Here, There be a Writer

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Take a Trip with me: Canadian Children's Show

This week we return to a retrospective blog. I got thinking about old shows I watched as a kid. There were a slew of shows that I watched  from various Canadian stations that we received-having lived in western New York (WNY), Chautauqua County to be exact-that I watched with a regularity. I want to take a look at some of these shows. Note: Not all of these are Canadian, but I did watch them on a Canadian station.

First, anyone who is finally with Canadian stations, I will be focusing on TVOntario (TVO is a publicly funded station), CBC (a Canada crown corporation) and CTV, but I did watch CHCH (originally a CBC affiliate until it went independent) as well. CBC and TVOntario were/are the PBS equivalents in Canada. A good number shows came from these stations. Now as an avid watcher of PBS-shows on my local PBS station WNED, like Sesame Street, Mister Roger's Neghbourhood, Captain Kangaroo, and the like there will be some similarities. So, we will start with the biggest similarity, Mr. Dressup. Here is a clip from the show "Mister Dressup".

Mr. Dressup and the Tickle Trunk

Mr. Dressup, is Ernie Coombs a Canadian Children's show host. Ernie work along side Fred Rogers when they both started working with CBC in 1963. Actually Rogers brought Coombs on board to work at CBC. While there the two worked on creating Children's programming that treated children with a bit more respect and wasn't at the mercy of commercial programming. While at CBC Rogers was working on "Misterrogers" (what would later become "Mister Roger's Neighbourhood"); while at CBC, he and Coombs were involved in a show called "Butternut Square" (as similar to "Mr. Dressup") airing from 1963 to 1967. While on that show Coombs created the character Mr. Dressup. When Rogers left in 1966 after acquiring the right to his show and relocating baclk to Piuttsburgh, Coombs worked to create the show "Mister Dressup".

"Mr. Dressup" has a lot of the same elements as "Mister Rogers Neighbourhood", such as puppets, crafts, and a setting of imagination. What I love about the show was two crucial items, first the 'Tickle Trunk' a large orange trunk that held costumes where Mr. Dressup would a costume to imagine stories and play games often with the puppets, Casey and Finnegan. Casey was a little boy/girl puppet with his/her puppet dog Finnegan, performed by Judith Lawrence until her retirement. Casey was ultimately made with no gender orientation, and to this day no one really knows, because Coombs, when asked if Casey was a boy or girl, he reply was, "what do you think?" and he would agree with whatever answer given was. There were a number of other puppets that appeared on the show throughout it's run, such as Alligator Al and Aunt Bird. Here's a surprise, after Lawrence retired, the crew brought in to perform the newer characters had a few well seasoned professionals including Cheryl Wagner, who worked on Fraggle Rock, Mrs. Pennypacker from "Today's Special", and was Miss Finch from "Follow that Bird" and and Nina Keogh who played Muffy Mouse on "Today's Special" and was a host on "Polka Dot Door".

Next are "Today's Special" and "Polka Dot Door", these two shows appeared on TVOntario, both are educational shows that use songs, stories, and educational shorts to teach letters, numbers, phonetics, and concepts to younger children. I am lumping these together for a couple of reasons, one being that they ran at part of the same time and because some of the hosts from "Polka Dot Door" wenton to do "Today's Special".

Polka Dot cast
"Polka Dot Door" (aired from 1971 to 1993) was a cute little show about a playhouse with a GIANT polka dot door and the hosts that played  with their stuffed animals and dolls-making them talking through the dolls, as a child might play with their own toys; there was Humpty and his brother Dumpty, Marigold the Doll, and Bear the Bear. Much of the show was the human hosts playing, singing, and doing crafts with the toys. There was the 'Storytime Mouse' who live in the giant Blue Grandfather Clock that introduced (non-speaking) story time and the infamous Polkaroo who would come and play with only ONE of the hosts. I was a pretty smart kid and after a while I figured out that the other host would slip away and turn into the Polkaroo, usually the male host. Before I figured out the secret I always thought the male host was an idiot for leaving right before the Polkaroo showed up. The Polkaroo only talked using it's name and gestures and they was always a song during the Polkaroo segments. See the intro here: Polka Dot Door.
See a clip of Denis and Cindy talk about Dinosaurs It was a very informative show for kids!

Cast of "Today's Special
"Today's Special" (aired from 1981 to 1987) was set in a department store and about the after hours goings on of a magical mannequin, his friend and employee of the store, the old and slightly senile/goofy security guard, and a rhyming mouse. I remember falling in love with this show (it aired somewhere before or after "Polka Dot Door"). Jeff the Mannequin would come to life when he wore his magic plaid beret and someone said the magic words, "Hocus, Pocus, Alimogocus". There was a central story plot for each episode and little animated and non-animated segments teaches phonetics and letters and plenty of songs. Jeff Hyslop who played Jeff the Mannequin also ended up playing the Phantom in a Toronto production of "Phantom of the Opera" at the Pantages Theatre (that was the first time I saw the Phantom on stage). Jodie the store employee was played by Nerene Virgin who also starred on "Polka Dot Door". It was a silly and funny show and in a lot of way remains me of Sesame Street.

"Fables on the Green Forest" (aired in Japan on Fuji TV in 1973) a series created in Japan and based on a series of books written by Thornton W. Burgess in the 1910's and 20's. He wrote a great many children's books from 1910 to 1965 which were inspired by his love of nature and his conversation efforts. "Fables" is based on a number of these stories with a central cast of characters and their adventures in the Green Forest. This show was broadcast in a number of countries from Spain, Romania, Venezuela, and Canada on TVOntario. Being and animal lover I couldn't help but watch this cartoon. The plots center around the adventures of Rocky and Polly Woodchuck, Peter Rabbit, Reddy Fox (usually the bad guy), Chipper the Squirrel, to name a few. This show is one of those shows that did not stand the test of time. After watching a few episodes that are floating around youtube, I realized that they are very cheesy, but yet I can't hate them entirely.

 Reddy Fox, the Weasel character (name escapes my now), and Paddy Beaver

"Doctor Snuggles" follows the animated adventures of Doctor Snuggles, a crazy old inventor of all things and his animal friends. They have adventures. He looks a lot like Be Franklin, doesn't he? He has an talking duck umbrella that he uses as a pogo stick. I think I need one of those. This one I saw on Nickelodeon, but it also aired on TVOntario. The cartoon is based on the art of English artist Nick Price and brought to life by Jeffrey O'Kelly as the writer, and is animated by two different animation studios (Topcraft in Japan and DePatie-Freleng in the US). There were guest writers that included the prolific Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's fame). Peter Ustinov narrated the English language episodes. Originally a British - Dutch collaboration, Doctor Snuggles aired across many countries, including US and Canada. Upon reflection this show reminds me on a number of things, but the biggest is that Doctor Snuggles and his badger friend, Dennis, they remind me of James A. Owen's characters from "The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica", Quixote and Uncas, (not an exact match, but certainly those who know of this series might find a connection too). I just recent found out there is a UK release of the WHOLE series that came out in 2005 by Firefly Entertainment. Here's a full episode of Doctor Snuggles: The Fabulous Mechanical Mathilda Junkbottom

"The Littlest Hobo" is a Canadian produced television show based on the American movie of the same name. It had two incarnations, one from 1963 to 1965 and the other from 1979 to 1985, both lasting 6 seasons. It was the story of the Littlest Hobo, or whatever name his was called during any particular episode (London was his real name). He would travel around helped those who need help and making friends. He never next stayed with those he helped for long, he was the ever  wandering traveler it seemed. This is another show that I would get super excited about when it came on TV. I loved to see what adventures Hobo/London got into. Many of the episodes features other famous celebrities from Alan Hale (Gilligan's Island), Abe Vigoda, DeForest Kelly (Star Trek), and a young Mike Myers.

Imagine my surprise when I found there is a tee shirt with the Littlest Hobo on it! Go here to order yours: Littlest Hobo T-Shirt

Mark Kistler as Capt. Mark
The last for today is a rare gem that I only RECENTLY recovered form my memory banks, "The Secret City". It aired in the 1980's at first on a Maryland public television station and later aired on PBS and TVOntario. Not sure where I first saw this show about drawing, but he has stuck with me all these years. The host was Mark Kistler, a cartoonist who taught kids how to draw in 3-D. There were guest teachers, but mostly Captain Mark (as he was called on the show) explained what foreshortening was to children with fellow chracters and puppets. I still remember what it means; Foreshortening  is a technique used in perspective to create the illusion of an object receding strongly into the distance or background (from the art glossary definition). I found a complete episode of "The Secret City" here.

Thanks to Wikipedia, IMDB, Doctor Snuggles Webpage, youtube, and Google Image search for the information and pictures used in this blog.

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