Watch with Mother…….
July 13, 2010

I bought the Times yesterday, principally to read the first extracts from Peter Mandelson’s  kiss and tell book, The Third Man, which is to be published later this week.

Interesting as Mandy’s revelations were, in terms of confirming what we really already knew, it was a couple of smaller, tucked away feature articles that caught my eye.

I found that one of my childhood heroes is now officially a pensioner and will be applying for his free bus pass shortly.

Andy Pandy, the boy in the striped pyjamas and his co habitants from the wicker picnic basket, Teddy and rag doll Looby Loo, first appeared in fuzzy black and white, on our TV screens 60 years ago in July 1950.   

Pre-school children in the 1950s weren’t spoilt for choice when it came to TV programmes. However I was fortunate and always remember having a TV set at a time when they still weren’t very common.

I recall my Granddad, who didn’t yet have a TV,  coming to our house in May 1959,  just before I was six, to watch Forest play (and beat 2-1) Luton in the FA Cup Final. I wasn’t really interested at the time!

Our telly was a Bush, its tiny screen almost lost in the huge highly polished wooden case which dominating one corner of the room.

I started school in 1958 so it must have been a year or so earlier that I got hooked on BBC’s innovative Watch with Mother programmes, a spin-off  from radio’s Listen with Mother.

Everyday there was an eagerly awaited 15 minute lunchtime slot dedicated to pre-school children. Of course this meant switching on the TV fifteen minutes before the scheduled start and allowing ample time to warm up.

I can remember the weekly schedule now, as if it were yesterday:

Monday:              Picture Book                      

Tuesday:              Andy Pandy

Wednesday:       Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men

Thursday:            Rag, Tag & Bobtail

Friday:                  The Woodentops  

To be honest the week got off to a slow start. Picture Book was my least favourite and a tad boring, a bit too cerebral for me!

Andy Pandy was a favourite though – I loved the songs. It always started with Andy Pandy is  coming to play la, la la, la la, la and finished, after  the gang had climbed back into the basket, with Time to go home , time to go home, Andy is waving goodbye.

Bill & Ben the flowerpot men were brilliant. They lived in two large flowerpots at the bottom of a garden next to the potting shed and either side of Little Weeeeeeeeeed, who had a big smiley face, something between a sunflower and a giant daisy.

Bill and Ben had their own language, years before the Teletubbies were ever thought of, “Flobbalob, Flobbadob” etc.

When the man who looked after the garden went for his lunch the fun and games began. As a result some minor mishap would always occur. To make sure we children had been watching carefully the narrator asked us to guess ‘was it Bill or was it Ben?’  The culprit owned up, just before the gardeners footsteps could be heard coming back along the path, and the flowerpot men quickly climbed back into their pots to end the programme.

Rag, Tag & Bobtail were a hedgehog, a mouse and a Rabbit, I think, but not necessarily in that order. I don’t remember too much about them – perhaps they were a bit girlie!

I often used to miss the Woodentops, because Fridays always seemed to be quite a busy day. I think we were out and about shopping for the weekend, buying the Sunday joint and that sort of thing. I remember the star of the show was Spotty Dog with his unusual, walk.

In this day and age of digitally produced computer animation, such as the recently released Toy Story 3, these 1950s puppets with their thick strings so clearly seen on the screen, all seem so unsophisticated now, but that was all part of their charm.   

In recent years both Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men have reappeared in updated animated versions but, with my grumpy old man head firmly on, I think they are what they are, and of their time and shouldn’t be tampered with in that way!       

Next door to Andy Pandy I found another boyhood hero, Roy Rogers.

For boys, and some girls I guess, the 1950s were also all about Wild West heroes with, flashy wide brimmed cowboy hats, holsters, six shooters and lassoes.  

I was a big fan of the Roy Rogers Show. He was a real life cowboy, who strummed a guitar and sang Home on the Range type campfire songs with his wife Dale Evans.

Roy Rogers had a magnificent golden Palomino stallion, Trigger and a German shepherd, Bullet.  Trigger would rear up on his hind legs and could walk along on them. When Trigger died, Roy had his four-legged friend (who never lets you down) stuffed and displayed in his cowboy museum.

With Roy and Dale long gone and yesterday’s news, the museum has recently closed with  Christie’s in New York selling off the exhibits. Apparently they have been overwhelmed by the response from old fans hoping to bid for a memento of the singing cowboy.   

A Christie’s representative is quoted as saying of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans “they were the Brad and Angelina of their time”.

Trigger is expected to fetch between $100, 0000 and $200,000!  

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