Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pen Monkeys

Back in early 2001, a week or so after George W Bush became president, we made a dirt-cheap animated sketch show for Channel 4. It was called Pen Monkeys, and it set in motion the TV law that any comedy show with the word 'monkeys' in the title would be a bit ropey and not last long (cf Monkey Trousers, Monkey Dust etc.)

I've just found an old VHS tape with it on, and seeing it again after the Bush years makes it seem weirdly prophetic. I seem to remember that I wrote the bits about Bush before he was sworn in, so there wasn't a great deal to go on as to what he would be like as a President. Yet we have him starting wars on a whim, wanting to blow up Iraq, falling asleep instead of thinking about the deficit - to say nothing of the tall buildings exploding all over the place. It was, with hindsight, pretty obvious what was coming. That said, our take on the British reaction to Bush couldn't have been more wrong.

Have a look - it's taped off air with bad reception and lots of ghosting, so excuse the quality. As for other reasons why it looks so bad, well I'll get to that in a second.




At the time, we took great pride in how unprofessional the whole thing looked. It is hard now to imagine how Punk that looked back then, five years before YouTube launched and the we all became accustomed to cheap and cheerful animation with too much swearing. Animation on TV had always been crafted and lovingly sweated over. We were having none of that. Our beloved MD Peter Scott went as far as to use the following as our official company slogan: 'Television that Spoils it for Everyone Else'. Which summed up our attitude nicely, and made a bit more sense than our previous slogan, 'Tomorrow's Television Tomorrow.'

As a result, we made the cheapest animation in the land. Later that year ITV launched 2DTV, which was also a half-hour, topical animated sketch show, albeit one shown when people were still awake. I seem to recall that our budget was one thirtieth of theirs, but pleasingly their show also looked rubbish and wasn't very funny, so perhaps we were an influence.

Sadly the march of time has not been kind to Pen Monkeys - we are used to seeing stuff that looks like that now, and that look has become perfectly acceptable. Ah well.

At least we did the thing where - actually I'll save that for next time!