Our Show

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Lasting two series from 1976-77, ITV’s Our Show was the Bugsy Malone of television, the very Our of the title a metaphorical ‘NO ADULTS ALLOWED!‘ sign swinging from the door handle. Surely intended to be a proto Why Don’t You?, using a team of child presenters the same age as its audience, the result was closer to CBS’s infamous Kid Nation, with a disjointed level of chaos not seen outside of the 1989 Brit Awards. These were not kids off the street, but from the stage school breeding grounds that filled the casts of Grange Hill and EastEnders, introducing future stars, like a young Nicholas Lyndhurst.

It’s telling that this set-up has never fully been repeated. Sure, there have been younger hosts since, but never so comprehensively or with such free rein, and on watching, it’s entirely evident why. If Our Show is remembered at all, fittingly it’s through a famous blooper, with one of its presenters reading ‘Grand Prix off a script the exact way my gran used to — Grand Pricks. But the entire series was one giant blooper, and all that remains is a lone episode which made its way online, dating from 17th December, 1977.

01

The bedlam is evident from its opening moment, cameras bent at a 45 degree angle replicating exactly the POV of waking from a fainting fit, with disorientating pans across a studio filled with dancing children and blindingly bright lights. What am I doing here? Did they kick me unconscious while stealing my wallet and mockingly calling me “grandad”? Every child is in the dead-eyed throes of that dance-style from junior school discos, where you move your arms like you’re skiing while keeping your upper torso completely rigid. This weird jigging kicks in at the start and end of each ad break, like someone dropping 50p into a slot at some off-brand theme park, and all the rusty animatronics whirring into life, limbs bucking, faces lacking any trace of emotion, barring eyes that creak and loll in your direction; “Oh, Christ, they’ve seen me…”

Our four presenters are Veronique Choolhun, Graham Fletcher (fedora-clad brother of Rocketman director Dexter), Su-Su (aka Susan Tully off EastEnders, ten years old and absolutely tiny), and the superbly named Elvis Payne, a much taller black teenager, who’s the oldest by a good few years. From the intro alone, it’s clear we’re in for a wild ride, with everyone fumbling over their words, Tully’s eyes flicking upwards as she tries to remember a complicated paragraph, and Elvis giving us three rapid greetings in succession — “hey hiya, good morning, alright?” — which is tremendous value for money. They’re bobbing up and down to Donna Summer’s Love’s Unkind the whole way through, which must’ve been the main inspiration for Nozin’ Aroun’. Even when they move to a desk like O.T.T., the audience are still ‘dancing’ in the background, marching up and down like they’re wearing in a tight new pair of school shoes on the last day of summer holidays.

02

Though nothing has ever felt as live as Our Show, episodes were recorded two days earlier, which is incredible considering. Handily, I’m watching a raw tape of production rushes, retakes included, which demonstrates the high bar on what sort of errors were deemed worthy of a do-over, in light of the stuff that did make it to air. Although if they stopped to redo everything that went wrong, they’d still be filming it today. This is absolutely top-drawer amateurishness, like public access cable on a TOTP budget, and rife with the kind of awkward pauses, stumbles, and lost, lingering eye contact that Tim and Eric would turn into a whole genre, decades down the line.

All the kids are extremely cockney, and there’s not a single aitch to be found, all with that precocious/arrogant, stage-school demeanour, unprepared for and unintimidated by the adult guests, and obviously unwilling to listen to them, with the next question always out before the previous answer’s finished. It’s impossible to refrain from Alan Partridge comparisons when watching bad light entertainment, but the host/adult interactions reek of the KMKYWAP with the American child actors. The level of disdain isn’t just reserved for guests, with Veronique falling over lines at the start, losing her place, tutting to herself, and handing over to Graham, whose eyes are in a full 360 roll.

03

Graham is the strangest presence, continually gurning and showing off, adding little noises and vocalisations to his script, while simultaneously looking like he’s bored by the childishness of it all, and would rather be having lunch at The Ivy with François Truffaut and John Lennon. For those who recall series 3 of GamesMaster, he’s very much his brother’s brother. Graham’s demeanour helps with the dystopian vibe, with a 2000AD sense that kids have stormed the studio and killed all the adults, with what little over-23s survive in the outside world used as slaves to lug wheelbarrows of sweets and comics to the violent young usurpers. It’s a mere five minutes in before the first re-take, the camera woozily swinging off-frame and everyone frozen as Veronique half-whispers “what’s happened?” to Elvis. The first adult voice we’ve heard calls cut. Nobody’s laughing. The audience shuffle uncomfortably.

The first celebrity guest follows a clip from Marty Feldman’s The Last Remake of Beau Geste; a historical comedy that’s not-particularly-for-kids, as Veronique asks the others if they’ve seen any Wilder/Feldman joints. Graham states that he loved The Producers;Mel Brooks directed that one,” he says. Despite the age of its presenters, much of the content belongs on a late night BBC4 arts show, like when Beau Geste‘s co-writer, Chris Allen, comes out for a chat. How often do you see screenwriters interviewed? Especially with not much else on his CV but half a dozen episodes of The Black and White Minstrel Show. The questions are a weird mix of the sort of the inane fluff you’d get on the Live and Kicking phone lines — whether Marty’s “a hilarious character [in real life], rolling his eyes from side to side?” — and weighty topics that further bore the audience of under-twelves, as Elvis gets into contract signings and Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers.

04

No matter how cool and like us they’re meant to be — it’s Our Show, not Theirs — these are showbiz kids through and through, showing their hand when Allen talks about acting at the Young Vic; “do you know the Young Vic?” “Oh yes,” they exclaim, “Scapino!” Then Allen’s off talking at great length about The Taming of the Shrew and the French Foreign Legion, while behind him, rows of gloomy children in their nan’s knitwear sit slack-jawed in boredom, one literally twiddling her thumbs like in a cartoon. I should note that Allen’s look is amazing; black polo neck under a leather jacket, and the hair of a Spinal Tap drummer.

One minute it’s all highbrow, old-soul takes, the next, Susan’s struggling to read her script, forced to point to a word and ask Graham “wos that say?” She introduces “some new wave to send you to the grave, it’s wiv punk rock, it’s called Wild Youth by Gerry-nation X [sic]!” As it cuts to Generation X miming live in the studio, she scalds the other kids for correcting her, with a “don’t butt in again!” And what an odd few minutes, straight from a screenwriter discussing Scapino to Billy Idol and the lads snarling and pogoing.

05

Back after a break, Graham’s wearing a Biggles flying helmet and welder’s sunglasses, while the kids have been joined by Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, “from that popular group The Monkey!” Look, just mentally insert “[sic]” after every quote. The camera pans up the steps, as though expecting the Monkees to walk down, but they’re already at the desk, so a floor manager cuts the interview with “I think they want you to walk in, actually.” Monkees superfan Elvis asks what Peter and Mike are up to; “I know Mike’s a musician now… still,” and the pair are in promoting a Harry Nilsson musical they’re starring in called The Point! I looked it up, and it’s extremely ‘here’s a failed musical from the seventies that nobody remembers’.

The Point! is a fable that tells the story of a boy named Oblio, the only round-headed person in the Pointed Village, where by law everyone and everything must have a point.”

Third billed in the cast for this run was Mr. Bennett, the caretaker from Take Hart, and further falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, I learn Bennett once wrote a play about Tony Hancock, where in its 2008 revival, Hancock was played by Benny from Crossroads! Incidentally, the clock’s ticking on my movie idea about a pair of aging hippie brothers, played by Dolenz and Terry Gilliam, on one last road-trip to scatter their sister’s ashes on the grounds of Woodstock. Let’s get it done, Hollywood.

06

But back to Our Show, Davy calls down a dog from the musical, which sadly turns out to be a freaky blue puppet that snarls at the kids. Susan asks “you were actors, so how comes you went into the singing business?!” and the lads gather round a piano for a number from the show, which confusingly, shares its opening lines with the theme from absolutely rotten sitcom, Bread — “gotta get up, gotta get out…

However, in terms of cataclysmically bad television, this is all merely the entrée, with a main course taking the form of a pre-tape at the world circus championships, in perhaps the most glorious dogs dinner ever broadcast. Elvis is the roving reporter, and it’s frankly asking for trouble having him interview Czech tightrope walker, Rudy Omankowsky. who’s clearly struggling in his second language — “…looks very problem…”And yet, he still makes far more sense than his English interviewer, who’s proffering questions like “now, this tent, it looks bigs [sic] to me, but I dunno, is it a very big tent?” Every single exchange is like this. All of it.

     Elvis: “How come you don’t seem to have more accidents than you do?

     Omankowsky (clearly offended): “What you mean accidents? We have many accident before in my family, but a thing like this, we don’t like to speak.”

07

If Our Show had done their research, they’d have found that Omankowsky had lost sixteen family members due to tightrope accidents. Perhaps Elvis will have better luck meeting nine-year-old Becky, who’ll be making her trapeze debut next year.

     Elvis: “And what do you do in the circus?

     Becky: “Nothing yet.

     Elvis: “Have your grandparents been in the circus also?

     Becky: “No.

     Elvis: “What made your mum and dad wanna join the circus?

     Becky (shrugging): “I dunno.”

The highlight is Elvis asking whereabouts in America Becky’s from. “Salem, Oregon,” she replies. “Which state is that in?” asks Elvis, leading to a terrifically awkward pause which goes on forever, until her dad can be heard off camera; “Oregon. Salem, Oregon.” “Oh,” says Elvis, “Oregon.”

Remember, none of this is live. They could’ve just quickly done it again properly, but someone made a conscious decision that this was all okay; that it was broadcastable for Elvis to ask Becky’s dad “When do you first go up, is it Friday or Saturday?” and the reply to come “Tuesday.” On meeting a horse trainer, Elvis asks whether the horse is a boy or girl, and is really thrown on hearing it’s a Polish-Arab. “Polish Arab?! I didn’t know they had horses in Arabia!” Even in fucking voiceover, as Elvis promotes the circus, he informs viewers he’s forgotten the location and the date, and will have to tell us later. In voiceover! At least he had fun watching it being set up, because “everything’s dirty and messy and ‘orrible.”

08

When they cut back to the studio, Rudy Omankowsky’s joined them at the desk, for a cracking intro from Elvis, who adds the guy’s name to the list of things he can’t remember — “It’s Rudy somefing funny-surname, and here he is!” Through gritted teeth, Omankowsky breaks his surname down phonetically, and the whole thing’s conducted at crossed purposes, through pissed-off looks and “What you mean?” Still yet to remember the date of the big show, Elvis asks when it starts. Rudy sighs.

     Omankowsky: “You mean today? Or…

     Elvis: “I dunno. I dunno when it starts.

     Omankowsky: “I start when I was a small child…

Oh dear. To top off the act of pulling a man out of an incredibly busy and stressful period of work to disrespect him on television, as Rudy’s sat there, Elvis outs Graham as hating circuses, and that he’s been whispering in his ear the whole time that this is boring. Still not sure of when the circus championships are on, Elvis does let us know it’ll be live “on the telly,” but can’t remember what time. How hard is it to get a piece of paper in front of him?! Incidentally, the Omankowsky family are legendary in tightrope walking. Rudy’s father, ‘Papa Rudy’ was mentor to Philippe Petit, who walked between the Twin Towers, and was portrayed by Ben Kingsley in Robert Zemeckis film, The Walk.

09

As it’s almost Christmas, there’s a consumer spot reviewing that year’s annuals, where Graham’s absolutely raging about Valiant. “I thought this one was terrible! It’s virtually all in black and white, the whole way through! It’s just dull to look at and a very boring book.” With the switch from b/w to colour TV having occurred in their lifetimes, the kids are fixated on colour printing, and anything less is old-fashioned and boooooooring! There seems to be no script here at all, letting them riff away, with Veronique’s bits so flustered, it’s like watching someone suffer an asthma attack. It ends with some amazing maths from Susan, who tells us Rupert the Bear’s been around since 1920, “which makes it 77 years old!” Note: it is 1977.

You may imagine a show by kids for kids would be fun and laughter for all involved, and that the reason it’s such a shambles is because everyone’s mucking about, in fits of giggles and unable to meet each other’s eye without breaking, but the studio atmosphere is absolutely fucking deathly. Whatever’s happening, the audience are always visible in the back of shot, utterly silent, and gawking miserably at the camera. In the handful of times things stop for a retake, it’s got all the seat-creaking ambience of those WW2 movies where someone’s old nan’s been brought out into the town square to be shot. I didn’t expect to find much hauntology in this, but it’s loaded with it, there in the background at all times; haunted little faces that belong in urban legends about a painting that burns down the house of anyone who hangs it.

10

Calamity follows calamity. Elvis reads out an ad for a local cinema, but gets the address wrong, before being corrected on the opening time too. Graham reads out a news item about a pair of rally drivers who were previous guests — “they finished fifth, that’s great!” Then we get to something which is clearly Graham’s baby, like he’s threatened to ruin anyone who opposes it, in an extremely specific weekly section of skateboarding news. Graham must say the word “radical” a hundred times, with “radical news for radical dudes,” photos of “the Slick Willies team getting radical,” in “a radical book,” and a “radical dudette” female skater being interviewed. This cues another retake, when they start the interview without giving her a mic, and Graham’s questions are hurled like tomatoes; doozies like “being a girl, don’t you get scared of mashing up your face sometimes?

The final segment is a promotion for West End musical Elvis!, putting a confusing four Elvises (or Elvii?) at the desk; Elvis Payne, plus the trio of performers portraying the man at various stages in his life. And what an eclectic cast, with PJ Proby doing the Vegas Years, Shakin’ Stevens the mid-point King, and young Elvis played by a teenage Timothy Whitnall, who’d go on to CITV’s Mike and Angelo, twelve years later. But the way the Our Show kids rudely bumble through puts everyone on edge. At this point in his career, Shakin’ Stevens was yet to hit mainstream success, while Whitnall’s sixteen and ill at ease in front of the camera, so despite looking like he’d shank you with a pissy knife behind the dodgems and think nothing of it, Proby does his best to keep it all together. That said, he does open with a joke to the black Elvis Payne of “I’m gonna take these dark glasses off. Looks like you’ve been in the make-up room too long!

11

For a children’s show discussing a feel-good musical, the atmosphere is one of bubbling violence about to erupt at any second. Payne’s first faux pas is to ask Shakin’ Stevens his real name, to a terse “you can call me Shaky,” and he spends the whole segment glowering like a man who’s about to offer them outside. Coming three short years before he’d wrestle Richard Madeley to the floor, there’s a real sense that, were he of legal age, Graham’s fedora would be booted right off his head. At one point, Graham asks if there’s much dialogue in the musical — there’s not, says Shaky — before the boy states that people would probably rather hear about Elvis’s life, and instead of seeing the show, they could just go home and listen to their records instead.

The hour finally draws to a close with Graham reading out the competition before handing over to Elvis for goodbyes, but Graham stops him as he realises he’s forgotten to give the address. Even on the retake, Graham shushes the others while he reads. Next week’s episode sounds good though, a double-length Christmas special with a bumper cast of Lynsey de Paul, Michael Aspel, Donald Pleasence, Tim Rice, and Roald Dahl; all having to sit through interrogations by kids who’ve forgotten their names. Christ, imagine famed child-hater Roald Dahl with that lot. Graham probably ended up with skateboard wheels for hands and feet while Dahl rode him home.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on October 4, 2020.

5 Responses to “Our Show”

  1. What we Londoners got instead of Tiswas, and it is intensely evocative of what bigger kids looked and sounded like to an infant like myself (born in Greenwich in 1972) at the time. In all their tank-topped glory… I would probably be out shopping with my mother in Blackheath Village on the Saturday morning when this was on, but if I had been in front of a television I would definitely have watched Multi-Coloured Swap Shop on BBC1 in preference to this. I would find the grown-up presenters and less chaotic structure easier to understand and process than Our Show, which I would have found… intimidating.

    Something which strikes me watching this now is how a young production team are hitching their own 1960s enthusiasms onto a children’s show – The Monkees, Marty Feldman and PJ Proby.

    • Funnily, I’m working on a future post right now which touches on the way those kind of ‘bigger kids’ in 70’s audiences have a weird Proustian level of intimidation about them, even though I’m now decades older than they were.

  2. Graham Fletcher RIP.

  3. Reminds me of Whatever where Channel 4 gave a bunch of teenagers some money to do a show with no instructions or restrictions. The main thing I remember is one kid doing a week-long experiment where he tried to consume the right food and drink to piss a different colour of the rainbow each day.

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