Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cheggers Plays Pop! (1978)

Last night I finally got to see something I've wanted to see again for many many years - an episode of "Cheggers Plays Pop!" I was able to acquire an early episode from 1978, and it made for both fascinating and excruciating viewing!

Keith Chegwin became a star thanks to "Swap Shop" and somebody at the BBC had the bright idea of giving him his very own show during the teatime Children's TV slot. None of those moronic "Children's TV" presenters or puppets between shows wasting everybody's time under the guise of "Childrens BBC" or "CBBC" or whatever the hell it is these days. You simply got the old rotating BBC globes, the voiceover guy and boom... into the show we'd go.

"Cheggers Plays Pop" was a bizarre hybrid of "Top Of The Pops", "Pop Quiz" and "Its A Knockout!" It would have two teams made up of schoolkids representing their schools and they would compete in various stupid games featuring some pop quiz rounds and daft Knockout-esque games always climaxing in an inflatable bouncy game.

For instance the above screencap shows one such game where the contestants have one minute to spin as many oversized rubber coins past the cut out animated goalie... erm... okay...

Keith Chegwin was even back then hugely irritating. Seeing this 29 years on is hilarious with his naff haircut and ridiculous outfit. He was always hyper this guy and throughout the show many times before he says something he does that annoying whooping intake of breath thing... always trying to make a cheap crummy show that extra bit more exciting.

There were three musical guests on this edition. First a British cod funk band called Hi Tension. When they come on, its very much like TOTP except the audience are not around the acts but we do get cutaways of the audience clapping along.

The second act is truly unbelievable and really do set the era in stone better than most. Now don't forget, this was the era of punk, new wave and disco, but one band who were always on TV round that era fitted into none of those categories...

Its the bloody Wurzels! The Wurzels spent the late 70s' recording and releasing a stream of parodies of older songs done over in their own inimitable style and in this show its their dire take on The Mixtures' "The Pushbike Song"! At first in 1976 these parodies were amusing but by 1978 they had become a predictable bore and were clearly on some kind of treadmill churning out cover after cover which musically had no artistic value at all but they were "safe" so they popped up regularly on shows like this. There they are complete with a REAL dog sat on a tractor trailer with the obligatory props of hay...

It is a genuinely wonderful piece of kitsch kids TV because Cheggers himself gets behind the wheel of what looks like a forklift truck heavily disguised to give the impression its some kind of tractor and Cheggers drives the Wurzels round the studio as they perform with all the kids merrily clapping away to the song! Unbelievable!

That's followed by more games, a stupid catapult type one. There's another pop quiz moment which is farcical. Cheggers announces he's asking questions about the number 9 record that week so what's the first question? "What number is this record in the top ten this week?"

If that isn't bad enough, it gets even worse. Cheggers then introduces the final music act... the dreaded Bonnie Tyler!

Its a rambling boring song with Bonnie being her usual rasping annoying self singing a song that wasn't a big hit that could well be "Its A Heartache Part 2". The musical items are all mimed by the way... no live vocals or anything like that... this was low budget TV after all. At the end of Tylers' song, Cheggers bounces on to present her with a gold disc for "Its A Heartache"! Now here's a real facet long hone from TV screens... I recall it was quite common for artistes to be presented with gold discs on variety TV shows and here's Bonnie Tyler's "golden moment"... on "Cheggers Plays Pop!"

Finally there's the obligatory inflatable round where the brats have to bounce along with these hula hoop nets and pull an overhead lever to be doused by feathers and try and catch a football, then bounce along and deposit them in a bucket on a see saw. The final scores are totted up and the red team are this weeks winners.., but what do they actually win? We never find out!

Cheggers does his goodbye bit and announces that it will return in two weeks time due to a bank holiday and the show ends with the closing credits. And then comes the final shock...

"Director - Johnnie Stewart!" Johnnie Stewart was the man who created TOTP and produced it for most of its first decade on air. How the mighty fell for here he is years after leaving TOTP directing this crummy kids TV show. It shows in the music sequences which are very TOTP in feel and style. It was also a BBC Manchester production so was obviously made there because it was much cheaper.

"Cheggers Plays Pop!" was a crap show even at the time - it ran until the mid 80's and rarely ever changed its style. It was simply a cheap kids TV game show designed as a vehicle for Keith Chegwin. What's noticeable about Cheggers at this early stage is how much of his Scouse accent is actually present. That got toned down over the years but here its rather noticeable and prominent.

But I enjoyed seeing this again. It is a great time capsule and a good example of the show. I used to watch it for the musical acts... the rest of it was nonsense I'd ignore but seeing it all these years on, it is very amusing. "Its A Knockout!" was a very popular show at the time so having elements of that in there with the irritating Stuart Hall replaced by the irritating Keith Chegwin with some pop music elements chucked in really does make this fun to see again.

Many major bands did appear on this show because Kid's TV was seen to be brilliant promotion to the degree that there exists an edition from 1983 where The Police perform "Every Breath You Take!" They looked thoroughly miserable, partly because by then they'd had enough of one another but also probably because despite being one of the biggest groups in the World, playing the biggest venues, there they are playing second fiddle to Keith Chegwin!

There's a good chance more episodes will surface... bring em on! I wanna see much more of this stuff. Yes, its crap - always was and always will be but it has plenty of kitsch value. It would be nice if someday I could show this to a child of my own and tell him/her that this was one of the shows I used to watch as a kid. They'd probably think all manner of dubious things... but Kids TV back then was much "safer" and more conservative. Disposable, sure... word has it that quite a few of these shows no longer exist. Is that a tragedy? Yes and No. There's a whole load of musical performances in this series that TOTP2 could do well to exploit and plunder so those are valuable moments. The rest looks very dated and silly and totally anachronistic and irrelevant. There's no way the BBC could ever have a repeat season of the show though that would be great, but it looks too old... its a relic of its time that has no place in today's time... and that's why I welcome the chance to acquire and see nonsense like this again!

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