Most of us have been busy during COVID-19 with work and family. Fortunately, I recently found some spare time to revisit a few TV shows of my youth.
The inspiration came from three social media posts crafted by Ed Conroy. He’s a cultural historian who founded Retrontario in 2006 to “celebrate the neglected corners of Ontario’s rich televisual history; to put back into circulation material which rightly or wrongly had fallen into a black hole and was for all intents and purposes, lost.”
Retrontario started as a personal quest for VHS and Betamax tapes to help recreate the “golden era of TV broadcasting.” Aided by Conroy’s intellectual curiosity and insatiable desire to eliminate “fuzzy memories” about classic Ontario TV programs, it morphed into a popular website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Conroy’s expertise led to research projects and media appearances, which is how we met. He has an uncanny ability to recall classic shows I haven’t thought about in years, and introduce/reintroduce them to the general public.
Here’s what he mentioned in just a two-week span in August.
First, the Italian animated series La Linea (The Line). Created by cartoonist Osvaldo Cavandoli, it ran from 1971 to 1986 on networks like RAI, Radio-Canada and TVOntario – and was later featured on The Great Space Coaster. Ninety episodes were released, ranging between 2.5 and 6.5 minutes. There were two specials of a racier nature (1978’s Sexlinea and 1988’s Eros Linea), TV commercials, music videos and a comic strip.
La Linea centred on the hilarious misadventures of its titular character, originally known as Agostino Lagostina (during its brief association with the kitchenware manufacturer) and, more informally, Mr. Linea. He spoke in gibberish, with the occasional word in Italian and English. There was frequent interplay with the cartoonist, scenes with animals, playing sports like baseball, football and rugby, driving a car, going fishing, a brief excursion to ancient Egypt and briefly mimicking Napoleon Bonaparte. Most episodes included his mischievous laugh and often ended with him falling off the edge into the great beyond.
Second, the French animated educational series Once Upon a Time … Man. It was the first of a long-running franchise created by cartoonist Albert Barillé. (His other famous creation was a stop-motion adaptation of Les Adventures de Colargol, known as Jeremy the Bear in our neck of the woods.) There were 26 episodes in this 1978 series, ranging between 25 to 27 minutes. The show ran on TVO when I was young and aired on the U.S.-based History Channel in 1996.
Once Upon a Time … Man was an exceptionally fwell-done examination of capsulized world events. The goal was to make history fun for children, although some depictions and racial/religious profiles would be regarded today as fairly risqué.
The opening and closing scenes contained the glorious music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Topics included the Neanderthals, Vikings, Elizabethan England, the French Revolution, early America and a look into the future. The whimsical main characters, including Peter, Pierrette, Jumbo and the Maestro, appeared in every historical period as themselves – or, in rare cases, historical figures like Kublai Khan and Leonardo da Vinci.
Third, the Canadian children’s series The Adventures of Timothy Pilgrim. It was produced by TVO in 1975. Segments were taped in three Ontario cities: Toronto, Kleinburg and Rockton. Only 10 episodes of between 12 and 15 minutes were released, and it eventually appeared on educational channels like PBS.
The series focused on the orphaned shoeshine boy Timothy Pilgrim (Joey Davidson). He found a magic trunk, went back 100 years and met its original owner, travelling salesman/showman Zachariah Gibson (David Hemblen). They formed a true bond and friendship, in spite of Zachariah’s fear of getting too close to people. Other main characters including Timothy’s friends Wilma (Arlene Meadows), who owns a diner, and Ol’ Coop (Jack Mather), a cobbler, and the neighbourhood bully Barney (Paul Culliton), who always failed get $5 from Timothy for working “his” street corner.
Conroy was kind enough to share the 10-episode run of Timothy Pilgrim with me. It’s never been released on VHS or DVD/Blu-ray, and barely exists on YouTube. I picked up DVD sets of La Linea and the entire Once Upon a Time … Man series for my collection.
It’s been wonderful revisiting these programs. There were several episodes I’d never seen before, and little jokes and nuances I’d missed as a child. They brought back wonderful memories of laughing, learning and engaging with TV shows that people have gradually forgotten – but should always remember or, in some cases, discover for the first time.
As awful as COVID-19 has been, this will serve as a fond memory.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.