BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (85-81)

Another five-pack of fun for children of all ages. Especially with the first programme on the list.


85: ChuckleVision

(Shown 1055 times, 1987-2012)

Yes!

Here’s an entry that took quite a lot of digging to get some accurate numbers on. But, given the importance and gravitas of the programme in question, I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the time poring through Genome to pick out individual episodes buried within faux-programme listings for ‘Saturday Starts Here’, ‘Children’s BBC’ and ‘CBBC’, then checking everything against an episode guide for CV to ensure I’d not missed anything. I’m not kidding, either. This one took ages. And I’m not kidding about the importance of the programme, either. A cultural touchstone for entire generations of children (and adults) across a quarter-century on our screens, and two of the absolute nicest people in showbusiness.

Not that the Chuckle Brothers first arrived on our screens fully-formed. Their first appearances on TV in the early 1980s came when Paul and Barry were joined by older brothers Jimmy and Brian Patton to make up a four-man Chuckle Brothers outfit, as can be seen in programmes such as 3-2-1 and The Good Old Days, a bepermed Barry referred to as ‘Legs’ throughout and still the target for most of the slaps from their slapstick act. Despite putting together a thoroughly enjoyable variety turn, the quartet soon span off into a pair of double-acts, Jimmy and Brian becoming The Patton Brothers, Paul and Barry retaining the Chuckle Brothers name. Not that this was an acrimonious parting of the ways – Jimmy and Brian would regularly feature in their younger siblings’ future programmes.

Not that Barry and Paul went straight to the personas we now know them for. Their first programme as a double-act on Children’s BBC seems almost surreal when viewed now (and I recall, pretty weird even at the time). Following a few appearances on 1983’s Roger The Dog Show, The Chucklehounds (“featuring The Chucklehound Brothers”) earned a standalone episode for their antics, The Chucklehounds Christmas airing on Christmas Eve morning BBC1 in 1984. That was followed by a full series, starting in February 1986, with the lead actors now billed as ‘The Chuckle Brothers’.

The programme – a full episode here if you want to experience/re-live it – was pretty much a low-budget attempt at a live-action cartoon, with the pair wobbling about in dog costumes and getting up to all manner of slapstick shenanigans. No dialogue, but soundtracked with the zaniest sounds a Yamaha PSS-170 could muster. Problem is, while actual cartoons airing on BBC1 at the time were carefully choreographed chaos from the likes of Chuck Jones, here you had an undoubtedly talented variety act donning great big dog heads that limit mobility and visibility, with a modest budget likely offering little time for retakes. If you’re feeling charitable, it was okay for what it was, and they certainly had few qualms about what they got up to (the episode I’ve linked to includes a Chucklehound on a motorbike. Inside the studio. No, it probably wouldn’t happen nowadays) But they were capable of so much more.

And so, from the morning of Saturday 26 September 1987, Chucklevision first hit our screens as a weekly precursor to Going Live. And watching it now, it still holds up very well. Not that this should be any surprise – they are actual brothers, after all – but the rapport that we’re so familiar with is immediately obvious, you have to wonder why the blazes they’d just spent eighteen months wobbling about in dog costumes and not speaking to each other. Right from the opening episode, Chucklevision is so packed with Tim Vine-grade jokes, you can’t help but grin throughout.

PAUL: Let’s take a look at the latest videos.

[A GRINNING BARRY HOLDS UP SEVERAL VHS TAPES]

PAUL: Very nice, aren’t they?

The first ever ChuckleVision, BBC-1, TX: 08:40 Saturday 26 September 1987

As you can see there, the first couple of series combined studio-based humour with outdoor footage – a departure from what most Chucklefans would be used to, but their dynamic works every bit as well in that setup. I think it works so well because despite it being such a traditional double act – the idiot who knows nothing and the idiot who knows everything – they shun the traditional trope of having the Oliver Hardy/Bud Abbott/Tommy Cannon/Stewart Lee one regularly express anger or frustration at the foolery of his counterpart, Paul being (for the most part) relentlessly cheery throughout makes all the difference. And it was a formula that worked tremendously well – as the show’s run of 21 series suggests. TWENTY-ONE SERIES, with new episodes being produced from 1987 to 2009.

It took until 2008’s twentieth series before episodes of Chucklevision debuted anywhere but BBC One, but premiering on the CBBC channel was clearly no demotion. The opening episode of that series (‘Mind Your Manors’) took in guest turns from Harry Hill and Seinfeld’s Guy Siner (oh, okay: Allo Allo’s Guy Siner. He was in Seinfeld once, though), and was later repeated on BBC One.

In short, the brothers Chuckle were and are a true phenomenon in children’s television. At the time of writing, a BBC Programme Index search for ‘Chucklevision’ (it really helps that it has such a unique title) returns details of 2,976 broadcasts of the programme (many of which were on the CBBC channel). But perhaps the greatest legacy they’ve left the world can be found by going into a room containing anyone between the ages of 20 and 45 and saying “To me…”.



=84: Murder, She Wrote

(Shown 1065 times, 2002-2011)

Well, let nobody pretend this isn’t a surprise. A US drama series that, depending on your age, you likely associate more With 1980s Sunday evening ITV or latter day Channel Five. Yet here it is, tied with Dad’s bloody Army on the list. What manner of chicanery is going on here, then?

It might also be a bit of a surprise to see that Ms Jessica Fletcher actually spent as long as ten whole years being broadcast on the Beeb. Possibly slightly under the radar as a daytime staple, which (not for the only time on this list) makes all the difference. But what is perhaps most surprising of all is how Murder, She Wrote appeared so many more times on the BBC than contemporary US shows like Columbo (225 times, 1988-2003, 485th place), Ironside (514 times, 1967-2003, 187th place), or even the always-bloody-on-when-I-was-a-kid Bonanza (somehow only 220 showings between 1978 and 1988, 497th place).

Admittedly, it certainly helps to reach that number of broadcast episodes when there are 264 recorded episodes to choose from (plus a further four TV movies). Seems strange now to see that, going by the TVTimes piece on the series before it debuted on ITV in May 1985, the then 59-year-old Angela Lansbury was unsure about continuing in the role after recording season three. Instead of calling it a day after March 1986, she went on to remain in the role until 2003.

Everyone’s getting to play Half-Life: Alyx except me.

And as that meant the world would go on to see Jessica Fletcher join the VR revolution (in the infamous 1993 episode ‘A Virtual Murder’), the whole of society definitely benefited from that decision.


83: The Magic Roundabout

(Shown 1070 times, 1965-1985)

Without even bothering to check through the rest of the list, I’m just going to go out on a limb and state categorically that this is the highest-ranking French programme on the list.

Let’s get all the clichés out of the way first. Emma Thompson’s Dad (or, to be more accurate, actor, scriptwriter and stage director Eric Thompson), ‘Le Manège Enchanté’, not having the original script to work from so just riffing it, stockbrokers dashing home from the office to avoid missing it, hack 90s stand-ups claiming they were all on drugs except they obviously weren’t because there is such a thing as imagination. Oh, and a clip of The Massive Dougal from Goodies Rule OK. There. Got them all? Good. This kind of lore never built up around Henry’s Cat, did it?

When it came to kids’ programming on the BBC at the time, especially animated or stop-motion fare, it was generally the case that less is more. As mentioned previously, Bagpuss only clocked up thirteen episodes during its time on screen, and Postman Pat took nearly fifteen years to get beyond an initial baker’s dozen of episodes. Similarly, both Bod and The Flumps only ever had thirteen episodes each, while Mr Benn enjoyed a comparatively gargantuan total episode order of… fourteen episodes.

By comparison, as the adventures of Dougal, Florence and the Gang had been produced over the channel (for the ‘Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française’, rather than ITV, obviously), there were a few more episodes to pick from. How many? 450 in total. Fortunately, Eric Thompson’s knack for warm and whimsical interpretation – a skill he’d previously displayed as a presenter on Play School, along with his wife Phyllida Law, which led to him being offered the Roundabout gig – was a more than suitable match. That, plus a peak slot in the schedules (bridging children’s programming and the early evening news) helped bring in a cross-generational audience, and ensured the Roundabout would be kept a-spinning on British screens throughout the 1970s.

But every imperial phase must end. On 19 May 1978, the Magic Roundabout aired in the pre-news slot for the last time, and it moved to a weekday morning slot for the remainder of the decade, after which the programme went back to bed for a few years. A Zebedee reference can go here if you like (in your mind, I’m not writing one). From January 1984, the Magic Roundabout returned to BBC1, this time in a 3.50pm slot to open up the Children’s BBC strand each day. It only stayed in that slot until the end of March that year, after which it only made occasional appearances in morning and lunchtime slots for pre-school tots.

After 1985, that was the end of The Magic Roundabout on the main BBC channels. It did however reappear on terrestrial TV (as a series of 52 purportedly ‘not previously broadcast’ episodes) in January 1992, as part of The Channel Four Daily’s initial push for viewers. Eric Thompson was no longer around to provide new narration, so the task was handed to Nigel Planer, who provided a tone not dissimilar to the Thompson original.

There was also a CGI-animated film made of the programme in 2005, featuring a very impressive voice cast (including Tom Baker, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Williams, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen and Kylie Minogue for the UK version, Jon Stewart, William H. Macy, Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon and Judi Dench for the US release). That film isn’t included in the count, but for the curious: it was broadcast five times between 2008 and 2013, generally in the off-piste days of the Christmas schedules.


82: Dad’s Army

(Shown 1071 times, 1968-2021)

Well. Here’s a programme that was always going to be On Ze List, but who would’ve thought it would be in as modest a position as joint-83rd?

Not that a sitcom that lasted for a total of 80 episodes (several of which were officially missing for much of the repeat run, though that number’s now down to three) being broadcast over a thousand times is anything to be sniffed at, you understand. But it’s kind of indicative that we’re not going to see Fawlty Towers or Blackadder in this hundred. (I may well compile a separate list of most-shown comedy programmes at some point soon.)

Anyway, onto the Warmington-on-Sea Home Guard. You already know what Dad’s Army is about if you’ve lived in the UK for more than seven minutes, but there are a few things worth considering when it comes to all these broadcasts. Bear in mind, I’ve not scoured the original listings to fully tot up broadcasts of each particular episode, that’s one for a future update. Perhaps. These observations are merely anecdotal.

THING ONE: Of those eighty episodes, the majority of repeat broadcasts for Dad’s Army are from series’ three to six. Series one and two were recorded in black and white, and as such only seem to get very occasional airings (and even then, only ever on BBC Two).

THING TWO: Similarly, series seven, eight and nine generally don’t reach the broadcast schedules quite as regularly, coming as they did after the early death of key cast member James Beck. That said, the Christmas 1974 episode ‘Turkey Dinner’ (s7e6) does seem to crop up quite a lot, due to it being ripe for those Christmas classics slots.

THING THREE: Episodes where Private Cheeseman (Talfryn Thomas) is a main part of the platoon certainly don’t seem to air as regularly. Probably because, let’s face it, he’s really quite annoying. The amount of reputational damage that character has done to the Welsh people is near incalculable. I’m saying it took until the rise of Gareth Bale to see us truly reintegrated into society.

It’s also interesting to see how, once new episodes had stopped being made in 1977, repeats of the series remained very much a BBC1 thing until the late 1990s, after which it became a nailed-on fixture of the BBC2 schedules. Look, here’s an illustrative chart.

Can’t believe I’ve waited this long to start chucking charts in. If I ever do manage to update this entire project in the future (all together now: “Do you think that’s wise, Mark?”), it’ll be interesting to see how far Dad’s Army climbs up the list. It’s such a safe pair of hands – it’s one of the few ‘grown-up’ non-animated programmes my seven-year-old son enjoys, as an illustrative example – one can easily imagine it retaining a place in the BBC2 schedules for years to come. Can’t see Murder, She Wrote clocking up many showings on the BBC any time soon.

FACTS AMAZING: The entirety of Dad’s Army is technically a flashback – the first episode opens with the old platoon reuniting as part of the then-contemporary ‘”I’m Backing Britain” campaign, before recalling their service years, at which point the series as we know it begins.


81: In the Night Garden

(Shown 1106 times, 2007-2012)

And so, direct from The Magic Roundabout to the closest thing there is to it in the modern era, and Russell Howard’s so-damn-lazy routine about this programme presumably exists purely to underline this statement.

For the benefit of readers without children, assuming they’re not too busy spending disposable income or enjoying full nights of sleep to read this, In the Night Garden involves boat-bound castaway Igglepiggle settling down for the night as his little sailboat drifts aimlessly on the ocean. As he sleeps, he dreams of his happy place: The Night Garden. A place where he frolics with friends Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and the Tombliboos. A place where the grass is the lushest green, and the Pinky Ponk floats freely in the sky. At the end of each episode, we fade back to Igglepiggle on his boat, still asleep, as his boat drifts into the aquatic wilderness as the end credits roll.

That might seem like a dark retelling of what’s going on, but it’s the actual plot that the narrator – Sir Derek Jacobi (yeah, look impressed) – reads at the start of every episode. I’m far from the only person to have thought about this – Google ‘in the night garden sailor theory’ to see how common it is.

Okay. In short, if you’re a parent who ends up having to watch this programme every evening because it’s more suitable than what you really want to watch at 6.30pm, your mind really can’t help but overanalyse every little facet of the programme. Like: how come the Pontipine children are never taken into care? And why does to relative size of the characters keep shifting around so much in each episode? But hey, there might be someone good on Bedtime Stories in a bit.

Anyway, plots for In the Night Garden rarely make much sense (a thought for the people working on iPlayer charged with summing up each episode in a few sentences, here). But then, it isn’t aimed at an audience expecting a traditional three-act narrative structure. It’s been a fixture in the lives of young children since it first aired in 2007, and there’d likely be a violent toddler uprising if CBeebies tried to shove Moon and Me into that peak 6:30pm slot.

The slightly odd thing is, In the Night Garden is very much an evening, pre-bedtime programme. It’s all about the act of going to bed and getting some shut-eye (and possibly also about Igglepiggle’s knack for lucid dreaming), so it’s a little strange that when it aired on BBC Two (so the show could be enjoyed by families yet to make the switch to digital TV) it was always in a morning slot. Not that these sheer numbers aren’t impressive. Just imagine if I’d added in all the CBeebies broadcasts of the series, where it has aired seven days a week pretty much since it first aired. As it is, a very respectable showing for an incredibly popular kids’ TV programme.


Right, that’s it for now. More soon! A bit more of a mixed bag next time, with at least one more “oh, I thought that would be much higher” entry: GUARANTEED.

One response to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (85-81)”

  1. There’s two things I find utterly remarkable about Murder She Wrote.

    Firstly, I absolutely recall it being the most 70s-80s thing. When I saw episode as a kid the late 80s, or a teen in the 90s, they would have been new. This is astounding to me now. Even at the time, I think I assumed it was old. Like Columbo.

    Also, the fact that it peaked I’m showings years after it stopped being made is strange.

    Daytime staple, sure. But someone at the BBC has thought “Yes! This is great! Keep showing it! Maybe even more!”. It’s like a parallel world.

    Like

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