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If you are a fan of the sci-fi/police drama series Life on Mars, you are no doubt familiar with this wonderfully funny and nostalgic scene which parodies the 1966 stop motion animation children’s show, Camberwick Green.

 

 

Here’s the real thing…

 

The creators of Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes must have a soft spot for classic British children’s programs because just the other night when I was watching the latter on Hulu I saw DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) reading a storybook about his DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes).

Ashes to Ashes' Gene Hunt reenacting Jackanory  image credit Kudos Television

Ashes to Ashes’ Gene Hunt reenacting Jackanory
image credit Kudos Television

 

Jackanory, a BBC children’s series from the mid-sixties, was intended to foster an interest in reading and may have been the inspiration for America’s own Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton.

While I had never heard of either of the shows referenced above until they were introduced in bizarre dream state scenarios,some British children’s telly has made its way to American shores and into my consciousness.

Public television stations used to broadcast the Thomas the Tank Engine stories which were full of English charm, especially when narrated by the legendary Ringo Starr. For some reason though they changed the name of the show to Shining Time Station.

 

I didn’t even mind The Teletubbies too much aside from their insistence to re-watch video clips on one another’s tummies “again, again”! Preschoolers love it; frazzled moms, not so much.  My daughter even owned a Tinky Winky doll – or whatever the purple one was called.

 

You can’t watch much British TV without hearing references to Blue Peter, The Wombles or The Magic Roundabout yet I still feel woefully inadequate in this area. When my kids were growing up our television was monopolized by PBS children’s programs, the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Believe me, by the time they outgrew Barney the Dinosaur and SpongeBob SquarePants and my British telly obsession was in full swing, the last thing I wanted to watch was television made for kids whether it was from the UK or not.

Although I don’t think I’d have any problems getting through all five series of the hilarious, yet educational, Horrible Histories.

 

So the favor I ask of you my dear readers is to help me fill in my very spotty knowledge of children’s programming in in the UK. Old or new, cartoons or live action, educational or just plain silly, which shows should I be aware of in order to retain my telly addict status? Please share your favorites in the comment section below. YouTube clip examples are most welcome.  Thank you in advance for furthering my education in the history of the British small screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you might be aware, besides this disorganized, weird and wonderful blog I’ve created for my own pleasure, I also contribute to PBS affiliate WETA’s British TV and culture blog, Telly Visions.  There I mostly write reviews, recaps and miscellaneous articles of British entertainment interest.

My most recent post was a review of the film Cuban Fury which was released on DVD in the US earlier this week.

Cuban Fury Poster  image credit Studio Canal

Cuban Fury Poster
image credit Studio Canal

 

If you’d like to see what I had to say about this British salsa comedy or just want find out what I get up to over at Telly Visions, please click on the link directly below.  If nothing else, there’s a hilarious car park dance-off scene to look forward to.

Five Reasons You Should See ‘Cuban Fury’ | Telly Visions.

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who read, vote and comment on my posts. Your participation encourages me to keep doing what I love to do.

Fifteen years ago US television viewers were introduced to this little Cockney reptile…

 

The campaign must have been fairly successful because the Geico Gecko still pops up in the insurance company’s commercials from time to time. Never mind the fact many Americans thought he was supposed to be Australian, people seemed to like the concept despite not recognizing the accent.

Since that time more and more British accents have been showing up in our commercials, now in the form of actual celebrities. While I’m happy about this trend, it surprises me to some extent because whenever I mention British actors in conversation, I still get an excessive number of blank looks from my non-Anglophile friends. Considering that the singular goal of advertisers is to flog their wares to the most customers possible, using talent unknown to the buying public seems counterproductive.

Therefore I must extrapolate from this current advertising strategy that despite the relative unfamiliarity my social circle seems to have with British celebrities, they must have increasingly begun to enter the general public’s consciousness. Either that or these personalities work for much than their Yankee counterparts.

Here is the most recent and, in my opinion, baffling “star” to appear in an American advert…

 

Everyone I know is sick of the Kitchen Nightmares’ marathons aired on BBC America literally everyday. Seeing Gordon Ramsay hawking plans for smart phones makes me want to not switch to AT&T. Truth be told they’ve stripped him of his greatest asset, his swearing rants. Without the bleeping, he really isn’t interesting at all.

Not long ago internationally acclaimed and Oscar-nominated English actor Gary Oldman appeared in this promotion for, you guessed it,  a smart phone, though he really doesn’t do much to convince viewers to buy it. Mr. Oldman is well known in the States and we’ve seen a lot of him recently in films such as Robocop, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the Dark Knight series (all three in which he plays an American).  Who knows? Maybe this isn’t his native accent either.

 

David Beckham represented Burger King’s new line of fruit smoothies capitalizing on his physical appearance rather than his athletic abilities or career as a footballer, which would have just confused most Americans at that point. You see it wasn’t until the 2014 World Cup that football (as the rest of the world knows it) was covered by the media in any significant way.

 

Could Ann Coulter of the black mini-cocktail dress find even a modicum of moral decay in an advertisement like that? Probably.

A couple of years ago comedian John Cleese endorsed American satellite provider Direct TV in this delightfully silly commercial that made him out to be some sort of eccentric English gentleman, a stereotype American audiences still embrace.

 

And speaking of stereotypes, Jaguar poked fun at our tendency to see Brits as villains. This ad was premiered during the 2014 Superbowl, the most coveted and expensive advertising slots on US television.  While many will know Sir Ben Kingsley, I doubt Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston are household names in the US quite yet.

 

Perhaps the best proof that America is truly in the midst of a British invasion is the Scott lawn care company’s newest campaign. They now have a Scot named Scott (Phil McKee) as their spokesman, a bold move since Scottish dialects are often more incomprehensible to American ears than English ones are…

 

So what can we conclude from this hodgepodge of commercials and what they say about America’s growing appetite for British culture?  At least the way the advertising execs and their focus groups see it, Brits can sell us luxury cars, products in the personal technology market and pseudo-healthy fruit beverages as long as they either reinforce the cliches we foster about them, support soccer mom fantasies or have a national identity that is similar to the name of the company they are endorsing.

Oh and apparently you have to be man. The only British woman I can think of in any recent ad is a silent Keira Knightly.

 

What commercials have I forgotten? Feel free to share links to any clips you find. I’d also be interested to know how often American celebs appear in UK adverts? Comment early and often!

 

 

Welcome back to my Who Did It Best series. If you recall last time we talked about telly butlers. Fifty-two percent of those who participated in my poll voted Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson as the one who did it best, followed by the “other” category at twenty-four percent. I assume from the comments people offered, “other” includes Mr. Hudson from the original Upstairs, Downstairs and Magersfontein Lugg from the Campion mystery series. Jeeves came in third with nineteen percent and sadly I must conclude that I was the lone vote for Edmund Blackadder. He might not have been the best example of a dutiful butler on TV, but he made me laugh the most and that counts for something in my book.

Onward and upward. This time I’m asking you to consider the enterprising local shopkeeper.

Dead Parrot

How not to handle a customer complaint image credit BBC

You know you were thinking of  Michael Palin as the inept and quite possibly dishonest pet shopkeeper in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.

Small business entrepreneurs must bring every bit of consumer psychology, organization and persuasiveness they possess to the sales floor everyday in order to make a profit particularly in today’s world of quick and cheap superstores and on-line shopping. From books to novelties to the neighborhood grocers’, all these vendors have an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their business viable.

Now it’s time to take a look at our match-up for British telly shopkeepers and discover their tricks of the trade…

 

Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) – Arkwright’s is a small neighborhood grocery store in Doncaster and is the setting of the classic sitcom Open All Hours. Its proprietor and namesake is a master salesman and a tightwad as well. Just ask his beleaguered nephew and errand boy Granville (David Jason).

Arkwright makes it his mission to see to it that no one who walks through the door of his shop leaves without making a purchase. His true genius is in his ability to convince people to buy the items he needs to move most.

 

 

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) – Black Books is a chaotic, disheveled looking establishment. Shop owner Bernard Black has no discernible customer service skills nor does he seem to have any desire to sell any of his disorganized stock. His assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) does his best to help the shoppers, but Bernard’s rude manner and total disregard for his business is impossible to overcome. Or is it? Perhaps it’s all a brilliant ruse and Bernand is employing reverse psychology tactics on his customers with no self-esteem. Why else would people keep coming back to put up with his abuse?

 

 

Miranda (Miranda Hart)- If you had inherited a decent amount of dosh what would you do with the proceeds? Miranda thought it would be fun to buy a joke/novelty shop with hers. Apparently her interest in running the place wore off fairly quickly because she’s left the day to day operations of the business to her far more organized best friend, Stevie (Sarah Hadland). And thank goodness because if she were stuck in the store all day we’d never get to witness all the Miranda-ish shenanigans she gets up to such as fashioning friends from fruit and using alternative appliances to wash her unmentionables. That being said, Miranda doesn’t shy away from enthusiastically greeting her customers when she encounters them in the shop.

 

 

So there you have it, my candidates for the telly shopkeepers who did it best. I didn’t consider department store moguls like Mr. Selfridge, but might do so in a future contest. Whose shop would you want to frequent? Which character has the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo? Vote for your favorite or write in your own choice in the comment section.

 

As promised I’m back with the second half of my quirky names series. I will admit I had a more difficult time compiling a list of unusual male British names. The traditional ones like James, John, Tom, Robert, Steve, etc. are still popular on both sides of the pond. Not unknown in the States, but heard less often, are names such as Martin, Simon, Hugh and the even more rare, Clive.

Below are five of the most distinctly British names I could brainstorm. As with the ladies segment earlier, if you can come up with a better, more characteristic example, please share in the comments section at the end of the post.

Benedict Cumberbatch

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, this is indeed the Sherlock actor’s given name. In fact his father and fellow actor, Timothy Carlton, doesn’t even use the family surname in his professional life so I think young Ben took a calculated risk when he retained this unusual moniker.  The formality of “Benedict”and the whimsical quality of  “Cumberbatch” sets this actor up as a classic British character. Besides the iconic Mr. Holmes, Benedict has also portrayed illustrious Brits such as Stephen Hawking and Prime Minister William Pitt. Whether a choice of family loyalty or a dodgy gamble, judging by the trajectory of his career, Mr. Cumberbatch made the right decision.

Benedict as Sherlock image credit BBC

Benedict as Sherlock
image credit Hartswood Films

 

Rupert Grint

While almost any character in Harry Potter’s world could have made this list (Neville Longbottom, Barty Crouch, or Dudley Dursley for example), Rupert Grint is one of the few actors whose name fit right in with the quaint characters in the films. Rupert is common enough in the UK, but few and far between in America. And Grint, well it sounds as though it’s right out of Roald Dahl story.

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasly  image credit Heyday Films

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
image credit Heyday Films

 

Noel Fielding

It might seem odd that the French word for Christmas has become a male British name.   However, with the change in pronunciation from the French (No-el) to something more like Noll, the English have made in their own and Noel Fielding is, in my opinion, a prime example of the country’s renowned eccentricity.  From the Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd to his self-titled Luxury Comedy sketch show, Mr. Fielding’s whole being screams that he’s an artsy, mod goth with a totally off-the-wall way of looking at the world and he doesn’t care who knows it. What could be more British than that?

Team captain Noel Fielding on NMTB Image Credit BBC

Never Mind the Buzzcock’s team captain Noel Fielding 
Image Credit BBC

 

Julian Rhind-Tutt

I chose Mr. Rhind-Tutt as a representative for all those Brits with hyphenated last names which we Yanks have been trained to associate with money and breeding. Although from what I’ve read in the past, aristocratic blood doesn’t run in his veins.  Julian’s  parents just did what a number enlightened couples do when they marry; they combined surnames. Still sounds classy though, right? Rhind-Tutt has portrayed a few posh blue bloods in his career in Blandings and The Lady Vanishes for starters. He’s also played a number of coppers and doctors, the most famous being Dr. Macartney in Green Wing.

Julian Rhind-Tutt

Julian as Angus McCain in The Hour image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, to be exact. And according to Wikipedia, this talented gentleman is, in fact, a gentleman, reportedly an eighth cousin to Prince Charles. I had a neighbor named Ralph and we called him “Ralf”. To be honest, when I first heard this actor’s name spoken I thought he was Ray Fines. Regardless of spelling or pronunciation, Mr. Fiennes is a grand example of the British acting profession. He’s conquered Shakespeare, Dickens, and more recently the Bond franchise among other roles. He’s THE Voldemort for God’s sake! Never mind that most of us became acquainted with him as the most horrible Nazi on film ever!

Ralph Fiennes

Fiennes as Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman image credit BBC Films

 

 

Anglophiles United at our "local" pub quiz Image Credit Laurie Frashure

Anglophiles United at our “local” pub quiz
Image Credit Laurie Frashure

As you may know I occasionally report on the activities of my Anglophile group, cleverly named Anglophiles United. This week a large contingent of our membership hit the road in hopes of experiencing an authentic British pub quiz. This outing was educational in scope and the fact that alcohol was freely available had nothing to do with our healthy turnout…

We gathered at an establishment with a name designed to avoid any confusion about its purpose or mission, The Pub. This American franchise concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast is to the the public house what mock Tudor housing developments are to historical stately homes. The serving staff wear kilt-ish uniforms, in addition to ales and whiskey they serve American cocktails like martinis and Manhattans, and they are located in an upscale shopping mall complex. To be fair they don’t claim that they’re the genuine article. Their slogan is “British-inspired, American-crafted” after all.

After keeping our tartan-clad wait staff (yes, we had three) busy with orders of shepherd’s pie, scotch eggs and lots of beer and wine, the quiz began. We broke into three teams -ours chose the name Jiggle Me Timbers because my son thought it would be amusing if the quiz mistress had to announce it over the PA system. There was no vetting process or pre-quiz selection though I can’t blame Inspector Fowler for trying to weed out the dimmest of the dim on his team.

 

 

The quiz itself consisted of twenty general knowledge questions, a speed round which required participants to order an actors’ films from oldest to newest, and the final round which tested our musical knowledge. Apparently technical difficulties are common as we had a similar experience to the members of the Phoenix Club – just without the record player.

 

 

None of our trio of teams won the big prize; however, luck was with us as each participant was given a ticket for door prizes and our entourage won all three drawings!  Each team left with bar glasses and gift certificates and no animosity towards the Hot Moms who apparently beat us by two lousy points. Nor was there any shoe throwing out in the parking lot after…

 

 

And as far as I know, there were no diva pub quiz champions in the crowd that night. At least no one threw a hissy fit like the Oracle did in Benidorm. It’s all just a bit of fun, mate!

 

 

All in all, I’d have to say our pub experience was a fun night out.  However if British TV shows accurately depict the UK pub quiz experience, ours did not approach the same level of competitiveness or nor was anyone’s ego or reputation at risk if they lost. Well, perhaps my son had higher aspirations for our side. That being said, he did win the speed round for us and the indeed the Jiggle Me Timbers team had their name announced throughout The Pub for all to hear.

 

 

 

As you know, when I watch telly it’s more than just for entertainment purposes. I take what I see and formulate impressions and opinions about culture in the UK.  As a step forward in my education, I have put together a number of  head to head (to head) competitions so that you, the readers, can tell me which is the best representation of a particular profession, institution, etc.

Our first match-up involves the very British occupation of butlering and the nominees are…

 

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) – Downton Abbey’s butler isn’t only in charge of the footmen and valets in the house, the wine and other spirits, and the very formal goings on in the dining room. He is the moral compass for all those who work below stairs, he is a kindly uncle figure for the Grantham sisters and on very rare occasions he shows a glimpse of his softer side.

 

 

Jeeves (Stephen Fry) – While technically a valet, Jeeves is Bertie Wooster’s only domestic employee so I assume he does slip over into what are traditionally butler’s duties as well.

At the end of the film, Gosford Park, Helen Mirren spoke these famous lines. “What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? It’s the gift of anticipation. And I’m a good servant. I’m better than good. I’m the best. I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.”  That is Jeeves in a nutshell…that and he’s far more intelligent and accomplished than his rich and foolish master.

 

 

Edmund Blackadder  (Rowan Atkinson) – In Black Adder the Third, Edmund Blackadder has descended from royalty to aristocracy to the lowly station of the Prince Regent’s butler. He doesn’t just take care of domestic concerns for the extremely dim and self-involved Prince George. Blackadder is, for all intents and purposes, the Regent’s caretaker who must be constantly one step ahead, keeping him out of financial, political and physical harm. He also, very wisely, pens George’s love letters.

 

 

Now it’s your turn. Vote for who you feel is the best representation of a British manservant. Or if you feel I’ve slighted a worthy TV butler, please write in your candidate or mention him in the comments section. Thank you in advance for participating in my research.

 

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