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Those of you who grew up in the UK around the same time as I did will surely remember this fun BBC series, shown on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. It concerns the adventures of seven kids whose den is a disused double decker bus somewhere near Watford (actually of course Elstree studios). Here are the absurdly catchy opening titles:



Here Come The Double Deckers may not be Great Art, but I think that it is overdue for an episode-by-episode analysis of the kind we've seen for many cult shows. (An interesting coincidence - 17 episodes were made in total; the same number as The Prisoner.) I can't pretend to follow the likes of Tat Wood, let alone Philip Sandifer, but this is a first step towards reclaiming this show.

Each of the episodes used to be individually available on Youtube; alas, they have been taken down, but it's pretty easy to get hold of on DVD and by other means. Each episode is only 20 minutes long. Give it a try; you may be surprised how much you like it.

Episode 1: Tiger Takes Off
First shown: 12 September 1970 (US), 1 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Glyn Jones and Harry Booth
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner

Plot

This is the one everyone remembers: Brains designs a hovercraft, and Tiger accidentally gets inside it and switches it on, giving rise to hilarious chase scenes through studio sets and carefully selected streets.

Glorious moments

  • The opening scenes where Brains enters the den by a complex locking mechanism.
  • The other complex mechanism by which Brains moves a bit of paper to the top of a flight of steps which he then climbs himself.
  • Tiger: "What's 'decorum'?"
    Scooper: "Whatever it is, this meeting hasn't got it."
  • The slapstick of assembling the hovercraft, with the kids actually holding still for the sequence of snapshots at the end rather than using freeze frames or, god help us, actual photographs.
  • The chase is really well put together (if just a little repetitive, but come on, it doesn't last all that long).
  • The classic line is when the rest of the gang have established communication with Tiger and are trying to help her tell right from left:
    Brains (reminding Tiger which is her right hand): "The hand you hold your spoon in..."
    Tiger (indignantly): "I haven't got a spoon!"
    (One of the best lines in the entire series.)
Less glorious moments

Doughnut is fat. It's funny, you see. (More of this to come, I'm afraid.)

Billie ends up nursing the boys at the end. (Though this is because she was sensible enough not to go into the water.)

What's all this then?

The hovercraft was cutting-edge technology, not to mention a triumph of British engineering, when this was made - the first commercial services across the Channel had launched in 1968. Brains' real innovation is the fuel, which is rather lightly skipped over.

Lots of kids would have played at building a hovercraft and taking it for a ride. The plot, such as it is, is glorious wish fulfillment.

Where's that?

This episode has some of the most extensive location work of any, and thanks to David Noades we can identify most of it. As he comments, the shot of Doughnut feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square must have been very tricky (and presumably expensive) to set up, for not very much payoff. The libary is the Elstree library. Most of the hovercraft chase is in the Borehamwood Estate, and the pond at the end of that sequence is the duckpond in Letchmore Heath, which still looks much the same according to Google Maps.

Who's that?

Debbie Russ is the youngest of the regular cast, playing Tiger when she was only 10. This is one of her best episodes of the 17. It was her first filmed role; after Double Deckers she did a couple more in the early 1970s, but did not stay in acting. She is available for voiceover work.

Melvyn Hayes appears as Albert in 11 of the 17 episodes, and is also credited as dialogue coach for the kids. His first big TV role was as Edek in a 1957 production of Ian Serrailler's novel The Silver Sword, in which Barry Letts played his father and Fraser Hines the mysterious Jan. His first big film role was in 1957 as the young version of Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein; he also appeared as a sidekick to Cushing in 1960 in The Flesh and the Fiends, and then as Cliff Richard's sidekick in The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1963), the last of these also featuring a converted double-decker London bus. Hayes is the one in the hat; Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch also appears:


At the time Here Come The Double Deckers was made, he was married to Wendy Padbury, who had just finished her time as Zoe on Doctor Who. He is probably best known in the UK for his role as Bombardier 'Gloria' Beaumont in every episode of the 8 series of It Ain't Half Hot Mum, which ran from 1974 to 1981. He is still working, and turns 81 later this month.

See you next week...

...for The Case of the Missing Doughnut.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
uitlander
Jan. 2nd, 2016 05:59 pm (UTC)
One of the joys of growing up in an area of NW London very close to Elstree was that quite a lot of TV was filmed near where I lived. Gasp at the cognitive dissonance as the background view of Stanmore High Street seamlessly morphs into Colindale down the Edgware Road with barely a second to go. It put me in good stead for coping with Morse's geography of Oxford, and the mysterious temporary change of use of many well known shops. A bit like a real life version of Mr Benn.
nojay
Jan. 2nd, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
I've had the "Double Deckers" tune running through my mind for the past few weeks and wondering why... Only seventeen episodes? I thought there were more.
nwhyte
Jan. 3rd, 2016 01:25 pm (UTC)
Obviously you had a premonition that I was going to start this series of posts!
wwhyte
Jan. 3rd, 2016 03:53 am (UTC)
The junkyard setting seemed very reminiscent of Jupiter Jones's base in the Three Investigators series, which of course predates the Double Deckers by six years or so, though I certainly came across the Double Deckers first. Looking forward to the next installments!
nwhyte
Jan. 3rd, 2016 01:24 pm (UTC)
Interesting point. Here Come The Double Deckers was co-funded by ABC, so I'm sure that this was on their mind. The kids in the predecessor show, The Magnificent Six and ½, apparently had a van as their den; the Three Investigators had a trailer. There's also the obvious similarity that both the Three Investigators and the Double Deckers were based near film studios. The immediate inspiration for both Here Come The Double Deckers and The Magnificent Six and ½ was the Our Gang films of the 1920s and 1930s, but one can draw from many wells...
wwhyte
Jan. 4th, 2016 02:04 am (UTC)
I was also convinced that I'd come across the producer/director Roy Simpson before, but a bit of Googling leaves me thinking I was getting him confused with Tony Hancock's long-time writers (and also writers of Steptoe and Son) Roy Galton and Alan Simpson, whose names I've often seen in a similar font. Interesting trivia: Galton and Simpson met in a TB sanitorium in the early 50s and are both still alive.
trepkos
Jan. 10th, 2016 10:25 am (UTC)
I loved this as a kid - my friend Sarah used to come round and we'd watch it, eating chocolate biscuits!
djm4
Jan. 10th, 2016 10:34 am (UTC)
I remember watching these. Oddly, my brain always used to get the theme song and T. Rex's Get It On mixed up, which must say something about how it files music.

I'd remembered Melvyn Hayes, but had no idea that it had a young Peter Firth in it.
bohemiancoast
Jan. 18th, 2016 11:18 am (UTC)
I am not sure I'd thought of Double Deckers in 20 years until I saw your first post in this series, and am now reading back. I remember "not liking it much" but I think that's a false memory from later; like so many children's BBC shows, there were a few episodes repeated multiple times and I think I'd just seen them all rather often.

Despite the various stereotyping mis-steps, this show (1971!) features a fairly diverse bunch of kids.

I don't think the Trafalgar Square shot was as expensive or tricky as you think; getting a pigeon to sit on your head or fly into your hand was trivial with birdseed in 1971 (the problem would be having only one) and there are people in the back of the shot visibly looking at the camera.

Entire episode (dubbed into French, which matters remarkably little) -- http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xsot5y_super-l-autobus-a-imperial-1970-tigrette-au-volant_people

Most shocking for me -- repeated examples of throwing hot water over kids, either accidentally or deliberately. Definitely one for the "not found in 21st century kids' shows" list.

nwhyte
Jan. 18th, 2016 01:55 pm (UTC)
Hooray! About half of the episodes are available dubbed in French on Dailymotion. Fantastic!

Edited at 2016-01-18 02:41 pm (UTC)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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