Byker Grove - Peter Bunzl
When I was in my first year at college I shared a house with a girl from Newcastle who’d been an extra on Byker Grove. She told me how the guy who played Jeff would jam on the piano between takes for everyone. I remember when PJ - or was it Duncan, whichever one was played by Ant, not Dec - got shot with a paintball gun and spent the rest of the series going unconvincingly blind.
Of course the rapport between Ant and Dec led to a ready-to-rumble pop career, and light entertainment gigs on SM:TV, Saturday Night Takeaway, and various other shows – where would ITV Saturday night would be without the Grove? But it begat much more than Ant and Dec persuading celebrities to eat kangaroo anus. Many performers came up through the show, including Jill Halfpenny, Chalie Hunnam, Donna Air, Andrew Hayden-Smith. It gave breaks to writers of Doctor Who, Life on Mars, Eastenders, and to Oscar winning director Tom Hooper.
The storyline that sticks in my mind from 25 years of the show, though, was the gay kiss between Noddy and Gary. It was only a peck on the cheek, but it was what it meant that was so significant. Noddy was the first gay character to come out on Children’s TV. At the time, I was still a teenage, just, and really related to what Noddy was going through because I was feeling all the same feelings.
This was before Queer As Folk or Metrosexuality, or any of those grown up TV shows that talked about being gay, and it was pretty controversial. The Sun called for the programme makers to be sacked. Despite the BBC’s support, I think the storyline was cut short. I remember feeling disappointed with how the show failed to focus on what happened to Noddy after he came out. But, for those few episodes, to see a gay teen represented in a real way like that in a kids TV drama was unprecedented. Even if he was called Noddy Fishwick! And, despite some dodgy acting, Byker Grove was truly brave for that and for the many other difficult storylines it tackled. So I feel it deserves to win this prestigious - if slightly random - twitter poll…
The Demon Headmaster - me, Jim
The Demon Headmaster was one of the creepiest and most exciting series of the 1980s/1990s, and as a big fan of the first few books, I can still remember being thrilled to hear it was being adapted for TV. As ever with an adaptation of a much-loved book, there was a slight worry - could they possibly pull it off? Could they cast someone who would live up to the title role, one of the most chilling bad guys imaginable?
YES, they could - and they definitely did! While Frances Amey and the rest of the children were fine in their parts, it was Terrence Hardman as the headmaster himself who stood out. Perfectly capturing the subtle menace which was so essential to the character, he radiated evil intent whenever he removed his glasses ready to hypnotise an innocent child.
As for the plots, and the scripts - they were excellent, but what else could you expect from a pairing of two of the best children's authors of the late 20th century? Helen Cresswell adapted from Gillian Cross's books, and managed to capture the spirit of the novels perfectly. In addition, as it lasted for just the three series (we'll gloss over a rather ill-advised pantomime), it never had the chance to get boring.
There were many truly wonderful TV shows of the 1980s and 1990s, but this is a lost gem - I wish the BBC would add it to their store! It definitely deserves your vote.
Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds - Chelley
Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds is one of the earliest ever memories I have of my childhood.
This show was, and still is, the best! An alternate telling of The Three Musketeers with the characters as awesome cartoon dogs. Set in the 17th century the story follows a young Dogtanian who travels to Paris in order to become one of the King Louis XIII of France's musketeers. From the high pitched opening of the catchy theme song that would have you singing along for days (and which makes your tummy flip and feel all nostalgic when you here it today – what a theme tune) to the loveable, brave Dogtanian who could chop an apple to pieces in the air with his sword and who’s cheeks flushed red every time the sweet Juliet was around. This show captured my heart!
I cheered when Porthos, Athos and Aramis drew their swords ready for battle. I did not want any harm to come to the King and Queen. I laughed at Dogtanian’s funny mousey companion Pip and lazy horse Sandy. I cowered in fear at the moustached bad guys and at the evil red robed Cardinal Richelieu and was transfixed to the screen by the mesmerising mystery of Milady. I even dreamt of being the beautiful sweet Juliet in her gorgeous pink dress (yes I know she was a dog!).
All of these characters are so unique and memorable. I think anyone would see and recognise a picture of Dogtanian with his huge, bright, red hat complete with yellow feather, his white collared red tunic and little red boots jumping in to save the day. Dogtanian was a triumph winning numerous awards and its strength and the love people have for it is still evident today. I was able to share my love of Dogtanian with my eleven-year-old son and now he loves it just as much as me. It is also getting a new CGI movie to be released in 2016 for Dogtanian's 30th anniversary! That in itself proves how good this show was. I was and still am to this day completely invested in these characters, their friendships, loyalty and bravery. What good morals to be taught as a child growing up watching this show.
I felt part of them. Of their story. Like they were all old friends.
One For All And All For One!
Grange Hill - Emma
After you'd schlepped home for school late in the afternoon, the only school you wanted hear about post 3.15pm was Grange Hill. The antics in this inner city comprehensive had us all hooked. Parents were wary of it, the kids' next door were banned from watching it.
Grange Hill was compulsive viewing.
Why? Grange Hill broke the mould. It bravely jumped head first in to huge story lines - drinking, bullying, drugs, affairs with teachers. It contained an addictive realism that hadn't previously been seen in kids TV.
Set in an inner London comprehensive the kids were working class characters, relatable and realistic with the teachers becoming just as memorable the pupils.
Alongside the attention grabbing storylines it featured kids being, well, kids. Bunking off at lunchtime, trying to get out of PE and that school newspaper that always spread a bit of gossip. They even attempted a school sit-in at one point, leading us all to wonder if we could pull it off in our own schools.
The characters, both pupils and teachers, were incredibly memorable. Grange Hill led to spin off shows (Tucker's Luck) and various attempts at official reunions/where are they now type features, such was our fondness for them..
Great lines are still quotable to this day, 'I'm just trying to help Rolaaaaaand', 'You boy!' ... And just in case you are still in any doubt - those credits. How can you fail to listen to those credits, complete with cartoon visuals, without a huge wave of nostalgia washing over you?!
Knightmare - Kirsty
Enter Stranger and Vote Knightmare for best #80s90skidsTV
For book lovers Knightmare was the perfect children’s TV programme. A group of adventurers on a quest through orc, troll and monster infested dungeons where they control the story, and very often got themselves killed. And us, a group of Watchers, who know that we’d do a better job. When you watched them, were you shouting at them and slapping your head in disbelief at their inability to grasp things quick enough? Treguard the Dungeon Master certainly seemed to have a distinct lack of patience with some of the groups. His sarcasm reminds me of the narrator on Come Dine with Me.
In essence Knightmare was a freaky trust walk where one Dungeoneer, blinded by the Helmet of Justice, was led through the dungeons by three friends known as advisors. Through a magic mirror they could see what was going on and led their Dungeoneer across disappearing walkways and helped them answer the wall monsters’ riddles. They were the ones who could see the discombobulated heads and evil beings whilst the Dungeoneer casually took miniscule steps as time run out. ‘One quarter step to the right…walk forward quickly, quicker, just run….’
This programme certainly got my heart racing, especially when the life force meter starting stripping down to the bone and eyeballs with the heartbeat sound rushing them on to find food or race to the next chamber.
I never played Dungeons and Dragons but this blue-screen enabled programme is as close to a real life version as many of us got. Along the way the Dungeoneer collected food, scrolls, spells and objects in their knapsack that would help them complete later tasks. They were limited to the amount they could carry so difficult decisions had to be made, and often regretted later.
There were ‘people’ they interacted with that they had to help, that helped them, or that sent them on the wrong track. One of my favourites was Pickle the elf – Treguard’s helper.
There were eight seasons of Knightmare shown originally on Children’s ITV from Sept 7th 1987 – Nov 11th 1994, and the show is rated 8.6/10 on imdb.com. Only eight teams ever defeated Knightmare Castle – but we know we’d have been one of the winning teams right? After all we read books and books make you clever.
So make the right choice, vote Knightmare and watch the winning teams on You Tube starting here
The Queen's Nose - Maia Moore
It’s the show that made a generation of kids secretly rub the nose on every 50p they found - admit it, you know you did it. Perhaps, like me, you secretly thought that if you could just find the right one, you’d get wishes granted just like Harmony. And even if they were the kind of tricksy wishes that could backfire on you, you knew it’d be worth it.
Three reasons you should vote for The Queen’s Nose:
Now that is one awesome protagonist. Harmony is a bit of a tomboy, an animal lover and one sassy girl to boot. What more can you ask for in your leading lady? While she may start off as a bit bratty, she develops a lot throughout the series. And any girl with a sister can relate to Harmony’s love-hate relationship with Melody - best friends one moment and sworn enemies the next.
It’s also a book!
For those of who are part of the wonderful bookish community online, you may remember The Queen’s Nose book too, by prolific children’s writer Dick King-Smith. The first three series were pretty faithful to the book (we’ll forget about the revived series where it went a bit off the wall…) So even if you can’t watch the series now (there’s no DVD available - trust me, I tried!) you can still read the book and relive the magic.
A well portrayed message
A children’s series wouldn’t be complete without some valuable lessons to teach. The Queen’s Nose manages this while still remaining fun to watch. Without being too preachy, we get the classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ storyline as Harmony learns to use her wishes wisely. By the end of the series, she’s learnt that selfish wishes for materialistic things not only often go wrong, but have no real value. She also learns the value of family, as her antics with her wishes put her and her family in some sticky situations that ultimately bring them closer together.
Sabrina The Teenage Witch - Amy
Sabrina the Teenage Witch is undoubtedly the greatest kids’ TV show of the nineties, spanning seven seasons (163 episodes!), several movies and an animated spinoff series. Everyone I knew watched it (even when we were ‘too old’ and pretended we didn’t) and there were many excellent reasons for that.
For me personally, it was all in the timing. I was at the oh so awkward age of twelve when the show started and it got me at just the right age. As a character, Sabrina was fun and had friends but at the same time she wasn’t the most popular kid and she made all kinds of (often hilarious) mistakes. Let’s face it, I wanted to be Sabrina – the magical powers and cute boyfriend wouldn’t have hurt either.
Another great part of the show was the family aspect. So many shows that I watched at the time (and now) had either absent or terrible families. Sabrina had two crazy/ supportive/ magical aunts and a wisecracking cat (“I’m a cat. I’m curious. So kill me.”)
I also really loved the magic! What teenager didn’t want to rewind that really embarrassing thing they did or accidentally turn a bully into a pineapple?
Looking back on it now, Sabrina was a gateway show for Buffy (my all time favourite). In both of them, dealing with monsters and supernatural abilities was representative of being a teenager.
Sabrina was the defining coming of age show for me and my favourite of the 1990s. It deserves to be crowned as the greatest 80s/ 90s kids’ TV show!
Thundercats - Martin Stewart
Thundercats is a thirty-year-old masterpiece—a mish-mash of the solidly brilliant and the charmingly naff. Its heroes are lantern-jawed simpletons, its villains veer erratically from terrifying to quaint. Those humanoid alien cats produced more episodes than the Transformers, and are the purest distillation of that quintessentially 80s cartoon idiom. They must win.
Of course a plot hole beats, like a giant heart, at the core of the origin story: why did Lion-o age and develop giant muscles in suspended animation while the rest (even the other children) remained unchanged? And why did Jaga sacrifice himself by piloting the escape ship alone—only to stick the autopilot on anyway as he was dying?
I'll tell you why: so we could have a badass hero who was risk-taking naïveté wrapped in muscle with a handy spirit guide. That's storytelling gold.
This is a show that wears its heart on its sleeve. Who could fail to love the straightforwardness of the characters' names? “They're cats, there's a tiger and a cheetah and a panther... let's call them Tygra, Cheetarah and Panthro.” Good job, guys. (See also the monkey and jackal villains—Monkian and Jackalman—for more of this tip-top work.) It also has a Jar-Jar equivalent in Snarf, and the Sword of Omens is a big, shiny Dues ex Machina.
Glorious. This naff charm is easily enough to secure the win. But let's not forget the brilliance: that unbeatable theme song, which you are definitely humming right now; the Sword of Omens; that incredibly quotable call to arms; the genuinely terrifying antagonist (Mumm-ra the Ever Living—and his little dog, Ma-Mutt); the cool, thunder-based vocabulary (Thunderian, Thundera, Thunder-tank); the greatest cartoon mechanic ever, Panthro; and the unrepeatably 80's moral codas, complete with fourth-wall breaks as the characters dispense wisdom and instruction directly into the audience's astonished face (“Yes. Rules are there to be obeyed—otherwise, they're just words”).
Thundercats is surely next in the House of Pain that is Michael Bay's studio, following the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Hero/Ninja Turtles to become another insipid big screen boom-fest.
And before that happens we should take a moment to cherish the original cartoon, with all its brilliant, charming naffness.
Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats... Ho!
Cast your votes on Twitter tomorrow, from roughly 8:00am, and don't miss the semi-finals on Tuesday and the final on Wednesday! Search for hashtag #80s90skidsTV.