It’s another televisual legend we bring you for this weekend’s #BlastfromthePast, so without further ado, let’s begin our story back over two decades ago…
As the 80s gave way to the 90s, British children’s TV was changing. One of the most prominent new names of the time was Anne Wood. After leaving TV-am on ITV in 1988 – where she had created Roland Rat (‘Eeeh, rat fans!’) – and producing Pob for Channel 4, she had established her TV production company, Ragdoll.
Rosie & Jim, her series for Children’s ITV about two puppet friends living on a canal boat in Stratford-upon-Avon, had already been a massive success on its first broadcast in 1990, producing video sales by the shedload in the process. It was only a matter of time before the BBC came calling for her services.
Her next series was for them, and that was Brum. Based on an old 1920s Austin Chummy 7 Convertible, the series followed the adventures of the eponymous little yellow motor car, who lived in a motor museum (The Cotswold Motor Museum, where the model used for the series is still kept, founded by Mike Cavanagh in 1978 in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire – he appeared in each episode too), and who would magically come to life on the day it was closed to go exploring in ‘The Big Town’ (Birmingham).
Built and operated by Rex Garrod, known later to many as one of the leading men on Robot Wars for BBC Two (he had showcased an early prototype of Brum on his Channel 4 series Secret Life of Machines), and with narration provided by former punk priestess Toyah Willcox, the first series of 13×10 episodes began broadcasting on CBBC in September 1991, and was soon attracting a million viewers a week.
I was 2 years old when it first started, and I loved it. It was the combination of live action models, a bit of a nod to old fashioned motoring and the crazy, zany adventures he ended up on that made Brum so appealing. I even had (and still do) the die-cast toy model Corgi produced of him. The first series was soon sold to many different countries around the world, including America, where it picked up a New York Film and Television Award in 1992.
Brum’s popularity meant a second series was inevitable, and it duly arrived three years later, in October 1994. It was this success, and that of Rosie & Jim and Tots TV for ITV, that probably put Anne Wood – Brum’s creator – first at the forefront of the BBC Children’s department’s minds when, in late 1996, they were looking to commission a long form series for their pre-school mid-morning slot. And I don’t think I need to tell you what that was, do I?
A radically relaunched Brum – envisaging him as a high octane superhero – returned for a further three series of more slapstick style adventures in 2001. It wasn’t the same as the original (and arguably best) two series in the 90s had been, but his name continues to live on.
As his model from the TV series is still kept in the Cotswold Motor Museum, he is one of Gloucestershire’s biggest tourist attractions even to this day. And such was the popularity of the series, that he was even voted by the readers of Radio Times into a poll of the greatest British kid’s TV characters in 2014, placing 3rd in the 90s category.
Here’s then, to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, Brum – the magic little car who went exploring the world and conquered it proper.
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!