Chips' Comic is yet another pre-school series that seemed ubiquitous throughout my early childhood and appears to have vanished without trace ever since - so much so that, if not for the odd recording on my family's collection of old VHS tapes or the existence of the item that I'm going to discuss in this particular entry, I'm not sure if I'd be totally convinced that I didn't just dream the whole damned thing. Fortunately, this website provides a fair bit of information on the series, thus confirming that I'm not the only person out there who harbours any memories of it at all.
Chips' Comic first aired on Channel 4 in 1983 and was one of the channel's earliest attempts at creating a series for children (a market not typically regarded as their forte, although Pob is still fairly well-remembered). It followed the efforts of three comic book editors, two human (Inky, played by Gordon Griffin and Elsa, played by Elsa O'Toole) and one canine (Rover, played by Andrew Secombe, who later went on to voice Watto in the Star Wars prequels) to assemble a weekly comic, which was then fed into and published by an intelligent computer named Chips. The big gimmick of the series was that the comic book in question was not, in fact, fictitious - you could actually go out and purchase a copy at your local newsagents. With hindsight, I'm amazed that I could apparently ever stand Rover - his doggy costume makes the adult skin I live in crawl.
Child of the 1980s speculates that the show was pretty short-lived (its dependence upon the existence of an actual "Chips' Comic", while ambitious, was alas not very practical in the main), although Channel 4 were definitely still airing episodes in the late 80s when I started forming my own TV-related memories (repeats, I presume?). As for the tie-in comic, I have no personal recollections of ever reading it, but my dad has confirmed that we did indeed buy it, which I'm guessing is how we ended up with a copy of the Chips' Comic audio cassette, featuring songs from the series. The cassette inlay states that they are, specifically, songs from the second series (broadcast in 1984), so I can confirm that the show did indeed last for more than a single series. It's a shame that my family apparently didn't hang onto the comics themselves, given that they've become such an obscurity, but just having the audio cassette, and thus something that I can hold in my hands as a physical reminder that, yes, this series was in fact a thing, is precious enough.
The user comments on the Child of the 1980s page appear to confirm my suspicion that this cassette was given away exclusively as a comic book freebie. As such I'm going to assume that audio cassette is the only format it was ever available in (to my knowledge, there was never a Chips' Comic LP). The comments left by series writer and co-producer David Wood, which provide some interesting insights into the creation of the show, state that there are actually TWO Chips' Comic audio cassettes in existence, so if anyone can point me in the direction of the one NOT featured here, I would be greatly appreciative. Searching for "Chips' Comic" on ebay is, unfortunately, a total chore, as it means having to scroll through pages and pages of listings for editions of Fleetway's Whizzer and Chips, typically to find to nothing related to the Channel 4 series at all - like I say, it appears to have vanished without all trace.
The music was produced, arranged and composed by Peter Hope and Juliet Lawson. Contents of the cassette are as follows:
1. Chips' Comic Title - A few computer bleeps, a couple of cries of "Chips' Comic!" from an enthusiastic group of kids (all of whom must be pushing forty by now - now that's a scary thought), and away we go. "Chips' Comic, everything you need to know! Chips' Comic, step inside and see the show! Chips' Comic, clap your hands and here we go! Let's turn the pages now, let's have some fun! It's Chips' Comic, for everyone!" The theme song rounds things off by breaking into this chipper little ragtime coda.
2. Keep Moving - "How to do you get from A to B? How do you get from you to me? Fast or slow, and easily? Keep moving, keep moving, keep everywhere!" A song dedicated to listing off various modes of transport, and which of these would be the most applicable to a given situation. Bicycles get completely snubbed, as do ferries.
3. Air - "What makes the windmills keep turning around? What takes the pretty kites high off the ground? What sails the boats without making a sound? They go drifting so gently past me." A high proportion of songs in this collection seem geared toward encouraging children to consider fundamental aspects of life that they might otherwise be inclined to take for granted, in this case one of the most fundamental of them all, air ("though you can't see it, it's there"). Appropriately light and uplifting, and at times even a little haunting.
4. Underground - "It may seem rather strange, but all these pipes and drains, they keep the water flowing through, it's my job to maintain. Do you ever stop to think, next time you have a drink, there's someone checking all is well, beneath the kitchen sink? I am the water worker who is seldom ever seen, I am the water worker, I help keep the water clean!" Ah, now I did recall that there was at least one track on this album that always made me feel a trifle uneasy as a kid, and this was most definitely it. The intentions are certainly noble - children are being asked to ponder the various people who work underground for the benefit of those up above, and to consider the wide network of largely unseen wires and workers upon which their daily life depends (in addition to the aforementioned water worker, other examples cited include a tube driver and a coal miner) - and yet the song's rather sombre, claustrophobic tones make the whole notion seem a tad sinister. They certainly didn't succeed at making any of those underground working environments sound particularly attractive, whether or not that was the intention. That being said, the song's murky, claustrophobic qualities are what make it appealing to me now as an adult.
Arguably, the verses about the coal miner make this the single most dated song on the album, given the decline of the British coal industry and the subsequent lack of any remaining deep coal pits in the UK. I'm also very conscious of the fact that, if this song was first broadcast in 1984, then odds are it would have debuted during the UK miners' strike of 1984-1985.
5. Seaside Song - "What are we gonna do today, come with us and get away, isn't it great to be beside the seaside? Walking down the promenade, fish and chips and lemonade, see what we can see beside the sea?" A ditty in the style of a British music hall number, and one which consciously recalls John A. Glover-Kind's "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside". A celebration of the traditional British seaside holiday - the sea's much too cold to swim in and it usually rains, but you can always kill time at the amusement hall.
6. Fireworks - "Rockets rocketing overhead, bursting over the trees! Come and see the fireworks in the sky!" A bit of safety advice works its way in ("stand well back we're told"), but overall this is just a song about fireworks and how unabashedly awesome they are, with various whizzes, crackles and fizzes thrown in for good measure. This is a particularly infectious track, and I find it hard not to get sucked in by its energy. It's another somewhat dated one, thanks to that reference to "indoor fireworks" (my family never used them - were they any good at all?), although a quick google search reveals that they apparently are still available, now being marketed under the "retro" banner.
1. Rover's Song - "He's a dog, though you'd never know, he could be your best friend. You can be a super spy, with Rover's roving eye, with Rover's roving eye." This was from a segment of the programme called "Rover's Report" (thanks to Child of the 1980s for jogging my memory on this one) in which the creepy old canine would head out on a quad bike to conduct field research for Chips' Comic (incognito, as the song implies). The only non-Griffin or O'Toole track on the album, this one was performed by Martin Jay. Also, "roving eye" strikes me as a rather curious expression to show up in a song aimed at children, even in the interests of a cute bit of name-based wordplay.
2. Down With Dirt - "Musty, dusty, rusty, crusty, muck and yuck are everywhere. Slippy, slimy, oh-so-grimy, dirty dirt is always there." A deliberately skin-crawling song about the evils of dirt and the joys of eliminating it. A real good one to get your kids to sing if you want to them to grow up to be a mysophobe.
3. Night Time - "When the curtains have been drawn, ever wonder goes on? Ask yourself while lying there, is there anyone awake out there?" A lovely, strangely wistful song about people in various professions who work night shifts. As with "Underground", the intention seems to be to prompt children to consider the extensive network of human activity upon which day-to-day (or night-to-night) life depends, but it doesn't share the somewhat sinister overtones of that song. Instead, there's a distinctly melancholic tone to this one which seems to point toward the inevitable alienation that comes from leading such tightly connected and yet largely impersonal lives. I suspect that gentle and soothing was what they were mainly going for (rest easy, because there are multiple people out there working tirelessly for you), but beautifully sad and haunting is what came out. This track was always my favourite as a kid, and my adult self sees little reason to argue with that.
4. It's a Colourful World - "What if there was only black and white? What if there was only dark and light? I'd mix some paint and I'd colour it bright. It's a colourful, colourful world, oh yes, it's a colourful, colourful world." Bit of an art lesson mixed in here (blue and yellow paint = green, white and red = pink), but mostly it's another "don't take things for granted" song, this one centering around how much more attractive the world is thanks to the human ability to see in colour.
5. Keep Fit - "You'll be amazed how much better you'll feel, get up and go, keep yourself fit! Move to the music, move to the beat! If you keep fit, you'll like it, you'll feel better if you keep fit!" Workout records and videos were a thing in the 1980s, and Chips' Comic got on board the bandwagon with this appropriately energetic number about the virtues of jogging and aerobics. Let's get physical!
6. Happy Christmas Mr. Snowman - "It would be fun if you could stay forever, but we know that can't be. And so we make sure we remember you, take you a photograph of you with me." Doubtless that this one would be handled slightly differently today, as I can't see them being so specific about which religious/cultural holiday they're imposing on their snowman friend. That aside, it's an ostensibly merry number with some surprisingly sad undertones, a celebration of something which the song openly acknowledges isn't going to last, but the memories of which can always be preserved in some form.
Hopefully, by carefully describing the contents of this audio cassette, I've been able to do something of that nature for Chips' Comic. On the basis of this cassette alone, it seems a great shame that this series never found its place upon the nostalgia map, because there's some really charming stuff therein. Riding against it, I suspect, were its unwieldy central gimmick (it revolved so heavily around the publication of the actual "Chips' Comic" that it was hard to show the series out of context of this, as David Wood acknowledges in his comments on Child of the 1980s) and the fact that it came from Channel 4, a channel which never became massively committed to children's programming (although again, people still seem to remember that monkey show they did). If you were a child living in the UK in the 1980s and wish to dig up a few distant memories, then this cassette is certainly a worthwhile listen, although good luck actually finding a copy. And if I ever come across something as exciting as a copy of the comic itself, you can be sure that you'll be hearing about it on here.