The memory of 5.35pm on a weekday night will likely evoke oceans of nostalgia in a certain age group while leaving anyone younger wondering what on earth the fuss might be about. So for those of you who need it explaining: back in the days of only three channels, BBC1 ran programming for children weekdays between 3.55pm (starting with PLAY SCHOOL) and finishing at 5.35pm (either with something more challenging for older children like an Alan Garner adaptation or Peter Dickinson’s THE CHANGES, but it could equally be employment for panto rejects desperate to appear on the likes of RENTAGHOST or EMU’S BROADCASTING COMPANY).
The news came on at 5.40pm. To bridge this gap between the kids stuff and the latest IRA bombings, the three day week and so on, someone had the bright idea of slipping in five minutes of something that might appeal to both children and adults. But not in a Disney-type, life-affirming way. Oh no. This was Britain in the 1970s and we wanted none of that sort of stuff on drizzling teatimes with the threat of another power cut ever looming. We wanted brightly coloured animated sheer eccentricity. Well, it’s what we got whether we wanted it or not.
It’s no secret that the tapes for THE MAGIC ROUNDABOUT used to come over from France with no English track, and so narrator Eric Thompson just made up anything to try and rationalise what the hell was going on. Other shows, like THE CLANGERS, were made by British eccentrics working in their garage with bits of foam and wire and a Swanee whistle.
The original ROOBARB was directed by the mighty Bob Godfrey, a man who had given us, only a few years previously, KAMA SUTRA RIDES AGAIN - possibly the only short animated film about a couple whose exotic sex lives ultimately end in disaster to be nominated for an Oscar.
There’s no sex on ROOBARB. There is, however, a green dog, a pink cat, and numerous birds, all of whom leer at the screen frequently during the onscreen madness to the point that you’re advised not to watch too many of these in a row or you’ll end up in your own brightly coloured room. The wobbling marker-pen animation probably isn’t recommended for anyone who suffers from sea-sickness either. And as for the theme tune...
All of this does NOT mean I didn’t like ROOBARB. In fact it’s charmingly eccentric and a lot of fun. The in your face sense of lunacy is sometimes reminiscent of The Beatles film YELLOW SUBMARINE, but you really can’t watch too many of them in one go or you may go blind, or mad, or both.Simply Media’s disc give you all 30 episodes of the original ROOBARB (on disc one) paired with all 39 episodes of 2005’s reboot ROOBARB & CUSTARD TOO (on discs two and three). The sequel series admirably recaptures the lunacy of the original, and once again features Richard Briers (hooray!) as narrator. The three disc set contains no extras.
ROOBARB & CUSTARD: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION is out on DVD from Simply Media on 16th May 2016