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Big John Little John - DVD

Monday, 23 November 2009 13:11

Big John, Little John is another one of those memories just at the edge of your brain. It was broadcast in 1976 on BBC1 in the UK and NBC in its native USA. The show starred Herb Edelman as Big John Martin, a middle High School science teacher who takes a sip from the fountain of youth. At the most inopportune moments, ‘Big John’ becomes a 12-year old version of himself, ‘Little John’, played by Robbie Rist.

Enjoy for the first time ever on DVD all sorts of farcical adventures as ‘Big John’ tries to find a cure he can live a normal life! This was an American Saturday morning sit-com produced by Sherwood Schwartz, and ran for one season of 13 episodes. ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ John were not exactly similar in the looks department - to make the two have even just a passing resemblance, young Rist's blond hair was dyed brown and Edelman wore a wig.

Big John Little John DVDSo, time now to flesh out how this little tale began. Forty-year-old middle school science teacher John Martin is on vacation in Florida. While exploring off the ‘beaten track’, he drinks from a spring which turns out to be the mythical Fountain of Youth once sought by Juan Ponce de Leon. After returning home, the effects of the water finally sink in and, uncontrollably and at the worst possible moments, he changes into a twelve-year-old. The technique to signify this is a cost-saving cross-fade via the faces of three actors, including Edelman and Rist – when you see the episodes back to back, this effect soon becomes tiresome.

‘Big John’ has no control over when the change of ages will occur – this is explained by him only having taken a sip of the water, not a full immersion. It does beg the question as to why ‘Big John’ never went back to complete the change on a permanent basis – who, indeed, could resist the chance to relive their life?

Mr Martin’s wife Marjorie (played by Joyce Bulifant) and son, Ricky (Mike Darnell), are the only ones who know his secret, and ‘Little John’ is explained away as being a visiting nephew. School matriarch Bertha Bottomly (Olive Dunbar) has her suspicions that something is not quite right, which keeps everyone on their toes. Throughout the run, ‘Big John’ unsuccessfully tries to find a cure for his situation, but in a trade for this failure his double life as ‘Little John’ does give him an insight into the thinking of his students.

Besides Edelman and Bulifant, who were famous before this series was made, Kristoff St John (Homer, one of the students) went on to play both Adam Marshall on Generations and Neil Winters on The Young and the Restless. Even Rist had previous experience on the telly, having worked on Schwartz's The Brady Bunch during its final 1973-4 season, playing Cousin Oliver.

For those into the Cineology of facts embedded in fiction, the episode that there should be a lot of interest in is “Big Shot / Little Shot”. This is a story with two main plot themes – one is an upcoming fancy dress party, the other is that the school is due to take part in a MANDATORY flu vaccination programme.  There is no mention of parental consent being required, and the in-your-face message is that you must get vaccinated in order to stop a flu pandemic. Indeed, BOTH ‘Big’ AND ‘Little’ John end up getting a jab, but not with ‘hilarious consequences’.

Given that there was a huge drive Stateside in 1976 to get everyone vaccinated, in order to stop an anticipated ‘swine flu’ epidemic that never happened, this DVD release becomes very timely. It realises the propaganda pressure that children and parents were under at the time.  Certainly, the UK children who saw this episode had the message laser-etched into their memories even up to today, and we are seeing much the same ourselves once more with the new ‘Swine Flu’ hysteria being played out in the mainstream media.

Unfortunately, back in 1976 the vaccines proved to be more dangerous than the flu strain (thousands were harmed or killed from the vaccine, while only ONE death was attributed to the Swine Flu itself – Private Lewis at Fort Dix - which was the incident which started the hysteria) – you can find out more at this YouTube clip here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7oL7wdQqKQ


With the fact that the ‘Swine Flu’ vaccine is being let out to the UK population this winter, with testing of the strain lasting JUST FIVE DAYS, this is one of the reasons why so many people are wary of having this ‘new’ flu shot, and perhaps may stand a better chance of survival by taking their chances without it.

Meanwhile, back to the DVD release - aside from all 13 Original 24 minute episodes, now fully restored to their former glory we also have on the discs:

  • Original Stills Gallery;
  • Series Synopsis;
  • Episode Synopses; and
  • Motion Menus.

The British Region 2 edition is out now, which is a surprise as the American Region 1 release, which was due to be released before it, has now been put back Stateside to April 2010. With a running time of 312 minutes approx and a ‘PG’ certificate, this two disc set is from Fabulous Films, and has an RRP of £24.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com


Big John Little John – Episode Guide


Herb Edelman as Big John Martin

Robbie Rist as Little John Martin

Joyce Bulifant as Marjorie Martin

Mike Darnell as Ricky Martin

Olive Dunbar as Miss Bertha Bottomly

Kristoff St John as Homer

Cari Anne Warder as Valerie

Stephen Cassidy as Stanley


1. A Sizeable Problem

John Martin stumbles upon the legendary fountain of youth. Willing to test the waters, John sips a handful of the elixir. The consequences are unexpected, as he begins to revert to his childhood at unhelpful times, causing him a lot of difficult situations.

Original US Transmission: 11 September 1976


2. Peter Panic

John has a dilemma – he is going to have to find a way to take two parts in the school pantomime as he has been cast in two roles; firstly Captain Hook - played by ‘Big’ John, and then Peter Pan – played by ‘Little’ John! Time for a “Peter Panic”!

Original US Transmission: 18 September 1976


3. Very Little John

John tries a new formula in the laboratory that may cure him from his untimely conversions – unfortunately, it takes things in the opposite direction, back to his beginnings.

Original US Transmission: 25 September 1976


4. The Great Escape

‘Big’ John is detained on the freeway, when a sheriff demands his ID and he cannot produce it – he has forgotten his drivers’ licence and all his identification. He gets his freedom when he undergoes a metamorphosis whilst incarcerated – but it’s hard to explain his ‘Little’ problem to the police.

Original US Transmission: 2 October 1976


5. Big Scare, Little Scare

‘Big’ John has asked Mr Boswell, Stanley’s dad, to account for his son’s absence from class for the last five days. Boswell Sr explains that the boy is afraid of crossing in front of the Crabtree mansion, an abandoned house that neighbours believe to be haunted. John decides to find out more about the Crabtree ghost.

Original US Transmission: 9 October 1976


6. Big Shot / Little Shot

When it's vaccination day at the school, ‘Big’ John makes way for his ‘Little’ alter-ego, and he gets vaccinated twice. Meanwhile, there are problems with a costume party – should John be the rear end of a horse, or something more ‘knightly’ … King Arthur perchance?

Original US Transmission: 16 October 1976


7. Time For Change

Has ‘Big’ John finally found a cure for the problem created by the Fountain of Youth? He decides to announce his discovery to the world, with ‘fantastic’ results!

Original US Transmission: 23 October 1976


8. The Principal Who Came To Dinner

It’s always a problem going through the constant changes, but now ‘Big’ John's voice is in ‘Little’ John's body. This puts not only Mr Martin in a squeeze but his family as well.

Original US Transmission: 30 October 1976


9. Bully For You

Stanley is again late for the class. Mr Martin is speaking to his students about the importance of facing up bullies. This leads to trouble for ‘Little’ John when he is threatened by the class bully, Gasey.

Original US Transmission: 6 November 1976


10. Off The Wall

‘Big’ John is assigned to find who's behind the vandalism appearing on the school walls, but it’s ‘Little’ John who ends up getting blamed. Mr Martin is invited to join the school basketball team, since he was once a ‘hero’ for his own school team in his early days.

Original US Transmission: 13 November 1976


11. The Missing John

‘Little’ John receives a dressing-down for having unwillingly played a practical joke on the school principal, Miss Bottomly. Will he be expelled? When ‘Little’ changes to ‘Big’ John, Bottomly thinks ‘Little’ John has run away, so hires a private detective to investigate. Could this be the end for both ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ John when their fingerprints are compared?

Original US Transmission: 20 November 1976


12. Speak For Yourself, John

Marjorie volunteers to build a great big Plymouth Rock for the school’s Thanksgiving dance – but getting the rock out of the house proves a problem. Even Miss Bottomly is looking forward to the big dance – this is definitely NOT what the well-dressed pilgrim will wear. Bottomly proposes that Mr Martin be one of the chaperones.

Original US Transmission: 27 November 1976


13. Abracadabra

In order to arrange a show for the annual school party, Homer, one of Martin's students prepares a set of magic tricks. Unfortunately, he thinks he is responsible for ‘Big’ John changing into ‘Little’ John in his magic cabinet! Homer has magic in his blood – his uncle is the great Magiconi, who is left in wonder when ‘Little’ John changes into ‘Big’ John as part of the magic act.

Original US Transmission: 4 December 1976

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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