This piece was, it’s fair to say, based on a fairly niche observation – that at the tail end of the BBC’s School Holiday Morning television schedules, which they crammed with all manner of otherwise pretty much unbroadcastable tedium in the desperate hope of getting up to the start of that day’s Wimbledon/Cricket coverage without necessitating any additional effort or expense, time would effectively appear to stand still through sheer boredom-propelled weight of lack of force. I was aware that it might not exactly strike a chord with an entire generation, but it didn’t even really strike a chord with whatever small number of viewers may have experienced the same sensation and it came and went without anyone ever really noticing. Which I’d like to blame on the use of the Why Don’t You…? gang as the lead image, but I really am just making excuses there.
Nonetheless, I’m incredibly fond of this – intentionally written in short burts in that exact same five minute limbo across a week, and published at that exact same time too, to no appreciable benefit but it was a fun experiment – and it had a considerable influence on the direction I would subsequently take with my writing. You can find an even more time-distortingly expanded version of this, with more background on the School Holidays and some of the more arcane references, in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Every day during the school summer holidays, at somewhere around 10:55am on BBC1, time would stand still.
This was, of course, the weird five minute limbo between what the TV schedules delineated as the ‘morning’ and the ‘afternoon’, when the initial crack of dawn exhiliaration at a lack of school and a couple of hours’ worth of mostly pretty good programming (and, let’s be honest about this, the BBC’s The Monkees/The All-New Pink Panther Show/Battle Of The Planets-heavy lineups were always preferable to ITV’s lazy slinging out of a ropey film and an even ropier imported ‘edutainment’ series like 3-2-1 Contact or Unicorn Tales) gave way to a realisation that an afternoon of mindless ennui and parental-instigated trudging around hardware stores would follow. Between those two extremes there existed an atemporal vacuum that seemed to stretch on into infinity.
Imagine, if you will, that time had been stopped by Hiro Nakamura right in the middle of the slowing-down-and-speeding-up bit of Time Has Come Today by The Chambers Brothers at the exact same moment that the mechanism of the Trumpton town clock was jammed by that paint pot, and amplify the effect tenfold, and you’re not even halfway there. It’s not even possible to use the scribbled-in-the-margin reference to those slow motion sequences in Doctor Who And The Time Monster, or indeed the gag about it making Rag Tag And Bobtail look like The Wizard Of Speed And Time stuck on fast forward, as that would give the impression that time still perceptively moved forwards during those nominal five minutes, which it most certainly did not. The accepted boundaries of chronometric physics were simply not interested in applying.
It was in this Galileo-averse gap in the schedules that the most banal, inconsequential and interminable animated series ever committed to celluloid would set up camp, and not so much refuse to leave as expand exponentially to fill the void. The worst offender of these by some considerable distance was C.P. And Qwikstitch, which depicted the cheaply rendered escapades of two miserable scrap-hewn R2D2 and C3PO emulants encountering the inevitable ‘problems a little like yours and mine’ whilst stranded on spare part-strewn planet Junkus Minor; literally a piss-poor imagination-free counterpart to Star Wars: Droids. In fact it’s quite possible that nothing ever actually happened in it at all, but so powerful and pervasive was the accompanying eradication of temporal awareness that there was no option but to watch. Even the act of changing the channel was too deeply rooted in established scientific frameworks to seem feasible. The Why Don’t You? Gang tried to warn us all to switch off our television sets and go out and do something less boring instead, they really did.
Eventually, after what seemed like whatever the equivalent of millennia are in a parareality with no use for gradations of time, normality would jolt back in with the brief and quickly faded out thrill of the Wimbledon/Cricket opening music. And yet even the phenomenon itself seemed to last for longer than it actually did; by 1986, with the rolling out of a structured BBC daytime service, and the associated move towards branded and strip-stranded children’s programming, that five minute black hole of time had all but collapsed in on itself under the combined onslaught of But First… This and the prototype version of The O-Zone with Andy Crane reading out the top ten in a leather jacket. The BBC did try to harness its reality-warping properties with daytime schedule staple Five To Eleven, which offered a five minute window for ‘reflection’ as bland actors read out bland poetry and some panpipe music played over a photo of a gorilla, but that simply made time appear to be moving very very slowly, not stopped completely. It just wasn’t the same thing at all.
Whether C.P. and Qwikstitch ever managed to find their way off Junkus Minor is something that, frankly, nobody knows nor cares about. But in a completely unintended sense, their adventures took them into a realm of scientific improbability that even present day Doctor Who would have had second thoughts about. Well, possibly.
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You can find an expanded version of this feature, with much more on the compelling tedium of eighties Holiday Morning television, in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
There’s more about Battle Of The Planets in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Rae Earl, which you can find here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.