Growing up with SSVC puts me at something of a disadvantage compared with my peers on pop culture references. You might wonder why you’ve chosen to look at a blog reference on such a minority topic but it’s somewhat…problematical in waxing lyrical with friends. And if there’s one thing we oldies like to do, it’s get all hazy and nostalgic. Whilst in the UK, children (and adults, of course) had the choice of four channels to gawp at and bury themselves in, it’s us poor army-brat saps who only had one English language channel oh-so generously provided for by British Forces Broadcasting Service. And a radio station too, lest we forget.

What this meant was that BFBS/SSVC could only cherry pick television programmes from the four UK networks and blend them all together in one package and invariably it was heavily dominated towards the non-coms who seemed to enjoy a steady diet of sitcoms and trashy dramas. Children’s programming did occupy a disproportionate amount of the television schedule and that was one of SSVC’s boasts at the time, that they showed more hours of kids shows on a single channel basis than any of the other channels in the UK. Of course what they didn’t say then, and what we all came to quickly suspect was that more of the dum-dum squaddies (and in those days soldiers often joined the army as an alternative to prison – he said authoritatively) preferred Warner Brothers cartoons compared to Emmerdale Farm.

It may have been my coloured memory but I recalled that BBC 1 had the lions share of the scheduling followed by ITV. There were very few BBC2 or Channel 4 shows other than a couple of mainstays (Horizon, Countdown) – not that they were aimed at kids. But those kids programmes that were shown were more likely to be BBC programmes – Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Simon and the Witch, Johnny Briggs. We got the Pink Windmill Show (Rod Hull in case you’re scratching your head) and occasionally Dramarama. In fact, Grotbags became one of the guest presenters of the continuity slots and was quite popular, not least because she was someone we recognised and acknowledged there were hundreds and thousands of British children in Germany all but cut off from the mother country.

Children’s SSVC was a curious thing – there seemed to be more of an interactive, almost Swap Shop/Tiswas presence during the week compared with that CITV and CBBC were offering at the time with two presenters in a studio who’d read out birthday greetings live on air (and if you were lucky/cursed), they’d show your picture to much kudos and ribbing at school the next day. I had that done twice to me – the first time it was a slide; there wasn’t the technology available to show photographs properly on air or something like that so SSVC would send a technician to big family events on barracks and take pictures of the kids in the appropriate format which could then be sent in to the channel. And there was the staple of the live studio format – an puppet like object which interacted with the presenters. SSVC’s was a robot called BT429, so named because Children’s SSVC was aimed at children aimed “Between 4 to 9”. The robot was as tall as the female presenters and ‘spoke’ in a series of bleeps and bloops, almost as if someone ripped out the vocoder from a game of Simon and stuck it in the robot. It only seemed capable of passing out undecipherable comment (kinda like Artoo Deetoo’s uglier older brother) and swivelling its head. I don’t recall its arms ever moving and it certainly didn’t move from behind the desk where it was perched. I remember Debbie Flint (one of the presenters) making fun of its blue lips which the robot always seemed to get narked at for some daft reason.

I think it was about 1988 when Children’s SSVC received more of a professional remake where the continuity action was moved from what looked like a newsroom and to a studio more like the Broom-closet as on CBBC. The robot was canned, Frank Sidebottom occasionally made appearances and I remember there seemed to be a little bit of cash available for some home-brew programmes which coincided with a Christmas treasure hunt where the channel would hide jigsaw pieces in the continuity slots (not just on Children’s SSVC but throughout all programmes) and we’d get excited when we saw a piece on the Michael Fish’s weather slot and I think even on Blue Peter. Blue Peter had something of a relationship with the British Forces in Germany as we’d often contribute towards their Bring and Buy sales (often organised with schools and the wives of the officers) and once Caron Keating made an appearance during our Höhne one where she was instantly mobbed. Poor woman looked terrified but being almost a thousand miles away from Britain proper, we were seldom referenced and often overlooked as a group of…expats (for want of another word).

Things changed for us (as in my family) in about 1989 when our next-door neighbours went to the UK on an extended visit to family and they lent us their Sky dish and suddenly we had access to about thirty more channels including dedicated children’s channels (which showed mostly American cartoons but there was some British stuff) which we could lap up. But for the most part, the “damage” was done and shows that regular Brits had enjoyed were shown too…late to be watched and be cool. Then again, I used to love the “Great American Gameshows” hour on what was Lifestyle, especially those that used crude computer graphics.

What this sorta translated into for us was a greater outdoor childhood, not least because (in Höhne) we lived on base and so it was safer for us to go out and wander far from home because there were only soldiers, auxiliaries and their families, no other civilians. So we were encouraged to play out late (bad parenting?) and had a greater degree of freedom compared with what contemporaries had in Britain. I’ve already written about the ‘private forest’ we enjoyed and all that so I won’t revisit that topic. I’m no longer friends or in contact with anyone from Montgomery Primary School or Oxford Primary School although Kerry Barrett has contacted me a couple of times through friendsreuinted and I occasionally Google-stalk a couple of people (at least if I can remember their names) but as I remain stubborn in my refusal to sign up to Facebook and Google Plus, I guess I shall be the “oh yeah, what happened to him” in conversations/reunions.

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