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Saturday, 2 January 2010

Nostalgia comes in Box Sets

Xmas brought two new DVD box sets into our home, both TV series from my childhood, namely Wacky Races and Top Cat. I got to see them when they were orinally aired in the UK in the sixties, and the contrast when viewing them again for the first time in decades was rather surprising. Top Cat is still charming and funny; Wacky Races, on the other hand, after getting to know the line-up of competitors, is largely a one joke show, with the same plot rehashed in every episode. Dastardly and Muttly establish a commanding lead, which they then throw away in trying to set up a completely unnecessary trap for the other competitors, which naturally backfires, leaving them to come in last. Again.

I never noticed this as a child, but my nine year old son, who has been happily watching Top Cat episodes with me for the last week (not continuously, mind), summed up his opinion of Wacky Races five minutes into the first episode: 'This isn't funny'. No, it wasn't. But then, he's grown up watching The Simpsons and Futurama, which I realise sort of raises the bar a bit.

Another interesting observation was how up to date the plots of Top Cat still are, despite being nearly half a century old. Except for Officer Dibble having to keep in touch with his station via a police phone mounted on a telegraph pole (why not in a large blue box?), the only real clues to it being set fifty years ago are the clothing fashions and the car styles.

I probably watched every episode the first time round, maybe more than once, but I could only remember vague details of one show. Watching them again, my recall doesn't get any better, though occasional scenes and gags do ring bells. I did remember not being quite able to make out some of the lyrics in the opening credits. "Close friends get to call him TC, providing it's wikitity...". Never been too confident about that last word. Now, using the awesome power of the Internet (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/classic/A249842), I am finally able to decode it as "with dignity". No wonder I could never make it out, as it's a really crap lyric. At this point I remember that there is a word for misheard lyrics, but I can't remember what it is. Back to that awesome power--it's 'Mondegreen'.

And one last piece of Top Cat trivia. In the UK the series aired on the BBC, who have a policy on not running commercials. Back in 1961 the policy was so strict that the existence of a brand of cat food called Top Cat was sufficient to make the BBC rename the show to Boss Cat. They even trimmed out the first part of the closing credits to remove the Top Cat billboard. For full effect they should have gone through each episode dubbing over every 'Top Cat' and 'TC' (preferably in a clipped British accent) , but that was presumably thought to be over the top (or maybe just too expensive). Anyway, as a consequence British kids were left puzzling over the following exchange at the start of every episode.

Continuity Announcer: "And now, Boss Cat."
Opening Credits: "Top Cat! The most effectual Top Cat! ..."