Archive | Nostalgia corner

Classic shows that have almost been forgotten, as well as shows that should probably have been forgotten

February 10, 2015

Nostalgia Corner: Play School

Posted on February 10, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Play School presenters

Play School was a much-loved UK kids TV show that ran between 1964 and 19778. If you were a kid then, you’ll remember Play School and the names of Brian Cant, Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths, Stuart McGugan, Carol Leader, Fred Harris, Chloe Ashcroft, Don Spencer et al will be burnt into your memories. You’ll probably also remember 'the windows', as well as the toys: Humpty, Big Ted and Little Ted, Jemima and Hamble.

Play School was cancelled in 1988 to make room for first Playbus and then Playdays. And if you’re a parochial Brit like me, you probably thought that was the end of Play School.

However, since the 1960s, the show had been franchised out and that there were different versions around the world. Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and Israel all made their own versions; Canada’s Polka Dot Door was an adaptation of Play School; and even Sesame Street was modelled on Play School.

Down under, New Zealand ran its own version between 1975 and 1990. Interestingly, the New Zealand version had toys with virtually the same names as the UK version, with the minor difference that Hamble was replaced by the Maori-esque Manu.

Australia, by contrast, never cancelled its version of Play School, which has run continuously since 1966, making it the second longest running children’s TV show in the world. Over that time, it’s changed considerably. Initially very similar to the UK version – indeed, Don Spencer of the UK version also hosted the Australian version and all the toys’ names were the same – it’s altered the content, style, titles, toys and virtually everything else about it. But it’s still Play School. And it’s still running.

January 15, 2015

Nostalgia corner: Airwolf (1984-87), Blue Thunder (1984)

Posted on January 15, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


The 1970s was a time of great change for the US. It had fought and lost a war in Vietnam; it had seen one of its presidents forced to resign to avoid impeachment; and its decade-long detente with the Soviet Union was perceived in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to have failed and to have been a ‘long con’ by the opposing superpower.

The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 was a turning moment for the US. Backed by the newly emboldened Christian right, Reagan seemed to bring back the US’s self-esteem. Casting the Soviet Union as ‘the evil empire’, he redefined the US as the ‘leader of the free world’, a beacon of liberty and human rights founded on rugged individualism rather than big government, and backed by a technology-enhanced and financially boosted military. On top of that, the arrival of the microchip in the 1970s began to revolutionise technology and, in particular, computers, touching on more or less every industry, from manufacturing all the way through to music, and it was this ‘white heat of technology’ that helped Reagan to cement this philosophy in practice and demonstrate American superiority.

How the entertainment industry reacted to the new official American outlook varied. Movies, still full of an independent spirit but sensing the shift in perspective, began to embrace technology and the new sentiments. TV shows, however, under attack for the perceived effect of violence on children, retreated more into fantasy rather than face up to the new Cold War and American military might straight on.

But there was one TV show that embraced all these trends whole heartedly, becoming perhaps the epitome of the Reaganite philosophy. It was also one of the best US TV shows of the early 1980s.

Created by a former US marine and Christian Republican, with a central, rugged, individualist Vietnam veteran as hero, full of religious symbolism and military technology, and with the oppressors of the Soviet Union and its allies firmly cast as the enemy, Airwolf was coming.

Continue reading "Nostalgia corner: Airwolf (1984-87), Blue Thunder (1984)"

January 8, 2015

Nostalgia Corner: Rubik, the Amazing Cube (1983-1984)

Posted on January 8, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Rubik's Amazing Cube

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. We can, of course, feel nostalgic for something from our childhood. Douglas Coupland’s ‘legislated nostalgia’ enables us to feel nostalgic for a time when we weren’t even alive.

But is it possible to have anti-legislated nostalgia – to not only not feel any desire to see something again from our childhood but to feel it for something we never even saw?

Because I think there is. Because this week I discovered the existence of Rubik, the Amazing Cube.

Now, back in the 80s, the UK did import an awful lot of US cartoons tied into all kinds of commercial properties. Naturally, the creative quality of these “flog toys to kids” shows varied, ranging from the top end with the likes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and Centurions all the way through to the unholy likes of the bottom end: Visionaries and Bravestarr.  

Fortunately, there was at least a quality control on these imports – the acquisition managers at the BBC and ITV. These brave souls would plough through all the shows available for purchase, decide which were the best and buy only those. Sure, Visionaries and Bravestarr got through. But look at what didn’t.

Rubik, the Amazing Cube is perhaps the best example of what happens when you try to take a commercial product singularly unsuited to dramatic storytelling – the Rubik’s Cube – and then try to use it for dramatic storytelling. For those of you who were apparently born on other worlds or are barely more than children, the Rubik’s Cube was a 1980s toy puzzle composed of smaller cubes that you could rotate around a central hub. It started with each face of the big cube the same colour, you’d jumble them all up and then try to get them back to the same state again. Here’s a Rubik’s Cube being solved – bear in mind it has about 43 quintillion possible permutations.

That’s it. No sound effects, flashing lights, computer-powered voices or anything else. Just cubes that have to be rotated.

So spare a thought for the writers of the Ruby-Spears cartoon series Rubik, the Amazing Cube, hired to devise no fewer than 18 half-hour episodes aimed at flogging Rubik's Cubes to children across the US. These mighty heroes did the best they could, but ultimately what else could they produce but garbage?

In fact, the strategy they chose was probably the optimal solution, baring in mind they had only a 1 in about 43 quintillion chance of coming up with anything decent – have as little to do with the actual puzzle as possible. So the plot of the show gave us Rubik, the Amazing Cube. He was magic and could talk, being able to fly through air among other things. He’d been abducted by an evil magician and after three children Carlos, Lisa and Reynaldo Rodriguez rescue him and help him to evade the magician, he chooses to help them with their various problems. As it was the early 80s, this included burning social problems such as school bullies and to the writers’ credit, they did make the heroes of the piece Latinos – not just one token one in an ethnically diverse group, but a whole family and just that family, a rarity to this day.

The only catch? Rubik can only come alive when all the cubes on each of his faces match up and wouldn’t you know it, he’d get jumbled up a lot, when he got dropped or attacked by dogs, for example. That meant the three Rodriguez kids had to unjumble him or else they’d be in so much trouble.

Now you might think I’m making this up, but I’m not. Because here’s a full episode you can watch. Let me know if you feel anti-legislated nostalgia.

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Wayward Pines

Nice idea, shame about the direction