Saturday, 18 February 2012

12 Again

Wowser - has it really been two months since I last wrote anything here?  I'd like to have a good reason - being exceedingly busy or doing something life-changing, but I think I simply couldn't really be bothered.  So the summarise, we had a lovely Christmas, Kate had a great birthday and then a fun weekend in Aberdeen. You know what they say about happy people and diaries...

What prompted me to put fingers to keyboard was a great little show I caught purely by chance this week after seeing a trailer.  12 Again is a series on CBBC that takes celebrities back the age of 12 to talk about their favourite music, TV and fashion at that age, and in general how they felt at that transitional age.  The age of 12 is, according to the Big BBC Book of Rules, the point at which children now stop watching CBBC and move onto The Internet and Stuff (after abandoning attempts to provide programming for them a few years ago after the scrapping of the dire BBC Switch) so it's interesting to see a programme being produced that is aimed squarely at one end of the audience.  At it's heart it's a fairly cheap talking heads affair, but it's pretty endearing in it's own way, especially if (like me) you love the opportunity to see the old clips again in context.

It's this that makes the show appealing to those of us who are - how can I put this - in the "upper-upper end" of the CBBC demographic.  This week's shows have featured a number of my favourite programmes from my own childhood.  Mark Rhodes of Sam and Mark fame nominated Live and Kicking as his 12-year-old self's TV favourite, and this provided an opportunity to dig out lots of old clips of John Barrowman dressed like an early 90s fool (i.e. lots of waistcoats).  Barrowman has an interesting position in Live and Kicking's history, having gone from being written out as "the yank who didn''t really fit in" for a decade to having his role actively built-up since 2005 following his success in Doctor Who and Torchwood.  Rav Wilding from Crimewatch chose Maid Marian and her Merry Men and instantly went up in my estimation, as this was one of the best children's shows of all time.  I know of only one person in my age group who didn't adore it as a child.  That person however is my fiancĂ©e, but as she has few flaws we'll let this one pass.  Finally Alesha Dixon revealed an unexpected appreciation of the oft-forgotten 1990s revival of Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game which provided an opportunity to screen that wonderful title sequence that hasn't aged at all (snigger), and reminded me how much I used to love watching this show as a child.  Let's face it, it's still the best thing Bruce has ever done, made all the more clear by how Jim Davidson managed to completely bugger it up in the years following.
Two giants of early-90s Children's BBC

This was far from the only archive content in 12 Again - there were more musical clips than I've time to mention, and plenty of classic context-setting Newsround if you like that sort of thing.  One thing that was fairly amusing was Alexandra Burke's reeling-off of the complete roster of Nickleodeon output of the period...none of which the BBC has the rights to show anymore, so was represented by a few still images.  It also is worth wondering how much of an impact the first series of Live and Kicking had on Russell T Davies, providing not only thirty weeks' exposure of John Barrowman but also the computerised talking-head-cat-thing "Ratz", which later provided inspiration for the look of Ardal O'Hanlon's character in Gridlock, a 2007 episode of Doctor Who.  And that's absolutely true!

Call the lawyers!

What would be my 12 Again choices?  My favourite TV shows of the time won't come as a great surprise.  Live and Kicking, Red Dwarf, Shooting Stars and Noel's House Party were all must-sees at this point.  Also at the age of 12 I watched the Doctor Who TV Movie and, unlike almost everyone else who saw it, rather liked it, and it was what got me into the programme and kicked off my interest that lasts to this day (apart from a few years in the early noughties when sixth form and uni got in the way).  I think it was when I was twelve that I somehow fell into watching EastEnders having never previously been that interested, and I've been watching that ever since too.  It was around this age when I got the first inklings that I would quite like to work in TV...mainly by thinking that my obsession with it could possibly be put to good use!  I can't really remember much about what music I was into - much like now I can't claim I was into a particular band or genre of music but I was definitely an avid viewer of Top of the Pops and listened to the Official Top 40 on Radio 1 every week.
Bruce does his thing whilst a stage-hand hauls the set into position

In terms of news, 1996 was the year of the Dunblane massacre which given I was at school at the time should really have had quite an impact on me.  However my main memory of that was Wirral Grammar's "tightening" of security, which meant combination locks on the front door that only teachers were allowed to enter via.  All the pupil entrances, however, remained open to all.  John Major's government were on their knees at this point (politically, cheeky!).  I remember them being universally loathed and Tony Blair being talked of as a latter-day saint.  The general election seemed to be forever imminent and so every poll was lept upon in the meantime.  As luck would have it, Wirral South's Conservative MP died in November 1996 and so the consituency became the location of the final by-election of the 1992 parliament.  The state grammar school I attended became a bit of a political football, with the local Tories claiming that if elected Labour would scrap selective education (ha!) so we had all sorts of campaigning around us including one giant poster in a house opposite depicting Tony Blair as a "school bully".  Breakfast News filmed one of our French lessons as part of the coverage, which somehow managed to cut me off in every shot, although they did unwittingly screen a young lad making the universal gesture for "wanker" at the camera in the background of some playground footage.  Naturally Labour won the seat on a massive swing which rather set the tone for the General Election that followed four months later.
Shepherd's Bush hasn't changed a bit

And as for fluke I did rather well in my first year of secondary school, but not so well in my second, the novelty fading somewhat.  I managed to get in the top set in maths - completely ridiculously as that was never something I should have been any good at, and indeed spent the following four years desperately trying to keep up as my true lack-of-ability in that subject became clear.  Still, it got that GCSE out of the way a year early.  Having been quite a skinny child, as I entered teenage years I started to put on a bit of weight, and it wouldn't be until my uni years that I managed to shift any of it (in fact it's only in the last three years that I've been back to a weight that I'm happy with).  And as for girls...we'd best not go there.  There were obviously girls that I liked, but going to an all-boys' school I was never with them for long enough to do anything about it, or indeed know how to do anything about it.  That's my excuse anyway! (if you want a laugh, here's two pages of unadulterated bullshit from my old school about the benefits of single sex education.  Former WGS pupils, try not to snigger when they claim that lack of girls will mean no "macho culture")
Another former Wirral Grammar pupil! "The Wirral, near Liverpool", near Carlisle judging by the map

12 Again is a cracking little series so I'd urge you to take a look if you can, although it does feel a bit weird to see things from your childhood described as if they were ancient (which of course they are to today's kids).  For the aspect-ratio geeks amongst us it also can be congratulated on not cropping a single piece of archive.  As the celebrities are of a variety of ages there's something for everyone in there.  Having scored the author of Tracy Beaker you do sense they struggled a bit with Jacqueline Wilson, 12 in the mid-50s, although it can't have exactly required a degree in archeology to research the childhoods of the likes of One Direction, Tom Daley and - most ridiculously - Ronan Park from Britain's Got Talent, who was born waaaaay back in August 1998.  It's worth a watch, but if you do miss it then it'll no doubt be repeated for another twelve years...