Created by drama school chums Tony Robinson and Deborah Gates, Tales from Fat Tulip's Garden was a hilariously bizarre children's show featuring the Labour candidate known as Baldrick crawling around a garden for ten minutes while explaining in great detail the strange things that went down above the grass. Tony took telling tales to the tenth degree while producing some truly unique television.
Although it filled the four o'clock slot on Children's ITV normally reserved for safe, childproof fare like "Rainbow" and "Tickle on the Tum", this show did not talk down at it's audience and spread an air of strangeness that made older viewers sit up and notice. Here was one guy playing every character, using just his voice, his body and anything he found lying about the garden. There were no animations, no puppets and perhaps most surprising of all, no fake garden set. Viewers had to fill in the blanks using their imagination, but Robinson's infectious performance made that very simple.
From the moment that Kevin Stoney's wonderfully weird theme tune started that seemed to be made up of dew drops, rustling leaves and chirping crickets (it was probably a synthesizer but let's not spoil it), up until Tony's final uttering of "Pwop" after the end credits, you could never tell where the story was headed (staying within the confines of the garden and the cottage naturally). The first story was about a frog called Ernie getting stuck in a washing machine while his friend Sylvie tried to find help. The next week the frogs were still present, but the main action switched to another the owner of the garden, Fat Tulip. While these three characters were the constants, there were joined by a multitude of characters (insects, animals and humans) that were all brought to life with great ease by Tony. They included: A dog called Dorian, Wayne Newt, Thin Tim, Anwar Rabbit, Farouk the Greenfly, Fred the Baddie, Norman the Schrew and Tracy Bee.
One of the best thing about eighties television was that the children of the sixties were producing a lot of it, providing the next generation with at least a couple of seeds of flower power. Of course I was too young at the time to understand where Costello the Sparrow got his name, or a cockle called Jim Morrison, or the significance of three fat toads called Peter, Paul and Mary. Like Spike Milligan, Robinson would make one strange concept flow down that garden path into another, especially since he liked to do a bit of improvising while rolling around in the soil. He occasionally got up to some pretty disgusting things, stuffing food down his shoes and putting non edibles in his mouth that could probably not be broadcast during the daytime in some countries.
A second series broadcast in 1987 called 'Fat Fulip Too' took the characters out of the garden and into such places as a local swimming pool and even a seaside holiday for Fat Tulip and Police Inspector Challenor (this is where the aforementioned Cockle turned up). The final Tale was a 1987 Christmas special with a running time twice as long as normal (20 whole minutes!) called 'Fat Tulip's Fat Christmas. In early 1988, producer Deborah Gates and director Jeremy McCracken devised a new show, "Revolting Animals" in which several different young writers got to perform their own material. Meanwhile, over on the BBC Tony Robinson revived his patented concept of storytelling a few years later. This time, instead of writing original material he took ancient literature and made it accessible and funny for young viewers (Odysseus, The Greatest Story Ever Told). While these series were educationally sound and very entertaining, they did not inspire a bunch of groupies (sometimes mistakingly called "Fat Heads") to form like Tulip's tales did in the summer of '86.
9 out of 7 washing machines
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