Saturday, March 11, 2017

Absolutely pointless nostalgia: Obscure childhood VHS

I spent a lot of my childhood in front of the telly. As soon as I got home from school, it'd be straight to BBC One for a couple of hours of Children's BBC until that hit the impassable Newsround barrier, then catch up on the last couple of hours of Children's ITV thanks to the magic of home video. No difficult Sophie's Choice dilemma in the Warburton household (plus, that way around you could fast-forward the adverts).

But this was the late '80s / early '90s and children's TV wasn't on around the clock, so I also had a healthy supply of commercial videos to tide me over. Typically, these collected two arbitrary episodes of a popular animated series that would embed themselves in my memory through repeated viewings to the extent that I could still probably recite the scripts verbatim 25 years later ("planetary alignments come and go, but pizza is forever" etc). But sometimes, they'd be a bit stranger.

These underdog videos didn't have the budgets of Hollywood animation studios. Some of their origins are uncertain. Most of them have been preserved for undeserved posterity on YouTube.

The Golden Treasury of Classic Fairy Tales: 'Puss in Boots' & other stories (Screen Legends, 1982)

I'm going to slag off a lot of these, so I'll start with one I did actually treasure and would happily sit through again. Best wait until I've got a child, or it might be a bit weird. But it wouldn't be the first time.

Before your YouTubes, I had to scratch this nostalgic itch by buying the video off eBay for a pound, a few years after we got rid of all these things through car boot and landfill. Since I was already being foolishly sentimental, I liked to imagine it was the same tape that had found its way back to me.

As far as I'm concerned, these are the definitive versions of these timeless tales. 'The Four Musicians' was always my favourite. 'The Emperor's New Clothes' controversially had a hairy cock in it. The witch from 'Rapunzel' gave me nightmares.

Dotty's Christmas Stories (Woolworths Kids Club, 1989)

There didn't used to be any information about this online, but someone's posted a clip to YouTube recently, which is the first chance I've had to revisit "all my favourite Kids Club characters" (so the box tells me) since whenever I last chose to ironically watch it a few years older than recommended.

Apparently commissioned by Woolworths as an exclusive, limited release (other retailers must have been fuming), this belongs to the fine, thrifty animated tradition of one person narrating and doing all the voices for static characters who only have a single pose but are occasionally put on different backgrounds to liven things up.

I can be as sarcastic as I want, but I did like to watch this. I know, because I remember panicking when I tried to use the video player all by myself for the first time and somehow made it freeze and go all fuzzy on the Kids Club logo (pressed pause, didn't I?). I woke my mum up and she fixed it. 28 years old I was.

The Sooty Video Show (Warwick Video, 1982)

Sure, I liked The Sooty Show. I might not be old enough to remember the true Harry Corbett era, but I can remember before it went off the rails with Sooty & Co. Little Cousin Scampi is the Scrappy Doo of the franchise.

This isn't a video of The Sooty Show, or it wouldn't be on this list. It's Matthew Corbett doing a minimalist live gig to what looks like the reception year of a local infant school. Memorable moments include Matthew seeking career advice from young children through the medium of song and Sooty wooing a distractingly mature-sounding Soo.

Those kids are about 40 now.

Play School: Replay (BBC Video, 1988)

I have vague memories of latter day Play School, before Playdays took over with its more charismatic puppets and regimented daily activities. This isn't a normal video of Play School, or it wouldn't be on this list. Rather, it's a 24-year retrospective targeting the nostalgia of childish grown-ups, with rare outtakes, reminiscences and interjections by Brian Cant.

Maybe it was more for my parents. I still got something out of it, though I remember finding some of the early black and white material where adults are pretending to be farm animals a bit unnerving.

Little People Video: A Visit to the Farm & Christmas Fun (Marvel Entertainment, 1988)

I always wondered why I never saw the Fisherprice Little People series that these episodes came from. I've now learned that there wasn't a series, just a handful of direct-to-video releases to underhandedly promote toys, just like every other '80s cartoon did. It came in a cardboard slipcase. It might even have been free through the door.

I thought these were quite enjoyable anyway, and probably better than they were required to be for marketing purposes. It even had one of those theme tunes that'll be with me 'til I die, whether I like it or not:
Lucky is a silly pup
Penny likes to play dress up
Brother Timmy's always there
And Baby Sister likes to share.
Poor Timmy didn't have the most established character.

I never saw A Charlie Brown Christmas, my equivalent was this touching Christmas story in which an ironically penniless Penny makes her brother a sled. It's better than Dotty, at least.

Robinson Crusoe (Animafilm, 1973)

I think this was my youngest brother's fault. If we ever chanced upon a video shop offering three kids' vids for £10 or something, I'd get my Turtles or Duckula, the middle brother would get some appropriate preschool thing, and the one being pushed around in a buggy who's too young to be trusted with decisions would point to something at random.

I see now that it's a Romanian-Italian co-production that presumably didn't have the biggest translation budget, which I suppose excuses some of the weird dialogue we used to delight in mocking. If it had a higher profile, its scenes of cannibalism, a gleefully smoking parrot and an amorous cat couple doubtless would have had trouble getting past the BBFC censors. But no one else bought this.

What delightful VHS oddities did you used to own? Write your own blog about it, don't bother me.

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