Excuse the imagery in this post. I’m about to discuss a show that is 27 years old and the screen grabs are as good as it’s going to get I’m afraid.
As previously mentioned on It’s A Stampede!, I recently started re-watching episodes of Saturday morning TV show, What’s Up Doc?. Every episode of the show is currently available to view on YouTube, and over the course of numerous weeks, I have revisited the once mighty TV series to see if it was as good as I remembered.
I initially started re-watching What’s Up Doc? on a weekly basis, one episode every Saturday morning – the same way the show originally aired. However, as time went on and the show hit peaks and troughs, I started watching more episodes – a couple here, a few there.
I’ve now finished my journey, having sat through all 101 episodes. It was a heck of a journey, which at times gave me a huge shot of nostalgia (yay), as well as a big dose of sadness (boo).
I witnessed the show go from being the No.1 Saturday morning kids programme of the early ’90s, to a series that was a shadow of its former self. I’ll talk about that in a moment, but for those unfamiliar with What’s Up Doc?, here’s a quick rundown.
What’s Up Doc? in a nutshell
What’s Up Doc? was a Saturday morning entertainment show which aired on ITV between September 1992 and April 1995. Produced by TVS, then later STV, the show was initially presented by Andy Crane, Pat Sharp and Yvette Fielding and included a mix of sketches, celebrity guests, competitions and cartoons (Batman: The Animated Series, Tazmania, and Animaniacs).
In addition to the main presenters, the show featured a huge cast of ‘comedy characters’, some of which were puppets. The most notable characters included Simon Perry, Colin, Bro and Bro, Gaston, Pasty, Naughty Torty, Baljit, Billy Box, and Frank Sidebottom.
To best describe What’s Up Doc? during its early years, it was like watching a live-action cartoon. It didn’t always make sense, but it was loud, colourful and a whole heap of fun.
What’s Up Doc? during its latter years, was a completely different affair. It wasn’t bad, but it had completely lost its unique spark and was just a generic kids show.
Season by season with What’s Up Doc?
OK, let’s get started…
Series 1 (1992 – 1993)
After a couple of ‘bedding in’ episodes to perfect the format and characters, What’s Up Doc? soon found its groove, offering young audiences a fun and anarchic two-hours of television unlike anything else. The show brought comedy and chaos to Saturday mornings and it was a curious series to watch, clearly becoming more confident with each passing week.
As well as confidence, the show also became more risqué, introducing some rather rambunctious characters to sit alongside the series regulars. It was during this first season that the show really pushed the boundaries of what could be broadcast on a Saturday morning.
I’ve previously published a post featuring some of the characters that appeared on What’s Up Doc?, but here are just a few.
Images: Simon Perry (top), Sam Sam (left) and Mr Spanky (right) and Bro and Bro (bottom).
While the characters, celebrity guests, live music and competitions were a big draw for What’s Up Doc?, it was the cartoons which really helped cement this as must see TV. Throughout the first series every episode included one Looney Tunes short (usually Bugs Bunny), one episode of Tazmania, and one episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
All in all, What’s Up Doc? Series 1 was great television. At times it was a little rough around the edges, but more often than not it was on fine form, hitting that thin line where children’s television can appeal to both kids and slightly bigger kids.
Series 2 (1993 – 1994)
This is the series of What’s Up Doc? where things began to go wrong. If you ever decide to revisit the show like I have, it happens halfway through the series, and once you see it happen you’ll realise the show has lost what made it special.
Let me explain.
When Series 2 began in September 1993 it was pretty much business as usual. The presenting team of Andy, Pat and Yvette were back in place and many of the background characters were all present and correct, including fan-favourite characters, Simon Perry, Bro & Bro, Colin, Billy Box and Pasty the worm.
Pasty had become so popular that he featured in a spoof ‘soap’ (The Undergrounders) and Bro and Bro (aka the Wolves) were now fronting a spin-off show called, Wolf It. Everything seemed grand and from September until Christmas ’93, What’s Up Doc? maintained it’s successful format, winning over audiences in the process.
At this point in the show’s run What’s Up Doc? had become the No.1 Saturday morning programme, outdoing what the competition were broadcasting on the other side (at this point, the BBC were airing the first series of Live & Kicking). But then things changed.
As 1993 slipped into 1994, a number of elements disappeared from the show, with the most notable being presenter Yvette Fielding.
Fielding fell pregnant following the conclusion of Series 1 and the beginning of Series 2, so was set to take maternity leave from January 1994 (roughly halfway through the second series). This was expected; her absence was discussed on the show and a plan was put in place to work around her leave.
However, what wasn’t expected was a mass exodus of many of the weird and wonderful characters that also left the show around the same time. Simon Perry, Pasty, Colin, Billy Box, Gaston, Naughty Torty and many others all left the series with little to no explanation.
Perry’s absence was briefly addressed in a blink and you’d miss it moment, but the other characters simply disappeared. One week they were there and the next they were gone.
So what happened?
The story goes like this:
Some of the humour of Series 1 was a little too near the knuckle for the parents of some viewers and they complained. The complaints concerned STV who were worried that Warner Bros. would get wind of the negative feedback and would pull their interest in the series.
The head of STV insisted the What’s Up Doc? showrunners make changes to the show, but allegedly they refused to change the format and instead said they would walk away in protest if the changes were enforced. Of course, those changes were enforced and the showrunners quit.
With the showrunners out, the majority of the cast followed suit and this effectively left Andy, Pat, Bro & Bro and Baljit to hold the fort.
Re-watching the show it felt very, very bizarre to have so many characters just disappear. Simon Perry’s departure was briefly mentioned, but the rest were simply ignored, as if they were never part of the show or it’s success.
The only hint that something was amiss was the cancellation of The Undergrounders. In one episode, Pasty made a comment that his mother had died, so the soap was abruptly cancelled and he and his family were no longer part of the show.
Many of the characters – specifically Pasty – helped fill in What’s Up Doc?‘s running time and without them it meant more screen time had to be devoted to the remaining cast. This meant more screen time for Baljit, who went from being a fun diversion here and there to being an annoyance.
This also led to the eventual creation of ‘the twins’ – Baljit’s offspring. These two characters were brought in to fill in even more screen time.
Baljit’s twins were awful. Truly awful.
Anyway, with Fielding on maternity leave, a plan was put in place to welcome a series of ‘guest’ presenters to the show, to help Pat and Andy with presenting duties. Unfortunately the ‘guest’ presenters were very poor and it was clear the show was becoming very shaky.
Instead of drafting in experienced broadcasters who could easily handle a two-hour live show, the production team enlisted ‘celebrities’ with little-to-no presenting experience. The result? Each week the ‘guest’ presenter had to be propped up by Pat and Andy, almost to the point where it became pointless having these presenters on in the first place.
This was until the show was lucky enough to book former Children’s Ward actress, Janette Beverley as a ‘guest’ presenter. Beverley proved capable of handling the job and she was asked to stick around to cover the remainder of Fielding’s maternity leave.
Beverley was the one saving grace of What’s Up Doc?‘s ‘rocky’ second series. Had Fielding not returned, Beverley would have no doubt remained part of the presenting lineup.
Was Beverley rewarded for her decent stint on the show?
After doing a fair job, she came and went with barely any fanfare and was never mentioned again. Such a shame.
But it wasn’t just the presenting line-up that suffered from the changes at What’s Up Doc?, so too did the cartoons.
When What’s Up Doc? began it’s second series, the cartoon line-up from Series 1 remained in tact – a Looney Tunes short, an episode of Tazmania and an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. However, as the weeks progressed things got a little screwy, with cartoons being dropped, replaced and re-added to the line-up, often to incorporate Animaniacs – a new show for Series 2.
So, the presenters, the comedy characters and even the cartoons all went through a bumpy ride, surely that was enough for one series, right?
In addition to the above issues, What’s Up Doc? also introduced a new interactive computer game called Hugo the Troll. The idea was to allow audiences to call in to the show and play a game live on air in order to win prizes.
On-air gaming became very popular during the 1990s, so it made sense for Hugo the Troll to become part of What’s Up Doc?, but boy did it take up far too much screen time. Each week, countless minutes were devoted to talking about Hugo the Troll – from encouraging audiences to call in, to continuously explaining how to play the game.
I’m sure Hugo the Troll was very popular with those who played it, but the show focused on this game far too much and it became detrimental to the format. Unfortunately, this was something which would impact Series 3 too (more about that in a moment).
Before Series 2 came to an end, Yvette Fielding made a return to the show – having given birth to a baby boy. Fielding’s return was a much needed shot in the arm, but by this point the series had suffered from a great deal of disruption and What’s Up Doc? felt different. Perhaps too different.
Series 3 (1994 – 1995)
When I was a child, I distinctly remember watching the first episode of Series 3. I tuned in, sat through the series opener, felt completely disconnected from what was on screen and never returned to the series.
Between Series 2 and 3, the show moved studios from Maidstone to Glasgow and in the process shed yet more cast members. Don Austen and John Eccleston – the duo behind Bro and Bro – left the show, and were replaced by new puppeteers. Baljit also got a new puppeteer/voice actor and yep, you guessed it – more screen time.
During my recent re-watch of the show I could see quite clearly that during this third series, What’s Up Doc? struggled with its own identity and it was this identity crisis which really doomed the show. At times it wanted to appeal to the teen crowd, at other times the under tens.
If ever there was a sign the show was really struggling it was when the programme relied on that tried and test formula to entertain kids – gunge! The off-the-wall humour that had once made What’s Up Doc? special was now gone – washed away by buckets of goop which were wheeled out most week’s to make a mess of the studio.
There was also even more reliance on the interactive game, which by this point had morphed from Hugo the Troll into Joe Razz. The game was popular, but once again it became a huge focus of the programme, taking up lots of time and becoming very, very repetitive in the process.
Eventually the show did manage to find some sort of balance between the game, the characters and the gunge, but in doing so it became the thing it should never have become – generic.
And then things got worse.
After 21 episodes, Yvette Fielding left the presenting line-up. Actually, ‘left’ isn’t the right word – she just disappeared. Completely.
Fielding was part of the line-up until the end of episode 21, even making it clear she would appear on episode 22, but when that next episode aired she was nowhere to be seen.
Was her absence explained?
As episode 22 began, experienced broadcaster, Jenny Powell was brought in to work with Andy and Pat for the final 12 episodes. There was no discussion of why and Fielding was never mentioned again. The show never recovered.
So, what happened with Fielding?
I have no idea.
25 years on, I would LOVE to interview Yvette Fielding (and the rest of the What’s Up Doc? cast) to get the full story on the presenter’s departure. The way the change was handled was bizarre, suggesting something significant happened backstage.
I say this because of this potential bit of foreshadowing (see image below).
During the ninth episode, Fielding could be seen brandishing a placard which said “I can’t stand this job anymore.”
Maybe she was actually happy to leave. Maybe not.
But she wasn’t the only absentee for the final few episodes of the series – Baljit also disappeared from the show. One minute he was there and the next he was gone.
Regardless of what happened, with Yvette and Baljit gone it was down to Pat and Andy to carry on, with assistance from Jenny Powell. However, try as they did to keep things going, by this point the writing was on the wall.
Powell did a stellar job of filling in for Fielding – she’s a great presenter – but What’s Up Doc? was simply on its arse. The format had become bland, the disappearing presenters/characters was bizarre, and the show just didn’t work the way it once did.
What had started out in 1992 as a rather inventive series, with a dark sense of humour, was now a dull, squeaky clean kids show. It was serviceable for a young audience, but it was nondescript and simply not a match for the competition.
During the last 30 seconds of the final episode the presenting team said their goodbyes, and it all felt anticlimactic. Pat made an off-the-cuff remark about Baljit’s absence, and their was a brief mention of Simon Perry and Colin, but no shout out to Yvette.
What’s Up Doc? started with a bang and ended with a whimper. It was over and no one seemed to care.
As noted in the title of this post, my journey with What’s Up Doc? was bumpy. The show began and finished in two completely different places, and included a mid-section that was a mess.
While Series 3 was pretty dull to watch, it was probably Series 2 that I found the hardest to revisit. The abrupt departures, followed by the changes in format (and presenters) grated terribly and it was clear the programme no longer knew what it wanted to do.
Shame really, as looking past all that, there really was some TV gold in this programme. That first season was fantastic and deserves to be remembered accordingly – the rest, not so much.
Overall I enjoyed sitting down each week to watch a Saturday morning show. This type of programming doesn’t exist anymore and I do feel that is a big shame for the youth of today.
The big question now is, what will I do with my Saturday mornings moving forward?
Be an adult?!
No thank you – I’ve already had quite enough of that.
Thank you for taking the time to read this (exhaustive) post on What’s Up Doc?. For related posts, check out one of the recommended reads below.