Sunday, 9 November 2008

Shameless Nostalgia Corner - Sound Design in Stoppit & Tidyup

Have you ever sat through the perennial pub conversation-o-round that is "do you remember kids show X?"? Man, oh man they're annoying. Most of the time they're nothing more than deja-vu trip through previous near-identical conversations you've sat through many times before - an exercise in consensus-building, if you like, a do-it-yourself companion piece to all those "top 100" shows which spend so much time informing the viewer of television's great moments passed (the Blue Peter shitting elephant, all of Tiswas, Button Moon etc).

Nostalgia, in short. And though nostalgia has been around for over a hundred years (and it was better in the old days), more recent nostalgia is the worst of all, a cheap way of filling time with old news, numbed to the misery of the present.

So please, then, forgive me this self-inflicted gunshot in my own hypocritical foot for this post, which is about an animated children's series from the 1980s called Stoppit & Tidyup.

The cartoon was narrated by xenophobic national treasure Terry Wogan, and featured a cast of characters called things like Clean Your Teeth, Don't Do That and Eat Your Greens. Each episode centred around the two main characters Stoppit & Tidyup; Stoppit was the devilish, ill-behaved monster, the thorn in the side of Tidyup, the series' sensible, anti-litter moral compass. Each episode saw the two of them in the Land of Do As You're Told (listen, no-one said it was subtle) getting into various standard-but-nonstandard kiddy cartoon scrapes. You'd say it was surreal, if the term 'surreal' hadn't been devalued to the point of ridiculousness. Anyway, it was all quite a merry set of tales, with a kind of lilting, ironic tone throughout and the kind of gentle pacing which, it has to be said, you rarely see in kids TV 'these days'. Fun, as the saying goes, for kids and adults alike.

Far and beyond this however, the real revelation is the way the show sounds- the voices of all the characters (provided by the winningly-named Terry Brain) and the lo-fi, sometimes concrète-ish sound effects are all cheerfully jump-cut, giving the whole production a kind of freewheeling anarchic feel. And of course there's the theme tune, similar to an Art Of Noise cutup rhythm track, in that it's made up of essentially non-musical slices of information organised to somehow form something maddeningly catchy, and mildly addictive. Great stuffs.

Anyway, here's episode 1:

As you can tell, the plots were sketchy to say the least, but sonically - musically - there's plenty of slapdash beauty in each episode. Tidyup's foghorn voice is just lovely - awkward and full of a kind of melancholy, made funny by the animated character's bovine smile. Stoppit's frantic high-pitch squabbling is the perfect wordless distillation of A.D.D. mania, and the bees - oh, the bees! Isn't there something kind of sinister about the noise these two make, with their anuses for mouths and their blank, droning hovering? Brilliant. My suspicion is that Terry Brain made most of the character sounds using his mouth alone, and sped them up in his Atari ST or something.

All the episodes of S&T have been uploaded onto the ForeverNet by YouTube user SpeedoJoe, along with a music video from Finnish folk-metal band Korpiklaani (?!). Other notable (sound-wise) characters are Say Please, Don't Do That (who, like the bees, would sound great on a loop) and also the one-line cameo from the "squeaky old weed" in episode 2. check them out if you like.

Trawling for more stuff, I dug up this clip from Rolf's Cartoon Club, which features the creators of Stoppit & Tidyup showing how they animated some of the characters, and also their MIDI sound-editing software in action on the much more famous Trap Door (That's The Trap Door to you by the way), itself probably one of the 'most cited' works in any booze-fuelled kids telly round-up. That's another story though, and one I can't quite bring myself to go into. Look them up for yourself.

(Note that even Rolf's show has a pretty natty theme tune... but then Rolf has always been a slightly out-there musician).

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