Initially there were no plans for a second series of Zzzap! The reason Zzzap was created in the first place was to support Meridian as the new ITV broadcaster for the South East of England and to expand both Meridians’ and The Media Merchants’ children’s output – which was by January 1993 limited to 3 programmes (Zzzap, Wizadora and Eye of the Storm). Both Zzzap and Wizadora had proved successful and were recommissioned for new series. Series 2 of Wizadora was broadcast in Autumn – this time on the CITV slot.
The first series of Wizadora was broadcast during the predominately pre-school lunchtime slot (Other programmes sharing the slot included Tots TV and Allsorts. The lunchtime slot was previously used for pre-school Thames/ Ragdoll/ Central programmes such as Rainbow, Playbox, Rosie & Jim and Rod, Jane and Freddy). The slot was frequently not directly linked or mentioned as CITV – and was incorporated into afternoon CITV in September 1993.
During Summer 1993, TVS Maidstone was formally renamed The Maidstone Studios. The Studios still have the same name 25 years later.
Persistent rumours have claimed Tricky Dicky was axed from Zzzap! for being too scary – generating complaints by worried parents. In fact, Tim Edmunds confirmed this to be the case in our exclusive interview here.
Elly Brewer previously worked on No 73/ 7T3 with Neil Buchanan and Tim Edmunds as Script Associate and wrote at least thirty episodes. Elly also co-wrote mini ‘dramas’ for Motormouth with Sandi Toskvig; and would later achieve acclaimed success with her award-winning TV adaptations of ‘Tracy Beaker’ and ‘The Dumping Ground’ for CBBC.
Production for the second series took place in Autumn/ Winter 1993.
This is the first series of Zzzap to have a beginning and end theme tune. The intro to Series 1 featured a heartbeat-like sound in suspense to the giant comic coming to live, atmospheric noises, constant zapping and whooshing sound effects. The ending featured similar sounds and brief echoes of the Smart Arty, Handymen and Tricky Dicky themes. To give Zzzap! a more eccentric and comedy feel, the wonderfully wacky ‘Keystone Chaos’ by Ron Aspery was chosen – and stayed with the show until it ended!
Before Zzzap!, ‘Keystone Chaos’ was used for The Sooty Show, Victor & Hugo and Count Duckula. After Zzzap!, Playhouse Disney’s Bite Size, Spongebob Squarepants and Dick & Dom in Da Bungalow used the theme. But Zzzap! definitely used ‘Keystone Chaos’ for the longest!!
The long opening titles with the boy buying a Zzzap comic were scrapped – mainly to save time (both in terms of the programme’s length and production of the show) and money. Instead, the opening titles comprised of a random selection of sketch clips from the series and introducing each character. This format was so successful that it lasted until Series 10.
From Series 2 onwards, Neil Buchanan voiced all the characters and yet again took inspiration from the Benny Hill Show, where most characters would mumble and talk gibberish. In fact this concept was used occasionally in No 73, Mr Bean and The Two Ronnies’ silent comedies By The Sea and The Picnic. After Zzzap!, this gibberish communication would be heard on such silent comedy based programmes Gigglebiz and Pompadiou.
Neil himself once described voicing the characters on a radio interview (Demon FM, 2011):
Neil: [Zzzap!] needed something. I’ll tell you where I was inspired, I was inspired by… you remember Benny Hill?
Interviewer: Yeah I remember Benny Hill.
Neil: The Benny Hill sketches which I thought were very funny was when they used to slightly speed them up and he was slapping the little fella on the head and he was running away, and there’d be a bevvy of beauties running after him. In those sort of things, there was always a background voice going (gibberish sounds like Zzzap!). And it just added a sort of comedy underscore to it, and that’s all it was there for.
Interviewer: Can you do that again?
Neil: (does gibberish voices again). In fact, the funny thing in Zzzap! all the voices were done by me.
Neil: I used to do them all in one take and that was the criteria. They had to be in one take, otherwise I felt they felt a bit stilted. So what I’d do is each episode once we’d recorded it I used to go in and we’d put it up on a big screen and I’d sit there with the microphone and I’d voice all of the voices. So if you had a character up there walking along the road, I’d go (gibberish mutterings while walking – sounding more like Arty), when a policeman came up I’d go straight into that so it’d be (policeman voice used on Zzzap!) ‘Evening all! Evening all! What’s all this?’. So that’s how the sound of Zzzap! was created and that was a great laugh to do! Real great fun! It sounded like I was permanently pissed you know?? Which I wasn’t! Which I wasn’t actually! *laughs*
Interviewer: So did you do Daisy Dares as well?
Neil: Yeah I did.
Neil: And you know what, people have said to me ‘Can you do it?’
Interviewer: Go on!
Neil: I’m gonna try it but my voice, you have to.. I had to do voice exercises to get into it, but hang on let me just try. Hold on a sec. Alright, here we go, here we go…’ (Does a fairly decent Daisy impression but fails after a bit! It was 11 years later!!). Nope, I can’t get up there! Sorry, it’s funny isn’t it?
Interviewer: (mimicking the kids) Oh no!
Neil: Yeah that’s it! It was all me! And even the kids! All the kids were like (doesn’t sound like the kids, but rather when Daisy got angry), so that was all me as well.
Interviewer: You’ve ruined my childhood because I always thought it was different actors!
Interviewer: But it was always you?
Neil: Yeah, it was always the cheap thing. ‘Get the scouser to do it!’ Given I was the producer of the show, it was much easier to say ‘Oh come on you lazy old git, do it yourself!’ you know.
The only characters not to have regular speaking voices on Zzzap! were Tricky Dicky and The Handymen. The latter did gain voices during one of the Summer Specials and the last Christmas Special in 1997 – what purpose this served is now since forgotten, but The Handymen had a squeaking high pitched voice. It is currently unclear whether this was Buchanan or Sarah Pickthall. What’s even more weird, their ‘text’ was green!
After transmission of Series 1, it was decided that the character and concept of Smart Arty should be changed to reflect the comedy aspects of the show – almost parallel to Cuthbert Lilly. As the Handymen worked well in studio and it was easier/ cheaper to film in a studio (as opposed to going on location and making more work by doing Big Pictures), likely inspiration was ‘‘borrowed’’ from Kenny Everett’s bizarre mime clown character who drew ‘magic pictures’ with a magic marker – which ended up with the character being punched or slapped in the face by the object he created. Things drawn by Arty would often go wrong too!
In fact, Kenny Everett and Benny Hill shared the same sense of cheeky, near-the-knuckle and controversial humour especially as both produced shows for Thames Television in the 1980s and ‘borrowed’ many ideas and concepts from each other i.e. Hot Gossip, the risque (now deemed sexist) girl song and dance troup was the inspiration for Benny’s Girls, and they occasionally referenced each others’ work.
Whether Kenny Everett watched Zzzap! or whether he enjoyed it is now sadly lost in the mists of time as Everett tragically died shortly after broadcast of Series 3. Benny Hill died during very early pre-production of Series 1.
The Puzzle Page (or Question Mark as it was commonly known) was a new segment to Zzzap. It was originally intended for Series 1, but due to programme length this did not go ahead. However the concept of the Puzzle Page was previously and continued to be used between Art Attack segments. The idea of a comic having a puzzle page originates from the Beano and Dandy of the 1970s among others with readers having to solve mysterious puzzles. The other purpose for the Puzzle Page was primarily to serve a link between sketches and not make the main characters drag (as opposed to some rather long-winded Series 1 sketches). It would be another 5 years until other Puzzle Pages appeared.
The Question Mark theme ‘Cluedo’ by Ron Aspery was also briefly used on a episode of Balamory and Victor & Hugo.
To reflect the changes of CITV and the new changes in the show, Tricky Dicky was dropped and a replacement character was introduced in the form of Daisy Dare. Daisy, along with Cuthbert, Smart Arty and The Handymen, became the programme’s main stars – and was heavily based on mischievous schoolgirls from other real-life comics: most noticeably Minnie the Minx from The Beano and Beryl the Peril from the Topper (who joined the Dandy in September 1993, just shortly after Zzzap! Series 2 started production).