In Search of the Whatyoumacallit, You Know, That Show with the Girl and the Alien. I Think It’s Australian.

Inishowen, c. 1980s.

Part of Donegal, part of the Republic, part of the domain of paying for an RTÉ TV licence if you owned a set.

Except we couldn’t get RTÉ. Two channels of swooshing snow that would bring on epilepsy in a breeze-block were all that resided behind the pushbuttons of channels 5 and 6. There was however the odd Saturday when if the wind was blowing a gentle north-west, you stood five inches from the TV set, and you’d had a certain amount of honey-coated cereal, that your sugar-rushing brain could convince itself that the gaudy stripes of a Bosco presenter’s pants were emerging from the dancing, screeching blizzard of the complete lack of a TV signal.

It didn’t matter. We could get BBC1, BBC2, ITV in its regional form of UTV, and eventually, SexyTitsAdultCensoredBannedWhatAreThosePeopleDoingToEachOther 4.

I mean, Channel 4.

So the mental firmament of ephemeral televisual culture I daydream into is not Forty Coats or Wanderly Wagon;  it’s Stig of the Dump, Ulysses 31, Noel Edmonds in his Swop Shop, Sandy Toksvig making sandwiches in No. 73, Philip Schofield, and, and, and…

And that’s just it. For some reason the titles of some of the shows that inhabit my memory didn’t make the cut. Every so often I’m plagued by a Pepper’s ghost in my imagination, a scene so vivid I could reach out and touch it, but lacking the substance of identity. I don’t know why I get so fixated on them, but I spent some of my happiest days inside the television. If that’s damning of modern living, I don’t care. I hold some of these shows in the same regard as a salivating antiques dealer appreciates fingering something Louis XVI.

For years I was haunted by a blonde girl, who lived in the future with people who weren’t her family, and who had an alien pet with a massively fluffy body. As much as I wringed my mental sponge into a bucket I could not remember anything about it other than my weak-kneed fondness for the lead, it was possibly Australian, and that it was on Children’s ITV (an entire children’s channel, within a channel! Kidception! No, no, wait, that’s a really dodgy looking neologism). With the advent of sewshawl meeja I took the opportunity to ask around, even recreating the alien from the frayed filaments of memory and posting it on Twitter and Facebook (that’s it up there). Some suggestions came back, but they weren’t even of the right vintage, and no-one recognised what I thought was the indelible form of the pink alien. I began to worry I’d created a false memory (the curator of this here blog has a friend who invented a Leaving Cert Irish story that never existed).

I googled loose combinations of keywords. Eventually I discovered and went to the TV Cream Ask the Family forum. I posted the above pic, and as much detail as my synapses could muster, and waited. For weeks. With nothing.

And then a lone genius replied and let me sleep peacefully again: “It looks like Luna. It wasn’t Australian, though. It was British. And it starred Patsy Kensit.”

Amazing. I went to YouTube, and there it was in all its sci-tirical brilliance. It’s even darker and funnier than I remembered it, a kind of Gilliam-esque nightmare bureaucracy with a Douglas Adams sense of humour.

It tapped into one of the most potent tropes of children’s fiction: the absent/dead parent(s)  (Chronicles of Narnia, Box of Delights, Under the Hawthorne Tree, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events…). In Luna’s case we don’t know much of her origins, or if she even had parents (she was “batched” on the moon). Luna was our point of entry into this world, as she was as naive to it as we were. It ran for two series, with Kensit being replaced in the second series by Jo Wyatt, playing a different character who assumes the same name. A 9-year-old boy in Donegal had mixed feelings about that. Strange, new, mixed feelings. And the pink alien? Jazzmine, Luna’s alien pet; ‘a “little simple” (from the planet Sim)’. And it was orange, not pink.

Alas TV Cream has had to expunge itself of that beautiful forum as it was experiencing uncontrollable spamming so I can’t link to the thread. It also means next time I get that gnawing in my brain* of an absent TV title I’ve no recourse other than to bash myself over the head with an inflatable mallet like a wacky 80s kids’ presenter until I pass out, and that takes ages.

(*There’s one about Victorian-era children who lived in a big house with a magic garden where the statues came to life at night that I’m not even going to go into now. Gah! Solved, thanks to Simon in the comments below. It’s The Enchanted Castle by the prolific E. Nesbit. Edwardian, not Victorian!)

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22 thoughts on “In Search of the Whatyoumacallit, You Know, That Show with the Girl and the Alien. I Think It’s Australian.

  1. Tupp_ed says:

    Hooray!

    Also, that was a BBC adaptation of E.Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle. I owned the TV tie-in edition.

    They were Edwardian, but I think your memory can be forgiven the slightest slippage. Like Pink for orange, it’s inevitable.

    • Allan says:

      Simon, was there a scene where one of the girls became really long, and they hid it from the adults by having her lie behind a bush, with her head and feet visible either side, and the adults assume the feet belong to another girl?

      • Tupp_ed says:

        Yes, that was one of the best episodes as it ends with the discovery of the dinosaur statues coming to life in moonlight.

    • Cora says:

      Okay, seriously, don’t joke about “owning the TV tie-in edition” of the Enchanted Castle!!! No making of promises that you can’t keep!!! I have been looking for this forEVER. In reality, I probably don’t want to see it – things like the episode with the ugli-wuglies (guy fawkes-type people who came to life) haunted me for years but are probably best left in memory). Still, if there is one out there, if anyone has it, then I really, really, REALLY want one. It’s the Holy Grail of vintage TV!!!

      (That, and the Witches and the Grinnygog of course but that has been located – even with the intensely disturbing intro music….)

  2. It was the incubator of the nameless sensations of awe, the unheimlich, and the sublime in my young mind.

  3. nlgbbbblth says:

    I remember watching Luna on HTV back in the spring of 1984. I was in 6th class and it was shown on Wednesday afternoons. That was the second series – without Patsy. I think they repeated the first series just beforehand. A friend had one of those taped so the continuity was all over the place. Surprised http://www.networkdvd.net haven’t released it yet – given their remit to release ITV archive material. One day.

  4. Stan says:

    It’s so satisfying when these lifelong mysteries get solved, and without the internet they’d be nagging us still. I’d never heard of Luna before. Pity – it looks like fun. I’ve a soft spot for cheap sci-fi, but even so. I’d’ve lapped that up.

  5. fústar says:

    Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned that the show was created by Micky Dolenz – of The Monkees fame.

  6. Sarah - OGW says:

    Oh we had RTE (but still don’t get TV3 – something to do with the Urris aerial) as well as the English channels but that leads to a minefield of trying to connect fragments of a tv show with what channel it was on and why the hell do I think that every kids show was Australian? Did several of the channels import loads of Australian kids tv? Does anyone remember a show (probably early to mid 90’s) where there was a boy that was in a coma and when he was in a coma he was actually living this whole other life and he had to survive it to wake up?
    I have only found one other person who thinks they remember this. Can anybody help?

  7. Sarah, Australia exported lots of very well produced children’s programmes in the 90s, including off the top of my head Round the Twist, The Girl from Tomorrow and Half Way Across the Galaxy and Turn Left.
    Your description sounds like a Buffy episode, Nightmares. My knowledge of children’s TV fizzles out somewhere in the mid 90s when I went to college so it’s entirely possible I just completely missed the show you’re talking about.

  8. Sarah - OGW says:

    Thanks Allan, I am so excited to get watching this as I’ve managed to find episodes online. Although I’m worried that it’ll actually be crap. I think the whole being Canadian instead of Australian threw off my search.

    • No problem Sarah, yeah, that’s always a risk! You’ll get the feeling you had from watching the show at least, worth it for the nostalgia value. @tupp_ed also pointed out that the plot is essentially the same as the one used in Life on Mars.

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