Friday, April 12, 2019

I Hated the Double Deckers

I hated and loathed Here Come the Double Deckers when I was a kid.  Right from the outset - I saw its first UK screening on January 8 1971 on BBC1 as part of its regular late afternoon children's TV schedules.  I was almost seven, but knew for sure that I didn't like it.  Over the years, and thanks to numerous repeats on both the BBC and ITV, it seems to have gathered some kind of nostalgia-fuelled cult following.  In view of this, I thought that perhaps I should give it another chance, reasoning that, as an adult, I might appreciate it more, so I watched (via You Tube) one of only two episodes I had any clear recollection of: I still hated it.  Even at only twenty four minutes, it still seemed to drag interminably, every minute feeling like torture.  Interestingly, the reasons I hated it now were the same reasons my almost seven year old self hated it.

From the off, I loathed those overblown titles, with its carefully choreographed musical number.  I just couldn't relate to those kids who were nothing like any real kids I knew - none of the children I knew at school could sing or dance as professionally as that, for one thing.  Plus, even at that tender age, I knew that such a disparate kids would be friends: the fat one would undoubtedly be ridiculed and ostracised for his size and lack of sporting prowess, while 'Brains' would, at the very least, be called 'four eyes' and be regularly beaten up by the 'alpha males' of the group.  The black kid, well, sadly we had racism even back then and as for the girls - there's no way they'd be allowed in the  gang.  As actual characters, well, I couldn't identify with them - I found them all hateful.  They were just too smug, too enthusiastic, too smart arsed or just plain too irritating.  They were too much like some TV executive's idea of what children should be like, rather than being like actual children.

Which was the problem with the whole thing: it was clearly somebody's idea of what a children's TV series should be like.  Somebody who had never actually seen a children's TV series or had any idea of what children actually wanted to watch.  It was all too slick for one thing. Far slicker than any of the other UK made kids TV programmes of the era.  Which isn't surprising, as it was shot on film at the MGM Borehamwood studios, with all the resources they had to offer.  Not to mention that it was backed with American money.  It just felt 'alien'.  While the children's TV shows being produced by the BBC and ITV might not have had the same resources as Double Deckers, hey generally had far better scripts and far more imagination.  Everything in Double Deckers seemed hackneyed, never rising above the level of crude slapstick, with every pratfall painfully and obviously telegraphed well in advance.

Most of all, as a kid, I distinctly recall that I resented the fact that the series offered no introductions to the characters and no explanations for exactly why they hung out in a scrapyard with their HQ in an old double decker bus.  Who were they?  What was their purpose?  We never knew.  From the first episode, it was simply assumed that we would accept them and buy into their adventures.  I never did.  It all seemed terribly presumptuous on the part of the producers.  Other odd things continue to bug me - the presence of Melvyn Hayes, for instance.  Even in 1971 it seemed strange to me that a grown man sporting a 'Jason King' style moustache would be hanging around with a bunch of kids.  Why?  Again, we never knew.  Then there were the closing titles - even cheesier than the opening titles.  I hated then and still hate now that jazz hands 'See you next week' sign off.  It seems clear to me that someone high up at Twentieth Century Fox, who produced the series, felt that there was something 'off' about it as it was cut short after seventeen episodes, despite twenty six originally being commissioned (with an option for another twenty six).

For what it is worth, Brinsley Forde later became lead singer of Aswad, while Debra Russ is currently a BBC radio continuity announcer.  Peter Firth also escaped the stigma of having appeared in Here Come the Double Deckers to forge a successful acting career.  Sadly, reinforcing all our prejudices about the overweight, Douglas Simmonds, who played Doughnut, died of a heart attack at the age of only fifty three, after leaving acting to become a theoretical physicist.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home