After spending an entire decade as part of The Goodies, and before becoming Brittain's best loved bird watcher, Bill Oddie spend most of the 1980's hopping from one ITV children's program to another. Whether it was presenting the Saturday Banana, appearing as Doctor Dimple on Tickle on the Tum, or making a guest appearance on one of Rod Hull and Emu's Shows, Bill Oddie was everywhere. One of the funniest series he did during this period was "From the Top", written by himself and his wife Laura Beaumont, who incidentally met in the late seventies at a TV Times (the TV guide for ITV) Christmas party.
Beaumont got the idea for the series by reflecting on her own experiences at stage school, where mature students seemed to be relishing the chance to revert to childhood. Oddie starred as William Worthington, a well to do bank manager (a Profession Non Grata in children's stories ever since Mary Poppins), who always wanted to be a star. So, he enrolls in the only Theatre school that would have him, the down on it's luck Jolly Theatre School (it only housed 6 other students, and one of those was related to the headmistresses). Sisters Annie and Dolly Jolly (Moyra Fraser & Maggie Rennie) ran the school and could use the extra money a mature student such as William could cough up. Being four times as old as the other students. Worthington offered to pay four times the usual fee. William soon became best friends with another new student, Humphrey Kulumbebwe (Scott Sherrin), and enemy to small but strong class bully Wayne Layne (Michael Quill).
The other students were: tiny Janis Koplowitz (Catherine Holman), who was full of phobias, including a fear of being looked at by other people. Tall Joyce Torrington Hawksby (Erica Sheward) who wanted to be a ballet dancer, but would settle to be a policewoman if her first dream didn't pan out. Overweight Leslie Finsberg (Gavin Forward), who was practicing to become an agent rather than a star (though each time he took a puff at his big cigar he'd throw up). Finally there was the already hinted at Polly Jolly (Joiese Waller), daughter of Molly & Solly (brother of Annie & Dolly Jolly). Coming from a showbiz family, Molly was especially certain of young Polly's star-power. Solly meanwhile helped to finance his sisters's struggling school.
Each episode would feature a song written by the Oddies, ranging from an extended version of the theme tune in episode one, to fifties rock and roll, Country pastiche and a tribute to The Wizard of Oz in the first series finale. In that particular episode, William insisted on auditioning for the part of Dorothy, despite the fact that Polly Jolly always got the part (six years in a row). Unfortunately for him, when the big night and his moment to shine came at last, William found himself upstaged by his old mother. This first series was produced and directed by Mickey from the Monkees, known at the time by his professional name 'Michael Dolenz'. He had been forging a new career as a Television director in England for the past decade. However, after 'From the Top' finished, he was called back to the States for a Monkees reunion tour and never looked back. The second series was produced and directed by Paul Harrison. Both of them were repeated exactly once, as was the policy on Children's ITV at the time, never to be seen again.
9 out of 10
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