The UK was a little slow to catch on to the global marketing of characters we see todau. Sure, we watched Loony Tunes and Mickey Mouse, but it was generally the rich kid in school who had Disney Channel. The majority of us were stuck with the four (later five) basic channels. If you were staying with Gran, you were down to three because she’d read all about Channel Four’s smutty content in The Daily Mail and thought it was 24 hour torture porn.
It wasn’t all bad though! For the limited actual channels, there was a surprising amount of content for children. Several hours in the morning, after school and more on weekends. I’d had so little contact with the Disney serialized shows that when I did see them something seemed…off. The children looked like mini adults, everyone sounded like they’d actually rehersed, and the storylines and characters were so…bland. I was used to aliens, time travel, and actual drama, with a dash of bizarre. The only kid’s soap opera was a shockingly (even now) set in hospital which looked at child alcoholism, internet predators, sexual abuse, and cancer. Progressive, and would have never happen in the US.
Like the infamous Pipkin aimed at kids under five, who totally wouldn’t have noticed if they switched voice actors when the star died. Probably they were too busy crying in shock at the terrifying puppets about to eat their faces.
So it was worked into the show in the form of dead goldfish.
Child animal character – “Will I die?”
Aside from real world danger, there was a lot of just dark weirdness for the sake of it. One of my favourites was My Parents Are Aliens, in which stranded extra terrestrial creatures adopt three orphan siblings. They have the ability to change form at will, so can look like humans when in public. The rest of the time? The father has some odd habits including turning into his teenage daughter to flirt with boys, turning into a baby and insisting his wife change his nappy, stealing babies from supermarkets and growing moose ears.
A genuine, and pretty typical episode summary reads ‘In an attempt to feel proud, Sophie imprisons Josh in his room, now a cell with a Telescreen, where he is forced to study and exercise, as in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Josh fails in his studies, but instead creating a clever means of escaping punishment from Sophie and her electronic torture device.’
Mr Noseybonk was a little earlier, and he’s extremely unsettling. Supposedly educational, he slinked around the screan with his mask blank and staring into kid’s souls. I think Jigsaw owes some inspiration to this character aimed at under sevens.
Meanwhile, older kids could discover the quiet creepiness of folk-horror early in the Wickerman-esque Witches and the Grinnygog. It was not the only show that delved into the sub-genre.
The Children of The Stones was in the same vein, chanting cults, hidious body horror as stones turned into people in village built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle. It’s set across four time ‘bubbles’ – something a bit like other dimensions – and it featured incredibly early music that would fit the dark and foreboding tone of the series, which had children running from the TV in terror and was dubbed the scariest children’s show ever. And The Children of Green Knowe a young boy is invited to stay with family in the countryside, where he finds all the relations are undead occupants of a creepy old house. Instead of calling his parents, the protagonist makes friends with some long dead victims of the bubonic plague.
Even when the theme wasn’t specifically supernatural, BBC kid’s programming often featured puppets and animated characters who look like they were designed by Charles Manson.
Older folks didn’t get off easy. They had a 50s tradition of puppets who were extremely unsettling too.
How many of these strange shows have you seen? Did they scare you as a child?