It is National Youth Week here in Australia, and I started to think about what it must be like to grow up in this decade. There is a huge amount of information and marketing being pushed at young people today, and there is so much technology that makes it easier and easier for kids and teenagers to access entertainment, information, other people’s private information, celebrities and porn than ever before. It is quite a different world from when I grew up in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s. Where TV programming only started at 5pm and we were the dumping ground of US, UK, Canadian and Australian produced shows that got to us in the same year or 10 years later. There was no logic to it. The one TV channel showed whatever it was sent. The result was an eclectic range of children’s shows that were created in the British public funding model from the UK and Commonwealth countries of the day. The US had not yet split into niche programming with channels such as Nickalodeon and Disney and was still exporting educational kids shows. Here are the top 10 programs from my youth that I would recommend to any kid or teenager today. Look past the hair and the fashions and what you find beneath is education through great storytelling.
Press Gang, ITV UK (1989 –
A comedy-drama aimed at older children and teenagers. Press Gang was about the staff of a newspaper, the Junior Gazette, written and produced by pupils from the local comprehensive school. Starring Julia Sawahla and Dexter Fletcher this show was the first show written by Steven Moffat of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame. It is known for its His Girl Friday like repartee and taking on issues such as solvent abuse, child abuse, firearms control and drinking.
This show heavily influenced my decision to study journalism. I really did think journalism could change the world.
Fraggle Rock, Television South UK, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and HBO USA (1983 - 87)
Created by Jim Henson, Fraggle Rock was a combination of live action and puppets. The central characters were ‘muppet’ like creatures called Fraggles who lived in the hole in the wall of the house of a human called Doc. Doc was an inventor and had a dog called Sprocket (a puppet) who chased the Fraggles back into the wall to their home called Fraggle Rock. According to IMDB ‘the Rock also had the Doozers (who are knee-high to a Fraggle) and the Gorgs (who are giants that think they rule the Rock). One gang of Fraggles (Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red), under the guidance of the all-knowing Trash Heap (Marjorie), learn about each other and their neighbors and eventually befriend the Doozers, the Gorgs--and even Doc and Sprocket. Meanwhile, Gobo's Uncle Matt explores Outer Space (our world) and sends postcards to his nephew about the Silly Creatures (that's us).’ And there were musical numbers. It was awesome and totally delightful.
Henderson Kids, Network 10, Australia (1985 - 86)
This series only ran for two years, It was about teenage siblings, Steve (Paul Smith) and Tamara (Nadine Gardner) who are forced to leave the city and move to the country to live with their uncle Mike (Nicholas Eadie) after their mother Alice (Diane Craig) is killed. Mike is a police officer in the fictional town of Haven Bay. It is a typical new kids coming to a new town and make friends with the local gang. Gang, as in a group of kids hanging out together, not gang as in drug gang – the innocence of that time. In the second season the Henderson kids go back to the city and live with their father and make friends with a new gang. Some of the actors who got their start in the series where Kylie Minogue, Ben Mendelsohn, Peter O’Brien, Stefan Dennis, Alex Papps and Jane Hall.
Kids Incorporated, USA (1984 –
This was like a kids musical where a group of children and teenagers performed in their own rock group called Kids Incorporated. The kids dealt with issues from schoolyard crushes to child abuse to peer pressure. There were sudden fantasy sequences, fictional band performances, characters breaking into song and a final song. The show had a number of stars through the years, some who went onto more famous things, they are Eric Balfour, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Marta ‘Martika’ Marrero, and Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson (yes of Black Eyed Peas fame).
Danger Bay, Canadian
Broadcast Corporation, Canada (1985 – 1989)
Set in Vancouver and about Grant ‘Doc’ Roberts (Donnelly Rhodes) a marine veterinarian and his two children, Nicole (Ocean Hellman) and Jonah (Christopher Crabb). The episodes featured the Vancouver Aquarium in nearly every instalment and usually focused on environmental issues such as pollution, wildlife endangerment and forest preservation. It rained in nearly every episode and Doc's girlfriend flew a helicopter, which was a totally cool job that I really really wanted to do when I grew up.
The Muppet Show, USA (1976
Jim Henson again. If you don’t know the muppets, you must be under 30. It is a vaudeville show with musical guests who ranged from Alice Cooper to Diana Ross to Dudley Moore. There were recurring skits such as Pigs In Space (my favourite), the Swedish Chef, Muppet Labs with Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, Statler and Waldorf, and the Electric Mayhem with ANIMAL.
Heartbreak High, Channel
10 and Australian Broadcast Company, Australia (1994 – 1999)
Based on the 1993 feature film Heartbreak Kid, Heartbreak High was about a tough inner-city high school in a multi-racial area of Sydney. The lead in the first season was Nick Poulos (Alex Dimitriades) and it focused on him and his friends. It was hard hitting and took on controversial issues. As the show went on, there were cast changes and more soapy storylines which changed the tone and made the show less than it started out. But boy was it a training ground for Australian actors.
Space: 1999, UK (1975 – 1977)
Here is the blurb from Wikipedia “in the opening episode, nuclear waste from Earth, which was stored on the Moon's far side, explodes in a catastrophic accident on 13 September 1999, knocking the Moon out of orbit and sending it, and the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, hurtling uncontrollably into space. The series was the last production by the partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the most expensive series produced for British television up to that time.” And it was scary to me. I was petrified of the alien woman who could turn into animals. The music that accompanied this transformation used to send me scurrying out of the room until the change had happened (I wonder what scars it did to my psyche). I loved it. The Eagle was the best space ship until I saw the Millennium Falcon. Science fiction took hold young with me.
Rainbow, ITV UK (1972 –
This show was on every school day and it involved a particular activity or situation that would happen in the Rainbow House where the main characters lived. These main characters were puppets – Zippy, George and Bungle and humans, Geoffrey who looked after them and Rod, Jane and Freddy who used to pop in and sing an educational song. It is aimed at young kids but became a cult with teenagers as there always seems to be an underlying weirdness going on. In 1979 the cast made a special exclusive sketch that was meant for the Thames TV staff party that had a lot of sexual innuendo it got out into the public in 1997 and many a person’s memory of childhood was forever altered. Click below to see the intro and have the song stuck in your head for days.