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****Discovering Colourful Crazy town****
Thanks to my little boy's liking for dragging his daddy out of bed early, a few months back I discovered one of the real gems of the CBeebies collection , the wondrous community of Balamory. Then I discover that alas the powers that be have already pulled the plug on this colourful adventure land and they finally stopped making new episodes in April 2005 - but how could they do that with so many questions that desperately need answers - let me elaborate….
Essentially, the show is made up of a collection of larger than life and reasonably lovable characters who all live and work in the fictional Scottish fishing port of Balamory (I do believe it was filmed on location in the real-life village of Tobamory). There's a different story line every episode which threads together a selection of the cast members who clearly live in each others pockets. Conveniently they all live in distinctive coloured houses, and even tend to dress in the same colours as their houses, like some kind of chameleon tribute act. There's a nursery school teacher, a bus driver, a policeman, shop keepers, a painter and decorator, fitness and dance instructor and even a whacky inventor to ensure endless plot line possibilities. Throughout we're treated to some catchy sing-a-long tunes as the characters dance and prance their way through another exciting day.
Miss Hoolie, the young and smiley nursery teacher, kicks off every episode in bubbly fashion, setting the scene for the story about to unfold.
PC Plum, the community bobby is a genuine sort, a little timid and shy and occasionally clumsy but always meaning well.
Polly Pocket and Suzie Sweet, run the local sweet shop with built in café, Polly is always sorting things out and organised, Suzie is motherly and quite the chef, and together they make a great partnership
Spencer, the painter and decorator, appears to hail from the States, and also has a talent for musical instruments
Josie Jump is always full of energy, constantly organising and getting involved with activities for the nursery children
Archie, is an eccentric English laird, always coming up with new inventions up in his Castle
Edie McCreedie is the very independent well travelled and highly practical community bus driver
Basically every show starts with the aforementioned Miss Hoolie heading out of her house, before greeting the viewers. The first important detail to get out of the way is whether we are looking at a nursery day or a 'play day' (i.e. a weekend). Then she brings us right up to speed on the latest weather reports, before heading to her cupboard to hang up her coat - there's always an object in there which provides a link to the story about to unfold. If it's a typical nursery day, next thing we see is the arrival of the Edie's bus to drop the children off, and herein lies the first mystery - doesn't matter how many times you watch it, you never seem to get the same kids more than once - must be very unsettling for the kids with new faces every day!!
Next up, cue the arrival of one of the regular cast turning up unannounced at the Nursery , usually with some fairly basic trauma - my cousin Hamish is coming today and I need find a way to tie his shoes up
The theme tune itself is a very catchy ditty, sung by a chorus of school kids, and as it plays the viewer is whisked around the town looking at the various houses - it also features at the end, when all the characters give a cheery wave goodbye.
Then when the story gets underway we're treated to a high-octane calypso pondering the key question - which coloured house are we going to - tell me what do you think!
On top of that each character has their own particular imaginatively titled songs e.g. "Call on Edie, Edie McCreedie" or the unforgettable "I'm Archie, the inventor…" which they can trot out when the mood takes them.
****The Mickey Takers****
One of the funniest sketches I've seen in a long time appeared on the impressionists show Dead Ringers a while back- "CSI Balamory" - just imagine if you will the cheesy American hard hitting voiceover and you are right there with all its comic possibilities faced with the most terrifying of crimes- "och no ,looks like someone's stolen PC Plum's bicycle.." - check it out on you-tube when you get chance!!
As I mentioned right at the beginning, there's so much left hanging now that its no more….
First and foremost, there's palpable romantic tension between Miss Hoolie and PC Plum running all the way through it. He clearly adores her like some kind of lovesick puppy, they once actually shared a kiss at a friend's wedding, but they just never got beyond those fawning glances- did she like many of us suspect there was more to his visits to Archie's pink palace than met the eye - little wonder the actress who played her (Julie Wilson) went on to feature as a murder suspect in Taggart…
In fact come to think of it, how come every character seems to be unattached…
What has brought some of the characters to Balamory has also always vexed me - Spencer's journey from art and music loving american socialite to a tiny orange house in back of beyondsville has never been fully explored - I'm told they even swapped out the original Jose Jump in series 2…did they not think the kids would notice!!
And lastly, how on earth did Archie get planning permission for his giant pink erection?
Bringing back a wee bit of seriousness to the piece, I think that despite the over-the-top performances and implausible stories throughout, the format actually works pretty well and does a good job in conveying positive social messages, interaction, inclusion and learning through discovery. And for me its still way better than that mish mash of nonsense called ME TOO about Granny Murray or some such lady holding little ones under her spell while the parents go out to do all kinds of dodgy jobs like late night bus cleaning, all set in some ridiculously made up place called river city which seems to merge parts of Newcastle , Edinburgh and even the Gherkin from London into one strange community.
So I say, raise a toast to Balamory, and here's to the campest kaleidoscope of colourful characters ever seen on children's telly!!
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