Comedy for adults is difficult to write. You’d think that it’s easier to make children laugh – all you need are slapstick, mess and silly words, right? Yet for whatever reasons, not all kids’ comedies make it. Recently I stumbled across the old BBC Comedy Guide via the Wayback Machine. There’s a list of every comedy broadcast on TV in the UK (at least up until the site stopped being updated) and I was quite amazed at how many there were, some of them famous and impactful, while others are probably little remembered now. I’ve picked out 10 of the British comedies for children (sketch shows and sitcoms only – cartoons and gameshows are not included on the site) which seem rather obscure.
Ant and Dec Unzipped (Channel 4, 1997, 10 episodes). I’d rather not know exactly what they unzipped, but in the interests of science, I watched an episode. It’s ridiculous and anarchic, but mostly not very funny. I can’t compare it to their other shows, as the only other I’ve seen is SMTV:Live, but it can’t have been pulling many viewers in, as it was cancelled… despite winning a BAFTA Award for Children’s Entertainment in 1998, fending off fierce competition from the other nominees: The Mag, Pendroffobia and Roger and the Rottentrolls. Screenshot below: two guys (not Ant ‘n’ Dec) competitively getting out of their strait-jackets for the ‘minority sports’ segment.
Bradley (ITV, 1989, 6 episodes). Now this one is definitely obscure. I can’t find any clips online, although with such an unhelpful title, it’s no wonder. According to the BBC Comedy Guide, this programme starred Paul Bradley (whom I hadn’t heard of before – he is known for his roles in soaps mainly) whose badly-behaved reflection causes trouble. It sounds like an OK premise, but not one that could be kept going for another series.
The Bubblegum Brigade (ITV, 1989, 6 episodes). Probably not one of Bill Oddie’s better known programmes, this one is a bit like The Goodies toned down for a younger audience. Mildly entertaining, not especially hilarious, but warm-hearted, as I can ascertain from the few clips I found. The Bubblegum Brigade are comprised of Bill and some kids mending broken hearts (how sweet), although I don’t know what this has to do with gum.
Chopsticks (BBC, 1980, 6 episodes). With tap dancing, jazz and stand-up, this sounds like the classier end of children’s entertainment. Whether it was any good, I can’t decide, as the only clip I saw was the animated opening sequence via the BBC Motion Graphics Archive on the Ravensbourne University website (screenshot below). This resource is a great find and you can use the material for educational purposes (such as this highly educational blog post).
Follow That Dog (ITV, 1974, 6 episodes). This one really is obscure indeed. The episodes are lost (unless they’re in someone’s attic), as unfortunately is the case with many TV shows, especially before people commonly had VCRs. Shows were not necessarily considered worth archiving, certainly not the less popular ones. According to the BBC Comedy Guide, this show was about a hapless policeman whose dog dreams how to solve the crimes. It sounds quite good.
Lord Tramp (ITV, 1977, 6 episodes). The BBC described this as a sitcom for children, but I think it’s more of a ‘family’ one (as in, suitable for all audiences). Hugh Lloyd starred as Hughie Wagstaff, a homeless man who suddenly inherits a title and estate, with apparently hilarious consequences. It’s not totally obscure, as there is a DVD available and I’ve seen a vaguely amusing trailer, yet there are few reviews online. It seems to have been a decent show but lacking laugh-out-loud moments.
On the Rocks (ITV, 1969, 8 episodes). Another ‘lost’ TV programme, this one was about SeaView Television, the smallest station in Britain, with the signal transmitted from a lighthouse. It sounds quite wacky. Not to be confused with the identically-titled BBC Radio 4 sitcom (2013-15) and a film from 2020.
Parent-Craft (BBC, 1951, 6 episodes). I would love to see an episode of this series, 70 years on, but it’s another lost show. It was about how to handle your parents. I found a Radio Times listing for it at the BBC Genome site and saw that other programmes that day included Andy Pandy, Dressmaking, The Debutante’s Father and Speedway Test Match: England v Australia. According to the Wikipedia article on the history of television in the UK, in 1951 there were only two transmitters and only 9% of the population owned a set.
Tales from the Poop Deck (ITV, 1992, 6 episodes). Pirates! Always a winner with kids, right? This one featured pirate Connie Blackheart and her crew. It does not appear to have been very popular, despite the show’s hilarious title, as it was cancelled. I was only able to find the opening theme online and no content from the episodes.
WYSIWYG (ITV, 1992, 5 episodes). What You See Is What You Get. A sci-fi comedy with nods to Monty Python and Hitchhiker’s, about aliens (played by Nick Wilton and Clive Mantle) reporting on life on Earth. Not to be confused with Whizziwig, which was based on Malorie Blackman’s books. Someone has actually put the episodes on YouTube and I watched one which has a library setting (see screenshot), complete with a shushing librarian in suit and bow-tie. It’s amusing in an absurd way and I like the spoof adverts.
Have you seen any of these? Do they sound like they deserve to be obscure?