If you are of a certain age, mere mention of Here Come the Double Deckers will bring a warm nostalgic glow, as you remember the infectious theme tune and wacky adventures of the gang. If you are younger – born, say, after 1975 – you might be scratching your head in confusion. But hey, you’ve come this far, so stick with us…
Here Come the Double Deckers was first aired in the UK in 1971, and follows the adventures of a bunch of kids who have their ‘den’ aboard an abandoned London bus that is stored in an equally abandoned scrapyard. Here, they set out to have fun, often ending up having assorted mishaps along the way. These usually involve a mad scheme that goes wrong, a misunderstanding or an attempt to help out somebody, although some later episodes are little more than set-ups for variety acts (such as Man’s Best Friend, which starts out with the gang trying to buy a Guide Dog for the Blind before becoming a pastiche / rip-off of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In). The only adult involved is street cleaner Albert (Melvyn Hayes), who would probably be arrested today for hanging around with a bunch of kids in a derelict, fenced-off yard and sometimes taking them on unplanned trips! Parents are barely mentioned, and school doesn’t crop up until the final episode, making this a classic childhood fantasy, where authority has been swept aside, allowing you to build robots, set up shows for failed pop singers and shoot movies.
A British production financed with American money, the show is an odd hybrid – shot entirely on film, it looks much better than most British shows of the time, where videotape was used for all interiors, and the pacing and production values are also way above any other British kid’s show of the time. Stylistically, it’s a bit of a mash-up of The Monkees, The Banana Splits and the BBC’s youth show Why Don’t You..?, with ‘amusing’ sound effects, speeded up cameras and incongruous song-and-dance numbers popping up out of nowhere. Token American kid Sticks (Bruce Clark) is along to translate for the kids in the US (“two pounds – wow, five dollars” – the exchange rate was a lot better back then), but the rest of the cast are uncompromisingly English, and apart from the London bus of the title, there are few efforts to present a stereotyped UK for US viewers.
Some of the characters are rather stereotyped of course – the frightfully posh kid with glasses (Michael Audreson) is called Brains, while chubby Douglas Simmonds is Doughnut (a step up from Fatty I suppose). It’s a relief that token black kid Brinsley Forde – who went from here to form Aswad) is called Spring rather than something less PC. Forde wasn’t the only cast member to go on to bigger things as an adult – Peter Firth (as Scooper) would have a substantial career as an adult. It has to be said that pretty much all the kids give decent performances – sometimes slipping into irritating stage school smugness, but on the whole as believable as they can be given the wholly unbelievable situations they find themselves in. Guest stars include familiar TV favourites like Clive Dunn and Frank Thornton, as well as Jane Seymour (in a weird Alice in Wonderland fantasy story) and Robin Askwith as a go-carting biker!
Originally scheduled for 26 episodes, the series was cancelled by 20th Century Fox after 17. The show was popular on the BBC throughout the early 1970s, but had been long since removed from the children’s TV schedules by the end of the decade, and became increasingly forgotten as time went on, a somewhat anachronistic relic from a more innocent time. A DVD release a few years ago brought the show back for nostalgic viewers – whether it still speaks to younger viewers, more accustomed to a more synically smug sort of kid’s TV, is anyone’s guess.