Charlie Chalk (1987)

Hello and welcome to another Jamie Talks Television blog. I want to talk to you about a late 80s production produced by Ivor Wood’s Woodlands Animations. Their short but impressive list of productions included Postman Pat (1981 onwards), Gran (1983) and Bertha (1985). Wood had been previously involved with animation on The Magic Roundabout and various productions from FIlmFair.

Charlie Chalk was produced in 1987. and first shown in 1988-1989 on the BBC. It followed a similar animation style to previous productions by the company. It featured Michael Williams in the title role, playing a clown who was stranded on an island. The area was populated by a number of characters including a pink elephant. Called Arnold, a small duck called Lewis, and a captain called Mildred; The latter lives on a ship with a hover fairy called Mary. There’s also a bearded character called Trader Jones and a sleep-loving monkey called Edward. Other voice actors included Barbara Leigh-Hunt and John Wells.

At first glance, it could be perceived as standard children’s TV fare. There are thinly veiled educational elements along with the odd use of musical numbers. What changes things is the wonderful knockabout Laurel and Hardy type comedy; Exhibited mostly by Lewis and Arnold. There are comedic setpieces that any situation comedy would be proud of, such as the marvellously entertaining ones seen in “Arnold’s Night Out”. The pacing, along with the visuals, also gives proceedings a surreal edge. There are also the odd conversations that could be taken as more mature than they actually are.

The series only ran for 13 episodes, but in my opinion, only about half of those were exceptional. The first five or six establish a tone and style that is infectious. They’re knockabout. They’re fun stories that have plenty of laughs in them. Episodes such as Jumping Bananas and The Coconut Harvest are part of that half-dozen great episodes, but they signal a turning point. After that, I feel they lose their way a little bit. A new character is introduced. and the whole dynamic of the show changes.

They mess about with it a little bit and it appears to become more child-like. More songs are introduced, and some of the voice acting feels different. It still has the odd moment that hints at the greatness of before, but it isn’t as consistent. I am fully aware it was made for pre-schoolers, but the first half dozen episodes appeared to transcend that to appeal to older audiences. Overall, I think this is a fun series that stands up pretty well with engaging characters, cute design and excellent comedy setpieces. All episodes of Charlie Chalk are available on DVD and via Britbox / ITVX.

Jamie Dyer

Jamie Dyer is an experienced writer, broadcaster, musician and social media marketer. He enjoys Old Time Radio, vintage TV, collecting vinyl and supporting the New York Knicks.

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