There was something which always confused me as a child and still does to this day. Why did BBC presenters always call the cartoon series Top Cat, Boss Cat? It never made any sense! The singers on the title theme said Top Cat and everybody in the country called it Top Cat, apart from those strange fools in dungarees at Television Centre.
At the time it made me incredibly cross (I was a grumpy old man even back then) that the people on my television were incapable of reading the correct name of a cartoon out. I watched them like a hawk should they try and change the names of any other cartoons. I’m not sure what I would have done if they had. Most probably I would have sent the BBC a postcard, which was after all the primary method of communication with Aunty and which was a continual embarrassment to staff who often received the new that their show had been axed from their postman. However my postcard would have had only one word on it and that word would have been ‘Why?’.
However in the end, my plaintiff query was not needed. Charlie Brown never became Charles White, nor did Scooby Doo become Scat Dog which was for the best really, as it would have warped the minds of a generation whose brains were already being warped by public information films.
Yes the public information film. These short burst of horror designed to frighten the life out of any viewer. The world which should have been all rosy to my child eyes became a dystopian hell when they appeared on my television screen.
I was terrified of small ponds lest I should fall into the power of the grim reaper who would hack me to pieces with his scythe while Donald Pleasance’s echoey voice chastised me for being a bad boy. There were strangers, who were all evil. A cartoon boy and scary cat (voiced by Kenny Everett) told me so. Not only that but a policeman had come to my school and shown a film in which a man kidnapped a boy and imprisoned him in his house.
One visit to see a cartoon at my local picture palace yielded another film in which some boys on a paper chase ran onto a railway track and were killed by a train. Now it’s been a while since I witnessed a paper chase but rarely have I known them cross a railway track. Not unless the person leading was wearing a top hat and a large moustache. In which case he would have tied them to the track while an upright piano played dramatic music.
These films were made even more sinister by the stock they were filmed on. They used low quality 16mm stock which was the same used at the time for news reporting. This gave the films an air of authority and they seemed to my child brain to be nothing less than snuff films.
Last year I bought a DVD which contained all of these films and watched it through. To my adult eyes and brains they were amusing, the product of another time. However Donald Pleasance and his echoey voice still sends a chill down my spine, and it will be a few years yet before I dare to enter a small pond in the middle of winter whilst wearing a large hand knitted jumper and flared jeans. Mark my words.