BBC2 have been celebrating their 50th birthday over the past week or two, which raises the spectre of its disastrous first night . . . but what was that first night's connection with British comics? Have a think about it and I'll answer the question below.
I'm very close to having all those little gaps closed and as far as I can tell the whole structure is still holding together. I've managed to weave lots of different threads through the introduction, so that you don't get a huge block of everything about one strip and then a huge block of everything about another strip and then another huge block... the strips are split into smaller, more bite-sized chunks which we return to over the length of the intro. Actually, one strip does get that one-block treatment, namely 'Countdown', which had one storyline across its 69 episodes.
Unfortunately, a 6:30 that evening, a fire broke out at Battersea Power Station and, at the same time, a fault developed in a power cable bringing electricity south from the Midlands. The result was that BBC Television Centre lost all power. This was a particular disaster for the BBC's marketing department. They had been marketing the new station using cartoons of a kangaroo, a baby kangaroo (representing the new station) emerging from the older kangaroo's pouch. To capitalise on this clever bit of branding, a kangaroo had been brought to Television Centre. When the power went down, the kangaroo, stuck in a lift, went berserk.
But what was the connection with British comics?
Well, that first show, The Alberts' Channel Too, starred two brothers who had been in a hugely popular West End review, An Evening Of British Rubbish. Tony and Dougie Gray were comedians best described as scruffy, eccentric and amateurish, relying on loud, random explosions, shouting and blasts of music to cover up a habit of messing up routines. Their bizarre act left audiences in equal parts bemused and bewildered. They straddled the gap between The Goons and Monty Python, starred in Spike Milligan's A Show Called Fred and Peter Cook's The Establishment and eventually managed to make their BBC2 debut the following day (. . . although the honour of the first full-length broadcast now went to Playschool).
The Alberts' debut on BBC2 was co-written by Denis Gifford. Denis was a screenwriter as well as comics' artist and historian. He wrote scripts for a number of TV shows, as well as creating the format for Sounds Familiar and Looks Familiar. Give yourself a pat on the back if you got the answer right.
Incidentally, Tony Gray died only recently—on 14 April at the age of 86. A very good tribute to him can be found here.
Random scans for today. First up is a cover from an old Bear Alley favourite, John L. Baker, although we haven't had anything from him for ages. Then we have a couple of books from Modern Fiction and Ben Sarto to add to the half a dozen I've posted recently. The cover artist for both is Ray Theobald and the first is amongst my favourites of his. He was never a fantastic figure artist but this one is at least colourful.
Finally, a hardback, which is something odd from me, but this is Mitch Benn's novel Terra, picked up by Mel when we went to see Mitch's recent tour. He has a second novel due out this year—with Terra coming out in paperback at the same time—and a third that he described as "in note form".