By Paul Fitzpatrick: London
We’re all creatures of habit and I think it starts at an early age.
I remember my after-school routine at Primary School, it consisted of having a snack and watching a bit of tv before attempting to do any homework and waiting for my Dad to get home from work to have my tea.
This was well before my Crossroads days mind, so Miss Diane was just a twinkle in my eye back then.
The after school viewing options were all targeted at primary school children although by this stage (Primary 3), Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men were getting a bit stale compared to Tom & Jerry which was shown a bit later
The post-school programmes I remember watching from this era were….
Watch with Mother – Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men, entry level stuff that was starting to get a bit tiresome.
Animal Magic – good old Johnny Morris and his hilarious talking animals
Vision On – Tony Hart and his art, we all thought he was a dull version of Rolf Harris, little did we know!
Crackerjack – on every Friday, my favourite! what you wouldn’t do for a Crackerjack pencil back then
This particular day didn’t seem much different to any other, in class we were learning our times-tables, I’d gagged on the lukewarm school milk and I’d walked home from school with my pals as normal looking for anything we could use as a football.
On getting home I’d given my Mum a hug as she served my daily aperitif and snack, orange Creamola Foam and a Lyons chocolate cup cake, and I was ready for some well deserved R & R after another hard day at the coal face.
As I settled down to watch my daily helping of kids tv I didn’t recognise the title on our black & white DER television screen – ‘Tales from Europe’…. maybe Johnny Morris had gone to a zoo in Bavaria or perhaps Tony Hart was going to sketch Caravaggio’s gruesome – ‘Salome with the head of John the Baptist’?
What followed was a lot more traumatising than the Caravaggio masterpiece.
This is my summary of the anguish that followed, so for any of you that forget the actual storyline of this gruesome fairy-tale, here it is, in all its macabre glory….
It all started off well enough with a fanfare and a handsome Prince on a horse.
He was on his way to a big castle to sweep a beautiful Princess off her feet and to ask for her hand in marriage – a classic start, this looked promising.
The Princess wasn’t for sweeping though, and it turned out she was a bit of a brat, cascading the pearls he had gifted her to the floor she demanded a grand gesture not expensive trinkets – “The Singing Ringing Tree – Bring it to me!”
The Kings court thought this was hilarious, she was sending the poor guy on a wild goose chase, but undeterred and in true fairy-tale fashion the Prince was determined to win her hand and off he went to fairyland to find the novelty tree.
So far so good, but then 10 minutes in, a dwarf appears, scuttling around, stalking the Prince and looking a bit menacing.
Now you have to remember, any experiences of small people in my young life up till now have been pretty positive, the fun-filled dwarves in Snow White, the playful munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, the vertically challenged Tom Thumb and all the little people at the annual pantomime.
And, not forgetting of course my favourite little fella – Jimmy Clitheroe, a 4ft 2in comic genius.
Charming little guys, the lot of them – so nothing to be scared of here.
But there was something instantly menacing about this guy, he didn’t appear very friendly, plus he had magical powers which was a bit disconcerting.
Jimmy Clitheroe was impressive, but he couldn’t turn a horse into a concrete statue by waving his hands.
The Prince, still smitten, makes a deal with the dwarf – if the dwarf gives him the tree he will ensure the Princess falls in love with him by sunset, enabling the tree to truly sing and ring.
If he doesn’t achieve this, he will gladly let the dwarf turn him into a bear, yes you read it correctly – A Bear!
And he actually volunteered this forfeit himself!
Not the brightest Prince – too much in-breeding obviously…
Off the Prince trots, back to the castle, tree in hand to present it to his betrothed, only she’s not very impressed, with either the tree (it’s not very special for a magic tree to be fair) or the fact that it’s not singing or ringing.
When Princey says it’s up to her to make the tree perform by showing him love, she goes full-blown Mariah Carey on his ass and kicks him out of the castle for a second time, in a tumultuous diva meltdown.
Being a fickle sort however she decides a few hours later she does actually want the tree after all and manipulates her father the King to go in search of it. (daughters twisting Dad’s round their little fingers – who’d have thought!)
By this point the handsome Prince has lost the forfeit and been turned into Yogi Bear by the dwarf who is now openly trolling the Prince, suggesting he should try courting the Princess as a bear.
Not best pleased ‘The Bear formerly known as Prince’ confronts the King when he comes to Fairyland to claim the tree for his brat of a daughter, and proposes a deal to him.
The King can take the tree back to the castle as long as the bear takes ownership of the first person the King meets when he gets there (oh I wonder who that will be???).
The King (another in-bred, surely) agrees.
The impatient Princess eager for his return sees her father coming back to the castle in the distance, shoves the footmen down the stairs, trips up her maid, kicks the dog out the way and guess what – is the first person there to greet her father, in order to get her tree.
To say she’s not best pleased to hear the deal Daddy made to get the tree is an understatement and she persuades him to send the Captain of the guard in her place, to kill the bear.
It’s a cunning plan except this bear is indeed smarter than the average bear, and now he’s really pissed off, so he visits the castle, kidnaps the princess, avec tree, and takes her back to Fairyland (which if you’re wondering is quite close to Anniesland).
Then for no reason other than to demonstrate Eastern Bloc special effects circa 1957, a giant goldfish appears in a lake and the Princess true to form acts all diva-like, enabling the dwarf to change her appearance to match her distasteful personality.
Bizarrely he gives her green hair, and she now looks like Billie Eilish.
Distraught at her appearance the Bear tells her she’ll need to change her ways to regain her beauty.
Stripped of her privilege and looks, she starts to become a nicer, more gracious person – she’s kind to animals, particularly the goldfish and a random giant reindeer who appears in a snowstorm and she’s even being nice to the bear now.
Through being charitable and thoughtful, the Princess magically regains her beauty and transforms into Holly Willoughby.
But just when things are looking up, she encounters the dwarf in person for the first time, and he’s pissed off that kindness and compassion are alive and well in his kingdom.
He tries to poison her mind against the bear, but to no avail, she professes her love for the bear formerly known as Prince.
Cue the singing ringing tree which is now singing and ringing to its little hearts content.
The dwarf ain’t having any of this though and duly creates a ring of fire around the tree, (sadly, without the accompanying Johnny Cash soundtrack).
Undeterred the Princess channels her inner Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and walks through the tinfoil, ahem flames, to embrace the tree, and by doing so, expels the dwarves’ powers, which in turn sends him plummeting underground (we’re assuming to the big fire).
All smiley and in love she duly jumps onto the back of the horse with the Prince who’s cast aside his bearish charms and now looks like Phillip Schofield and they ride off into the sunset together to host This Morning (except for Fridays).
Now as crazy as this all sounds, unless my Mum sneakily infused some magic mushrooms into my cupcake (and I wouldn’t rule it out, I used to be given whisky for toothache!) then that’s what went down, I know this to be true, because I have YouTube and Google.
It all sounds very silly so why did it traumatise so many of us?
Well like I said we were used to little people being charming and friendly so the fact that this little imp was so nasty, and evil was kind of a game changer.
Also, he had no ulterior motives, he was just f*cking with everyone for the sake of it and the irrationality of this was bemusing in a world where everything kind of happened for a reason.
The show lasted for 72 minutes but was serialised in 3 episodes to ensure that children everywhere had three sleepless weeks instead of just the one.
I can vividly remember being freaked out by the little guy, had he really been killed off like the Wicked Witch of the West, who had evaporated into a kale smoothie at the touch of water, or could he come back to torment us?
That’s what kept me awake, that’s what made me continually check my cupboards and under the bed, and up in the loft – that’s what gave me the frickin’ heebie-jeebies!
Like most of us I’ve watched thousands of hours of tv (the average in a lifetime is 78,000 hours apparently) and there are certain things you never forget –
Bowie’s first appearance on TOTP
The ending in The Sopranos
Basil thrashing the car in Fawlty Towers
Archie Gemmill’s goal v Holland in 1978
And I would have to add this show and the evil dwarf to the list as it’s been burned into my psyche since I saw it. 55 years ago.