There are moments when Marty Whelan’s Lyric FM breakfast show slips from the bizarre to the plain surreal. What other classical music station has a discussion of the names of the characters in Thunderbirds? Having identified all the forenames of the Tracy family, attention moved to Lady Penelope. Apparently, FAB meant ‘fully advised and briefed’ and Parker’s bother was called ‘Nosey’, though I had doubts about the latter. Someone texted into the programme asserting that Lady Penelope was in ‘Catch the Pigeon’, to which Marty responded ‘that wasn’t Lady Penelope, that was Penelope Pitstop from the ‘Wacky Races’.
What Marty Whelan played after that exchange is gone from the memory. There followed moments of reverie spent trying to recall all the racers in the ‘Wacky Races’. There was Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect (was that his name?). There were the guys in uniform driving the Army Surplus Special; the hillbilly type driving the Arkansas thingy; the Anthill Mob, who were small gangsters whose car was propelled by them running; the man in a flying machine (no recall whatsoever of his name) and Dick Dastardly (why was his car double zero?). Maybe there were others as well, but they have disappeared from the memory.
What was surprising was the power of those programmes to remain so fresh in the memory. A colleague was recalling the UTV programme ‘Romper Room’ a couple of days ago. It elicited a collection of reminiscences about the presenter saying she could see various people through the television screen.
Maybe the programmes were no so great, maybe it was simply a matter that there was nothing else to watch. There was the BBC and ITV and children’s programming ran for no more than an hour and a half. There is a community of memory, a shared recollection of the same programmes.
Audiences now are fragmented across a dozen or so channels that show nothing but children’s television. Cartoons were a treat forty years ago, you had to watch improving programmes like ‘Blue Peter’, ‘Magpie’ and ‘How’ in order to now catch twenty minutes of ‘Scooby Doo’ or the ‘Wacky Races’ or ‘Catch the Pigeon; now there are channels that show only cartoons.
It would have been a delight all those years ago to have been able to tune into a cartoon at any moment we chose, but, in forty years time, will Marty Whelan be able to discuss with his listeners in which programme Penelope Pitstop appeared?