another day comes to an end…

Friday 11 April 1986

At last I had finished (surely phinished) my Physics homework.  I noted also that I had better start my Chemistry homework ‘or else’ – remember, back to school on Monday, that’s only a weekend away.  It was ‘nearly a nice day up till dinner’.

I then went on to complain about somebody, let’s call him Teddy.  Apparently he was here all day, and ‘Gordon Bennet he’s a…’   Mmm, spurious to say the least.  But anyway, at least Auf Widersehen Pet was on again and this week it was ‘grate’.

Monday 14 April 1986

Here’s a thought for you.  I think that I was Jim Royle before he was.  Here’s why, first entry… ‘Back to school – not so bad eh?  Not so bad – my a**e!’

I did my French speech, which I didn’t know very well, and considering that exam was only next week that’s a bit silly by me really.  In the evening, I watched Now, Something Else, starring Jeremy Hardy and Sarah Crowe (the first bride in Four Weddings) and written by Rory Bremner and Ian Brown.  I also watched the Joan Rivers show, Can We Talk? One of the programmes was ‘brill’ the other wasn’t.  You decide, I can’t remember.

Friday 2 May 1986

One week to go, I noted.  Looking back from now as I write this, it’s hard to understand just how momentous it actually was, this leaving school lark.  At the time, getting up and trundling off to school was an activity that I had done for around 11 years out of my 16.  That’s a big chunk I think that you’ll agree.

Anyway, that’s enough of that kind of thing.  Today we did some German (talking not writing) work today.  I reckoned it was harder than French – ‘can see a better French mark than German’ – didn’t happen, I got a B for German and a C for French.  ‘Chemistry was as usual very boring – Teacher is c**p.’

In the evening, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet continued to be ‘brilliant’.  That’s ‘b****y marvelous’, ‘just magic’ and ‘grate’ over the past few weeks.  Wow – I could be Clement and La Frenais’ in house reviewer…

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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