”Anything can happen in the next 12 inches!”
The multichannel TV revolution which started in the 1980s with the launch of cable and satellite networks like Sky and BSB also saw a shift in the landscape of broadcast television as a whole. Viewers now had greater choice, freed from the confines of having just four terrestrial channels. Of course, a major issue which arose with now having all of these new networks was what to actually fill them with.
A longstanding joke when it came to BBC, ITV and Channel 4 was that the schedules always felt as if they were filled up with repeats, and so there was a continual clamour for new programming. It was a situation which wasn’t helped by the launch of daytime television in the mid-1980s, as a rather large part of the broadcast day for the BBC had generally consisted of pages from Ceefax, something which perhaps seems almost unbelievable in today’s current era of rolling 24/7 transmissions.
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The terrestrial channels were somewhat insulated from the impact, as they had the benefit of largely having in-house production teams and facilities at their disposal. For those new entrants and startups, however, they didn’t have that same infrastructure in place, nor any libraries of their own programmes which they could call on in order to plug those inevitable gaps in their schedules.
As a result, the mainstays were to quickly become imports and archival programming, depending upon their pitch in the broadcast marketplace. Suddenly, those shows which were previously being derided as a rerun now took on a whole new lease of life, as they were now being gathered together with an entirely new sense of purpose, instead of being randomly shoved in as a means to an end, with little thought to presentation or marketing.
Classic TV programming could now become a selling point for a channel, helped by a crossover mix of Baby Boomers and Generation X wanting to have the chance to see again the shows they grew up with. What was once a repeat now became part of what was a growing nostalgia boom, where pretty much anything old was new again. Home video had started to make inroads, but there wasn’t enough out on the market for purchase at that point in time.
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BSB’s Galaxy channel bought a lot of BBC archive material, even going to the extent of having a special Doctor Who weekend back in September 1990. UK Gold’s raison d’être on launch in 1992 was to present the best of the BBC with that of Thames Television. Another early adopter when it came to this type of programming was Bravo, which began promoting itself as “Timewarp Television”, capitalising on the growth of interest in what had begun to be associated with the description ‘cult TV’.
It was clearly a boom time for anything which picked up on the seeming craze for telly-related nostalgia, as the start of the ‘90s saw a music subgenre which came to be known as ‘Toytown techno’. Tracks such as ‘Summers Magic’ by Mark Summers (which featured the theme tune from The Magic Roundabout), ‘Charly’ by The Prodigy, Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treet’, and Urban Hype’s ‘A Trip To Trumpton’ had all used samples of children’s shows and public information films, mashing them up with dance beats, to create what became a reminiscence-fuelled rave experience.
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An earlier example of sampling classic TV was Pseudonym’s 1988 single ‘You Have The Right To Remain Silent’, which used excerpts from such diverse series as Top Cat, Mission: Impossible, Steptoe And Son, The Muppet Show, I Dream Of Jeannie, and The Twilight Zone. The same year also saw novelty tune ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’ by The Timelords (A.K.A. The KLF) reach No. 1 in the UK pop charts, mixing together music, speech and sound effect samples from Doctor Who with ‘Rock And Roll (Part Two)’ by Gary Glitter (hindsight is a wonderful thing).
Clearly, the time was right for there to be fusions of archive series and pop music. Enter one Gary Shoefield, a man with a plan. Shoefield has worked on various children’s TV shows, such as The Magic Roundabout and Pinky And Perky, with time also spent working for companies like ITV, Disney, EMI and PolyGram. He was also executive producer on the Ant & Dec comedy film Alien Autopsy, based on the faked Roswell alien autopsy footage being touted by Shoefield’s friend and business partner Ray Santilli.
Other unexpected credits in his career would include being responsible for launching the controversial psychic Derek Acorah on television, as well as spending a period of time managing Patrick McGoohan, the star of Danger Man and The Prisoner. More recently, Shoefield would end up being Director of Programming for Granada Sky Broadcasting, in which capacity he would be responsible for the success of the Men And Motors channel, as well as the programming on Granada Plus.
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Shoefield would appear to have recognised that there was an opportunity to revitalise some classic shows, in giving them a new twist for both the current generation and cult TV aficionados, by combining snippets and samples from the original programmes with modern dance beats. Under the blanket name FAB (which was the radio callsign from Thunderbirds), Shoefield set about assembling musical talent, in the form of producers and remixers, in order to put together an album called Power Themes 90.
He’d managed to licence a number of TV properties from the 1960s and 1970s, the majority of which were owned by ITC, a subsidiary of former ITV West Midlands franchisee ATV. ITC had been the company which made the glossy adventure series which it then sold all around the world, like the various Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet and live action shows; it had also been responsible for giving Jim Henson a major break by producing then distributing The Muppet Show internationally.
The ITC properties which Shoefield managed to obtain for inclusion in Power Themes 90 were the Anderson series Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, UFO and Space: 1999, as well as Department S, Jason King, The Prisoner, Danger Man, The Persuaders, and The Saint. He also did a separate deal with Weintraub Entertainment, the then-owners of the cult spy show The Avengers, for its use in the project.
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When it was completed, the biggest hit was the first track to be featured on the album, ‘Thunderbirds Are Go! (The Pressure Mix)’, which was credited to FAB featuring M.C. Parker; an accompanying music video featured the original Parker puppet dressed as a D.J., complete with gold chains and baseball cap, in new footage intercut with various clips from the original shows.
Although based chiefly around Thunderbirds, it also made use of some brief excerpts from both Captain Scarlet and Stingray as well. Interestingly, not all of the dialogue that was sampled from Thunderbirds was taken from broadcast episodes: the most frequently used source was ‘Introducing Thunderbirds’, one of three audio-only adventures released as a 7” mini-album; it was then subsequently turned into a proper episode in 2015, along with the other audio tales, for a project known as Thunderbirds 1965.
It also made use of one of the earlier Thunderbirds forays into the world of pop music, by wrapping up the track with dialogue taken from the 1965 novelty record ‘Parker, Well Done’. ‘Thunderbirds Are Go! (The Pressure Mix)’ managed to spend a total of eight weeks in the UK singles chart, and peaked at an impressive No. 5 on July 21st 1990. However, its success wasn’t matched by subsequent single releases – ‘The Prisoner – Free Man Mix’ (featuring MC Number 6) as well as ‘The Stingray Megamix’ (featuring Aqua Marina) got to chart positions 56 and 66 respectively.
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The album as a whole is a worthy experiment, bringing in a combination of different approaches. Some of the tracks – like ‘The Saint (Heroes And Villains Mix)’ (or “Villians”, as it was listed on some of the album’s listings), ‘The Persuaders (The Farewell Mix)’, and ‘Department S / Jason King (The Royal Mix)’ – are fairly faithful renditions of those shows’ title tracks, and don’t look to take liberties with the original arrangements.
Others, however, tend to go a bit more off-piste when it comes to their renderings, such as ‘Captain Scarlet – The Mysterons Rap’ and ‘Joe 90 (Main Man Mix)’, which do go for a much slower tempo, and end up feeling as though they have a less dynamic and more languid pace than the originals. Some of the best tracks on here are the ones like ‘The Stingray Megamix’ and ‘The Avengers – Peel The Reel’, which manage a near-perfect fusion of theme music with judicious selection of dialogue from each show, capturing the overall sense of fun.
Despite the relative success of the opening tune as a single, Power Themes 90 itself topped out at No. 53 in the album chart. It’s a pity that it wasn’t more of a hit, as it sadly put paid to any chances of a second album, with Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) rumoured as being one of the series in ITC’s stable under consideration to get a similar treatment. However, it was certainly a bold endeavour, and the album – while long since deleted – is worth tracking down, as it’s truly a welcome addition to the collections of any lovers of cult TV.