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Tingha and Tucker come to DVD

Tuesday, 16 August 2016 23:00 Written by 

Tingha and Tucker - the lost legendary koalas make it to DVDTingha and Tucker, even for those who were there at the time, are now on the cusp of memory. Between 1962 and 1970, ATV made this pair of koala bears heroes to a generation of pre-school kids, but mainly only for those in the Midlands. And I was one of them, even being taken by my parents to Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire to see the bears, and their matriarch, ‘Auntie’ Jean Morton, for one of their ‘Annual Meetings’.

Jean had been promoted to various onscreen roles, following being one of the inaugural station announcers for ATV Midlands from 1956, along with future Police Five host Shaw Taylor. However, it is for this one children’s series that an entire age band most remembers her, thanks to assorted merchandise and an extremely popular fan club for the koalas. And now, Network has compiled everything that remains of the series in the archives, in an incredible two-DVD set which demonstrates amiable anarchy for pre-schoolers that has, even to this day, never been so raucous.

Jean presented other regional programmes such as ATV Midlands Newsday, Lunch Box and Rainbow Room. She appeared as the storyteller in All Creatures Great and Small - based on Aesop's fables - during 1968 and 1969, and went on to present Women Today in 1973. As a producer, she helmed Women of the Bible in 1974 and the “Nurse of the Year National Final” in 1980. Tingha and Tucker Club occupied slots between 10 and 20 minutes, and was broadcast on weekdays to kick off the children's programmes on the channel.

It did ‘branch out’ from this starting point, and in the late 1960s there was a Sunday show called The Tree House Family. Running in 15 minute slots from 1966 to 1969, some stats reckon 138 episodes were produced. This format had a religious leaning, and featured readings of bible stories. Other regular characters in the series included Willie Wombat (and various family members – Grandpa, Wibble, Wobble, Wendy and Wanda), Kiki the Kangaroo, Katie Kookaburra, Porky Possum, Ossie Octopus, Petunia Platypus, and Ermintrude Emu. Assisting Auntie Jean on occasion was another ATV continuity announcer, ‘Uncle’ Pat Astley, who appears in many of the film inserts.

Tingha and Tucker Club had its own greeting sign, which was used a lot – the right hand being raised to the bridge of the nose, and from the front the thumb and forefinger form an ‘L’ shape, and then you would bow your head (and on this DVD set you’ll even see honorary member Cliff Richard doing this!).

The club had, at its peak, three quarters of a million members, more than anyone could have ever expected, and caused massive problems for both the broadcaster and the Post Office.

There was a run of children's annuals for given years between 1967 and 1971, as well as a “Bedside Book” in 1967, which Auntie Jean wrote. She also sang with the koalas on a single, “Woomerang Boomerang” c/w “Over the Rickety Bridge” in 1964 on Pye. There was even album, via Century 21 Records in 1966 (catalogue LA5, part of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson empire), “The Tingha and Tucker Club Song Book”. Amongst the tracks on offer were “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, and even “The Hurdy-Gurdy Man”. The album also features both tracks from the single.

The team even weighed in with a pair of Century 21 mini-album 7” Eps in 1967 – “Jean Morton Presents Tingha And Tucker In Nursery Rhyme Time” (MA 127) and “Tingha And Tucker And The Wombaville Band” (MA 130) – this being a mix of Beatles songs and Christmas favourites.  The actual theme tune for the series was the work of TV music icon Tony Hatch.

There are only two editions of Tingha and Tucker Club still in the archives, and both are on this release. The first, in monochrome as per almost all of the rest of the material, is from October 1968, titled just Tingha and Tucker, and is not representative of the usual format. For its entirety the koalas and Auntie Jean give their rendition of Goldilocks and the three bears.

The other edition is from May 1970, and is the only programme to survive from its colour run. This edition is more in keeping with the usual format of the programme and is the only remaining example of the routine Tingha and Tucker Club shows (and there’s no ‘The’ at the start of the show’s title).

“Tingha and Tucker visit Naples and Rome” is a half hour special filmed on location. Despite the fact this is a pre-school show, the audience are not talked down to, so there’s plenty of information on the geography and history of Italy. It’s very different from the shouty-shouty shallow stuff which such children are fed nowadays. In the same location-based style is “Tingha and Tucker take a trip to Switzerland”.

Then there are over three hours of film insert material to wade through, including several Zoo Club sequences, a young Nigel Mansell talking about go-karting and being tipped for motor racing success, and even the Ilkeston Donkey Derby! These have been placed into episodic compilations, around half an hour each in length, with opening and closing credits added, and are as follows:

1.  Locations include a bowling alley, a hairdressing salon, a fire station, and an event at Bingley Hall. There’s a feature on doll houses, plus some budgies.  

2. More antics at the salon with guest star hairdresser Raymond Bessone, then a visit to an air traffic control, followed by the presentation of a special helicopter to Ermintrude Emu. Further locations include an infant school and a shoe shop. Zoo Club features a mongoose.

3. Locations include the Birmingham RSPCA kennels in Birmingham, a pet shop, a car wash, a milk factory, and a Summer Fete at St Peter’s Church. Zoo Club features several birds.

4. Locations are Weston Park, a zoo, a club meeting, a lake for a model speedboat race, a pottery, plus a feature on puppies.

5. The major location is the fifth Tingha and Tucker Club Annual Meeting at Trentham Gardens in 1967, featuring antics on its train, a boat trip, a go-kart race and fun fair rides. We have mice as the stars of a story narrated by Jean, and a visit to a fairy tale garden.

6. Location visits to Calthorpe Park, a petrol station, an indoor ski slope, and fun at a donkey derby. Zoo Club makes two appearances, once with a baby monkey and then with snakes.

7. On location again at Weston Park, plus Episton Kennels Nottingham and a farm, along with another huge meeting of the Tingha and Tucker Club. Zoo Club features leopard cubs.

Special features on the DVD set are also exhaustive, with the likes of:

  • A promo film heralding the show’s slot on ATV - weekdays from 4.45pm.
  • Tingha and Tucker in Blackpool, with Cliff Richard (yes, HIM) singing for the marsupials.
  • An extract from a 1996 Central Television celebration of ITV’s 40th anniversary in the Midlands, with Jean Morton being interviewed about her koala chums
  • Image gallery (the majority in colour, including many behind-the-scenes pictures).

PDFs for your PC, including relevant pages from –

  • the 1959 ATV Television Star Book (Jean and Pat voted first and fourth in a presenter popularity poll by a Midlands newspaper), the 1960 ATV Television Show Book (a picture of Jean and the koalas, as well as mention of Jean in Rainbow Room) and the 1963 ATV Television Show Book (another picture of Tingha, Tucker and Jean - described as the ‘Senior Station Announcer for the Midlands’, and that The Tingha and Tucker Club “still rates the most popular children’s programme”);
  • an autographed Jean Morton ATV publicity card and compliments slip;
  • a club membership card;
  • a complete annual (copyright 1966, so the 1967 edition); and
  • the “Bedside Book” (copyright 1967) – interestingly, both of these are copyright Jean Morton Enterprises Ltd.

In 1970 the show was cancelled, primarily as new series Rupert the Bear had been launched by ATV, and hence there was a suggestion that there were too many bears in the schedules (despite the fact that koalas are actually marsupials!). It is widely reported that Tingha, Tucker and most of the other characters, save for Kiki the Kangaroo, were allegedly stolen from a store cupboard at ATV and have never been seen again. This is the story Peter Harris (one of the puppeteers, before going on to be a producer on the likes of TISWAS) relates on an extra within this release, but others at the studios maintain that all but the stars were skipped, along with props and sets.

Jean Morton eventually became head of programme correspondence at ATV and its successor, Central Independent Television, which took over the ITV Midlands franchise in 1982. I recall it was she who replied to my complaint about the poor scheduling by ATV of the second season of Space: 1999 in around 1976 – as I noted to the station, it was completely bizarre for poor treatment to be given to one of ATV’s own shows! Her defence was the series had been shunted due to poor ratings.

Jean retired to Ibiza in 1985 with her husband Bobbie Daniel – they had married in 1947. Daniel died in 1994, and eventually Auntie Jean returned to England in 2006. She died on 26 May 2012, aged 91.

This meticulous compilation set is a very fitting tribute to Jean and the rest of the team behind the production. I have no doubt that the similar target audience of today, the pre-schoolers, once they get over the quaintness of the mainly-monochrome footage, will find many a giggle in the antics of the koalas and their many friends. And there is no way the theme tune won't become a relentless ear-worm in your head for days afterwards!

Tingha and Tucker is out now on DVD from Network. The two disc set has a ‘U’ certificate, a running time of 280 mins approx, and a RRP of £19.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

 

Last modified on Sunday, 21 August 2016 15:27