When my daughters were young I exercised strict control over their television watching habits. They weren’t allowed to watch tv in the morning. They weren’t allowed to watch too much tv. And they weren’t allowed to watch certain types of programs at all. (I wasn’t censoring content, but quality – no game shows, no crummy soaps or sitcoms.) This is all quite ironic when I consider my own tv watching habits as a child growing up in the 1970s. My sisters and I watched television from the moment we got home from school, to the moment we went to bed. And on weekends we used to watch it all day (if we could get away with it).
I was ‘hooked’ on tv from an early age, watching Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men in my high chair. I graduated to Top of the Pops pretty quickly, then Dr Who and Thunderbirds. I loved Dr Who so much that when our tv broke down I spent a few days sulking. I liked cartoons too – Secret Squirrel, Atom Ant, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Lippy the Lion and so on.
In the mid-70s the big day for cartoons was Saturday. I used to get up around 7.00am and sit there in my pyjamas until midday watching one Hanna-Barbera show after another – Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Hong Kong Phooey, The Hair Bear Bunch, Funky Phantom, Josie and the Pussycats etc. I spent the rest of the day feeling sleepy and spaced out (but that didn’t stop me from sitting down later that afternoon to watch the Banana Splits or Cattanooga Cats).
Sometimes, it seems, my grasp on reality slipped. I’d watched an episode of The Impossibles (superheros disguised as pop stars), which featured a machine that transformed illustrations of animals and monsters from books into living, three-dimensional beings. I asked my father to make one of these machines. As he worked with metal in a large factory, I considered it quite a reasonable request. I thought he could just throw one together in his morning tea break. I pestered him about it for a few days then lost interest.
After school, my sisters and I watched all the American sitcoms – Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, The Munsters, Bewitched, McHale’s Navy. These shows seemed to repeat endlessly throughout the 70s. Then, in about 1975, Happy Days appeared and instantly became everyone’s favourite show. Of course, like every other kid, I wanted to be The Fonz (although I didn’t even have enough ‘cool’ to be Richie Cunningham).
If we were especially lucky we got to stay up late and see the ‘adult’ dramas like Streets of San Franciso, Police Woman or Starsky and Hutch. My sisters and I had a theory that if we were really, really quiet and sat very still, Mum and Dad would forget we were there and let us watch television until the stations closed down for the night. It rarely worked. However, during school holidays we were allowed to stay up all night and watch the Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges marathons, even though we invariably fell asleep well before the end of the second movie.
But my number one, absolute favourite show on tv was Lost in Space. There was something about the dull adventures of the hapless Robinson family that I found captivating. Was it the tacky sets and costumes? The silly characters and storylines? The endlessly annoying Dr Smith?
When colour television was introduced in Australia – some time in the mid 70s – my best friend and I stood outside Radio Rentals in the local shopping centre so we could watch Lost in Space in colour for the first time. We bought hot dogs and drinks, and made ourselves comfortable on the grubby floor of the mall. Soon there were a dozen or so kids sitting with us, cheering on the Robinsons as they fumbled their way around another papier-mache planet.
It was a thrilling moment.