The concept and character of Cuthbert Lilly was jointly created by Neil Buchanan, Tim Edmunds and Richard Waites. Many of the character attributes came from Mr Bean (having been very successful with his own ITV series by Thames) and his own character Hamilton Dent from No. 73/ 7T3.
Smart Arty and Tricky Dicky were creations of Neil Buchanan and Tim Edmunds. The origins of Tricky Dicky’s name seem logical – the name ‘Dicky’ is short for Richard. But the name ‘Tricky Dicky’ was used for a boy prankster in the Beezer and Topper comic (published in the UK by DC Thomson and available in newsagents during production and broadcast of Series 1.)
The Beezer and Topper was a merger of two comics Beezer and Topper and was published between 1990 and 1993. The latter Tricky Dicky started life in the Topper comic in 1976. Several years before Zzzap!
Tricky Dicky was also the informal, dreaded nickname of much disliked U.S. politician/ later president Richard Nixon in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The concept and character of The Handymen was created by Sarah Pickthall. She additionally wrote every single Handymen sketch from 1993 to 2001.
Peter Corey, the writer of the Series 1 Cuthbert Lilly sketches, had previously worked with Neil Buchanan and Tim Edmunds on Art Attack (1990; as the Security Guard in the Head’s Gallery) and No 73 (1985; as Script Associate). Corey by 1992 had also acted and wrote for numerous television programmes – The most recent being The Bill, London’s Burning, Brookside, Palace Hill, In Sickness and In Health and One Foot in The Grave! A diverse career and a half!
The Executive Producer for Meridian (Series 1 – 3) was Janie Grace. Grace previously worked extensively with Tim Edmunds and Neil Buchanan as the Executive Producer for TVS children’s shows from the late 1980s (including No.73/7T3, Art Attack, Motormouth, What’s Up Doc and Finders Keepers). Grace was Controller of Children’s and Daytime for Meridian
Grace left Meridian in 1995 and became Managing Director of Nickelodeon UK, subsequently launching the Nick Jr channel. In 2000 Grace left Nickelodeon UK and joined CITV as Controller of Children’s and Youth Programmes.
The Cuthbert sketch in Episode 1 is hardly an original idea – in fact, many silent comedians previously used the concept of pet dogs as sources of comedy. Stan Laurel, as a bumbling idiot, had misadventures with a dog in The Lucky Dog (1921); one of Charlie Chaplin’s early adventures was in fact called A Dog’s Life; many of the gags where Cuthbert is being dragged by his dog are (among others) fond love-letters to Goodies and the Benny Hill Show.
The Cuthbert Lilly sketch was later used for Cuthbert’s Diary (1997) but included new sound effects, text by Alan Scragg and more voices by Neil Buchanan.
Cuthbert’s ‘dog’ was called Cosmo and had previously featured in a Series 2 episode of Art Attack (1991). Presumably it was Neil or Tim Edmunds’ pet!
The Smart Arty signature tune (which lasted the whole characters’ run between 1993 – 1998) was String Quintet in E Major, Op 11, No 5 (G 275) by Italian classical composer Luigi Boccherini. Boccherini wrote the piece in 1771 but published it in 1775. The theme was originally composed for Spanish royalty but has since been used for countless films, television programmes and video games – often signifying ‘high society’ or portraying upper-class culture, commonly used to depict Georgian or Victorian societies in the UK and the USA.
Notable film examples using the Smart Arty theme (prior to Zzzap!) were The Time of Their Lives (1946) and the iconic British Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1956) – starring Sir Alec McGuiness who later became Obi Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy and Peter Sellers (later starring in the Pink Panther series of films: see the next page for a very loose link between Pink Panther and Zzzap!). It also featured and credited in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Two Rode Together (1961), mentioned in This Is Spinal Tap(!) (1984), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Date Movie (2006), Bratz (2007), Quartet (2012), Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) and Police Academy 6 (1989).
Television examples featuring the piece include CITV-broadcast cartoons ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’ (1991 – 1992) and Animaniacs (1993 – 1995) produced by Warner Bros, The Muppet Show (1978), The Ren & Stimpy Show (1993 – 1995), Rocko’s Modern Life (1995), D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996), The West Wing (2001), Family Guy (2007), Skins (2008), The Vampire Diaries (2010), Gossip Girl (2010) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (2017).
In odd twists of fate, the Smart Arty theme was additionally used to advertise a limited edition ‘Ford Fiesta Meridian’ to celebrate the launch of Meridian Broadcasting
The(at least on screen!). The segment also featured Nic Ayling who worked extensively on Media Merchants shows throughout the 1990s and 2000s. We will revisit Nic Ayling’s vast television career later!year Arty/ Neil Buchanan left Zzzap
Most of the music used in Series 1 came from the Carlin Production Music Library. The music for the Handymen sketches came from Dewolfe. Music from Dewolfe was used more frequently from Series 8 onwards, whereas music from Carlin was less used from 1995 – 1998. Other music libraries were also used – mostly KPM from Series 2 onwards and Sonoton for Series 9 and 10.
The Handymen theme ‘Memories of the Music Hall’ (otherwise known by the production team as ‘Change Your Name to Sue’) was extensively used for the first seven series of Zzzap. The theme was also occasionally used in Series 8, 9 and 10.
The first Tricky Dicky theme ‘Friendly Panther’ by Peter and Paul Orm is extremely close to the jazzy, mysterious theme used in the iconic Pink Panther series of films starring Peter Sellers and cartoons. For further use of ‘Friendly Panther’ in Zzzap!, read the section on Series 8 (1999).
The second Tricky Dicky theme ‘Devil’s Gal(l)op’ by Charles Williams has been used extensively for many TV and radio shows – often comedies. Most noticeably, it was used as a signature tune for the BBC radio serial ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’. The radio drama was later adapted for TV by Southern Television (TVS’ predecessor) in 1979. One does wonder whether Tim Edmunds or Neil Buchanan remembered the BBC/ Southern programme and deliberately incorporated the tune into Zzzap?
Other TV programmes using ‘Devil’s Galop’ are Monty Python’s Flying Circus (more than once), Dad’s Army, Dangermouse, The Goodies, The Goon Show, That Mitchell and Webb Look (as part of the ‘Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar’; a drunk drug-crazy tramp who insists he’s ridding the world of evil), 30 Rock, Victor & Hugo and Billy Liar among others. Little obscure fact, it was used for a series of adverts for Hellmann’s Mayonnaise too! ‘Devil’s Galop’ was also the inspiration for the soundtrack of video game ‘Monty on the Run’.
Production of the first series took place in Autumn/ Winter 1992 using TVS facilities and staff. Many shows still used TVS equipment and resources past 1992: Most noticeably Scottish Television (previously TVS)’s What’s Up Doc and Art Attack filmed at the Maidstone Studios. The studios were finally stripped off the name ‘TVS’ in Summer 1993 – just before production on Series 2.