Running a bit late this week, I’m afraid.
Back in the days when we only had three channels and kids’ TV meant Saturday mornings and the two hours in the afternoon before the news, there was no more important schedule slot than the five-minute spot just before the news began at 5.30pm.
It was always filled with some bizarre, creative and often surreal animated series, including classics such as The Wombles, Paddington, Roobarb, Ivor The Engine, Willo The Wisp, Noah and Nelly, Barbapapa and, of course, The Magic Roundabout.
Few of them ran for more than a single season of a dozen or 20-odd five-minute episodes (though they were repeated regularly for years) and yet many of them are still fondly remembered today.
Perhaps that is because that five-minute slot was an overlap between kids’ and grown-up TV, so parents getting in from work and settling down to watch the news would watch those little five-minute shows along with their kids.
In any case, this week’s short but sweet classic theme comes from one of my favourite of those five-minute wonders, The Perishers.
It was based on a daily comic strip that appeared in the Daily Mirror newspaper from 1958 until it was retired in 2006 following the death of Maurice Dodd, who had written and pencilled the strip for most of those 48 years.
With its focus on a small cast of children – Wellington, Maisie, Marlon and Baby Grumpling – and Wellington’s dog Boot, with adults nowhere to be seen, The Perishers could in some ways be considered a British take on Charles Schultz‘s American classic comic strip Peanuts, though without any of the schmaltz and sentimentality.
The animated adaptation was made by FilmFair for the BBC in 1978. Only 20 five-minute episodes were made. It is perhaps most notable, in a production sense, for the fact that the cast included the late, great Leonard Rossiter (star of The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin and Rising Damp) as the voice of Boot.
I think the reason why The Perishers cartoon is one of my favorites is because I was such a fan of the comic strip. For many years, until they stopped printing them sometime in the 80s or early 90s, I used to get the annual collected editions of reprints for Christmas and still flick through them from time to time.
Alas, they are all out of print now – given the high quality of Dodd’s scripts and artwork, it’s perhaps surprising that archive editions of the strip have never been produced. Someone needs to do something about that.
Anyway, you can check out the official Perishers website, now maintained by Dodd’s family, for more information. And here are the opening titles for the TV show: