#BlastfromthePast: Sesame Street

Before we delve into this week’s #BlastfromthePast, a little scene setting for you. Cast your minds back to three days ago. Ah, the start of the weekend. And the time for most people to be clocking off and winding down for the week.

If viral videos are your thing, chances are you’ll have already seen the big hit that was doing the rounds on social media. No, not of some trailer for Game of Thrones or of some vlogger denouncing their former clean cut Disney associations for a more ‘mature’ direction a la Christina Aguilera.

No. This viral video that at time of writing has had 2,000 retweets and 3,000 likes on Twitter, is in fact some very familiar faces to those of a certain generation (chiefly, my one, and several others I’m sure) covering some 80s pop classics in a new style. But enough about the Bros reunion. 

It is strange really, that even though it is still alive and present on US television and much of the rest of the world, that the characters on Sesame Street – the educational but entertaining Muppet led vehicle for pre-schoolers from the late genius that was and still is Jim Henson – are still so well loved and recognised here, despite it being 17 years removed from its last regular broadcast slot here in Blighty.

The colourful inhabitants of the fictitious New York street – Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Grover and Oscar the Grouch, to name but several – are now a couple of years shy from having been on television for five whole decades, making them second to Sooty as the longest running children’s programme in the world.

Back in 1969, following the show’s first airing, however, both the BBC and ITV were strangely oppositional to a UK broadcast, being dismissive of the show’s educational methods and creation primarily for an American audience, favouring their own successful creations at a pre-school format in Play School and Rainbow respectively.

Only Channel 4, launched in 1982, were willing to take a punt on it for UK airing, and it duly took up its regular place in the lunchtime schedules at 12pm on weekdays to great success. My sisters had all grown up watching it after nursery, and I was no exception. Its mix of education, humour,  larger than life Muppets, animation and live action film clips made for an engaging watch.

An afternoon spent on YouTube to compile a playlist for this blog (which you can find below) this weekend confirmed that even clips of it from when I watched it in the late 80s/early 90s have lost none of their appeal. If anything, they are just as captive for young minds today. 

My nieces and nephew have all been able to love and enjoy the clips they’ve seen of the show thanks to the beauty of modern day technology as well (my eldest niece, in particular, when she was just a year old, could only be kept quiet by a clip of Kermit the Frog singing a doo wop song about hopping).

In the years since Channel 4 shifted it off terrestial air for good in 2001, several segments of the show – chiefly Elmo’s World and Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures found a home for a few years on Channel 5’s Milkshake strand. And more recently, Elmo and Cookie Monster have been found on the co-produced Sesame Workshop/BBC show The Furchester Hotel that airs daily on CBeebies, which retains a lot of the wacky charm of its origins.

In our ever increasingly multicultural, diverse world, and with a broader broadcasting palette for today’s younger viewers, is it time one of the big five channels taught a whole new generation how to get to one of the world’s most famous streets once more? I certainly think so.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

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#SongoftheWeek: George Ezra – ‘Don’t Matter Now’

Just before we start today’s blog – firstly congratulations to The Vamps, holders of last week’s #SongoftheWeek as their new album ‘Night and Day’ did indeed become their first number one album. Congratulations and all that lads.

Anyway. Time once again for my weekly piece about a brand new song I have been listening to non stop and believe that you, dear readers, should as well. This is, quite literally, my #SongoftheWeek…

  • ARTIST: George Ezra
  • SONG: Don’t Matter Now

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

If there’s one thing that grinds my gears more than anything, it’s what-I-call ‘one album wonders’. Artists who are so full of promise with such a fantastic, in some cases iconic debut, but then fall away to nothing by releasing absolute drivel for their second offering two years later. Franz Ferdinand, hello to you.

Thankfully, on the basis of this new single, what was the case for Alex Kapranos and co, isn’t the case for George Ezra. One of 2014’s brightest and best new talents, his chart topping debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’ was one of my albums of that year, as were it’s two storming top 10 hits ‘Budapest’ and ‘Blame it on Me’.

Now after a year’s break, and following a blinding last minute set at Glastonbury last month, the singer songwriter is back with ‘Don’t Matter Now’, the first release from his (as yet) untitled sophomore LP, due for release later this year.

Building on all the elements that made his first few singles a joy – that wonderfully husky, gravelly blues voice, the jaunty guitar stylings to go with it – it’s a real summer anthem (even if the actual summer appears to have gone awol in the last few days).

Written just as he came to the end of his 2015 world tour, ‘Don’t Matter Now’ is a self affirming song that, George says, he wrote as a reminder to himself to pay attention where needed to world events and awful occurences, but not to get too wrapped up in them.

Certainly, in our plugged in age where we’re on a constant looping news feed of tragedy and pending doom, it’s also a gentle reminder for us, the audience, to show concern and take action where we can, but to not forget to enjoy life as well. And I am confident life will continue to be (relatively) sweet for Mr Ezra if the singles keep on with this rate of consistency.

‘Don’t Matter Now’ is out now to stream and download on Columbia/Sony. Twitter: @George_Ezra

Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!

#BlastfromthePast: Challenge Anneka

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Time for another new weekly feature to the blog. As a lover of all things retro and nostalgic, these new blogs are entitled #BlastfromthePast, and will be showcasing – in some cases introducing to you, the reader – a classic old favourite of mine from music, television, film or books, and having a little catch up on what’s become of the people behind them. First up this week, we’re heading in our metaphorical DeLorean back to the year I was born – 1989 – to a real classic TV gem from the turn of the late 80s/early 90s…and I suggest you hit the play button on the video below before you start!

Ah yes! Who could forget that theme tune? There are no bad TV theme tunes that contain saxophones. Fact.

Following her six year run on Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt, the lovely Anneka Rice made her first ‘Challenge’ some two years before this in 1987, on one of the BBC’s first ever ‘Children in Need’ appeals, before the first series finally got the green light. The premise of the series was a simple one. Anneka – in her jumpsuit and ever trusty blue buggy, along with sound man Dave and Martin the camera man – would turn up at all manner of locations across the UK after being given a tip off prior to starting filming.

A classic example usually went along these lines. Anneka would turn up at a derelict building in a semi rural location, that looked like it might’ve been a village hall at one point. After a few minutes wandering around trying to work out where her challenge lay, she’d catch sight of an unusual object amongst the dereliction, on which was a card that read as follows:

‘This village is having a village hall again for the first time in 30 years. To celebrate, organise and invite major celebrity names and entertainment for the grand re-opening party…’

(and then, on the back of the same card)…

‘…PS You also need to completely renovate and redecorate the hall before the party on Friday at 2pm – you have three days!’

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OK. So probably not the best example, but it gives you an idea. Anneka almost always achieved these challenges set before her in the tight turn around supplied, and such were her powers of gentle persuasion (her opening gambit when phoning very important people to help her complete the challenge was always ‘Hello, I’m sorry to have to do this to you, it’s Anneka Rice from the BBC Challenge programme’) that everyone was always willing to chip in and offer their time and services (‘Oh thank you, you are a star!’).

There was always something so pure and good hearted at the centre of Challenge Anneka. It had community spirit at its heart that made it feel like one great national bring and buy sale crossed with a street party. It was ushering in a new wave of television that saw the greater good ‘giving something back’ that still stands in existence even now, with shows like DIY SOS: The Big Build or 60 Minute Makeover.

Not only because of its philanthropic values, but the show has a particularly fond place in my heart from one of the challenges in particular. For the third series in 1992, when I’d just turned 3 years old, Anneka was challenged by Tommy’s Campaign, the charity based at Guys and St. Thomas’ Hospital in central London, that offers support and research into premature births, to produce Tommy’s Tape, a cassette tape of numerous famous names of the time performing nursery rhymes, children’s songs and poems.

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10,000 copies were produced in just four days – and the resulting tape was produced by none other than the legendary late George Martin. It included Anneka herself putting in her version of ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, as well as Joanna Lumley’s reading of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’, Right Said Fred singing ‘Nellie the Elephant’, and even the cast of Birds of a Feather (which almost always followed Challenge Anneka in the schedules on BBC One on Friday or Saturday nights and that I feel equally fondly about), offering a rousing version of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’.

My mum bought me one of the 10,000 copies, and it was always on the car stereo on the rare times that ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles or Dire Straits weren’t, and for pure sentimental reasons I loved it and played it frequently throughout my early childhood long after the series came to an end in October 1995. I was pretty delighted therefore, to discover that the album was recently digitally remastered and re-released for download.

The full episode of this particular challenge (video above) has recently reappeared on YouTube and is worth a watch to see the tape come together – if not for the endearing sight of Anneka and the buggy rocking up at Earl’s Court to try and persuade the late, great Prince to appear whilst he was in London for his world tour.

So as mentioned, the series disappeared from our screens in October 1995. But what became of it after that? Well, ITV bought it back in 2007 for two 18th anniversary specials, the first of which saw Anneka and the team head to Sri Lanka to help rebuild a community affected by the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004, and the second, in a nod to the Tommy’s Tape challenge of 15 years previously, saw her produce Over the Rainbow, an album of musical theatre songs released to raise money for children’s hospices up and down the UK, featuring everyone from McFly to Curtis Stigers.

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These days, Anneka is still broadcasting, and can be found behind the mic on her weekly BBC Radio 2 show The Happening, that goes out every Friday night at midnight. However, she still occasionally digs out the jumpsuit and buggy for one off challenges – recently she completed one during Channel 4’s annual Stand Up to Cancer telethon, and another for ITV’s This Morning – and this last year, she has also spent time revisiting some of the challenges around the UK that she helped to complete all those years ago.

Here’s to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, Challenge Anneka. A show that challenged us all to give a little something back!

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

#SongoftheWeek: The Vamps with Martin Jensen – ‘Middle of the Night’

Time for a new regular feature on my blog. As I’ve been somewhat lax in recent months with frequent blogs, and have needed a bit of motivation in myself to get things going again, I thought I would introduce a few new weekly slots on here. The first of which is starting right now.

In #SongoftheWeek, I will be talking about a new song that I’ve mostly been listening to this week, me telling you why I am loving that song in that week’s blog right now, and the general gist of things will be me, advising you all to listen to it. Got it? Good…here comes the first one then!

  • ARTIST: The Vamps with Martin Jensen
  • SONG: Middle of the Night

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

I will put my hands up now and confess I wasn’t that fussed by The Vamps when they first started in 2013. At the time they released their first few singles, Lawson were still around and that was fulfilling my ‘lads with guitars singing pop rock’ quotient, thank you very much.

Then about a year later, in 2015, they released a single and a second album, both of which were titled ‘Wake Up’ and which I really rather liked. Then I saw them perform its follow up, ‘Rest Your Love’ on TV and I really rather liked that one too.

In short, they started releasing some really great singles, a tradition that has proudly carried on to this, their current single, which is a collaboration with dance producer Martin Jensen. It’s a great track, really atmospheric and almost evocative of OneRepublic (who I also rather like).

I feel to appreciate this song also requires watching its excellent video. It follows a deaf couple acting out the story of the song through sign language. I’ve always been fascinated by sign language since I was a kid, so it’s nice to see it being represented on such a huge scale as a pop music video.

If the midweek figures are correct, then their new album ‘Night and Day’ (which is being released in two parts – the first this month, then the second in November) is all set to become their first number one album in the UK this weekend. With singles this good, I sincerely hope Brad, James, Connor and Tristan manage it.

‘Middle of the Night’ and the first part of The Vamps’ new album ‘Night and Day’ are both out now on Virgin EMI. Twitter: @TheVampsband

Let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!