Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 2

Watching The Fierce Flowers again - which isn't easy, as the DVDs have been out of print for quite some time - the first thing you notice is that each episode of Battle Of The Planets originally opened with a spoileriffic teaser with a silly bombastic voiceover, all of which were thankfully edited out by the BBC for transmission over here. Whether they made any other edits is difficult to determine from this distance, though it's quite feasible that they did, so potentially we're dealing here not just with a re-edited show in the style of The Monkees and The Banana Splits, but a re-edit of an already re-edited show. But before you start letting that possibility frazzle your mind too much, please rest assured that in a weird sort of double-negative way, in this scenario it doesn't actually matter. The Fierce Flowers had such an unsettling impact that no amount of reinstated snipped bits here and there could possibly amplify or intensify it in any way. It was as creepy as fuck and will always remain so.

Anyway, let's just quietly tiptoe past the jarringly ill-fitting teaser, as it's not only the one thing that was definitely not present in the BBC broadcasts, it's also structure-disruptingly liable to pre-empt some of the stuff we're most likely going to be covering later on, and above all is both annoying and rubbish. Instead, let's move straight on to the opening titles, and indeed to the two primary reasons why Battle Of The Planets seemed so dazzlingly, exotically and futuristically different from the norm. And from The Space Sentinels.

Ignoring the shameless typographic attempt at jumping on the slantily scrolling Star Wars bandwagon (or should that be Landspeeder?), if there's one thing that you can say about the Battle Of The Planets opening titles, it's that they were cut together by somebody who knew how to grab the target audience's attention. Spaceships shoot across the screen and we're introduced by a booming proto-Barrowman voiceover to G-Force, "five incredible young people with super powers", and - watching over them from Centre Neptune - 7-Zark-7. There's some edge-of-the-seat grandstanding about "surprise attacks by alien galaxies from beyond space", while Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny and Keyop blast off in their signature multi-atmospheric transport The Phoenix, dodge an attack by SPECTRA's fighter pilots, and finally form a human pyramid and whirl around in a circle until they create a bad-guy walloping mini-vortex. And as they break away at its apex and tumble haphazardly through the clouds, there's an infamous glimpse of Princess' alarmingly detailed pants. "Always five, acting as one - dedicated, inseparable, invincible!" concludes Voiceover Man as The Phoenix pulsates into the legendary 'Firey Phoenix', and admit it, you're wanting to watch from that description alone, aren't you? And we haven't even started on THAT theme tune yet.

Hang on a minute, let's just rewind a couple of sentences there. It's the early eighties, it's the BBC, it's slap bang in the middle of children's television, and some animated eye candy's jaw-droppingly contoured scanties are taking up the lion's share of the TV screen. How in the name of every single letter to Points Of View about Grange Hill did that one manage to slip through?? Well, in all honesty, it was probably more to do with money than anything else. Although, as we have seen, the BBC were not exactly averse to going to the time and expense of making great big butterfingered cuts for a variety of reasons to the imported likes of The Monkees, The Banana Splits and Boss Cat (call it by its proper name), by this time their efforts were really starting to look a little bit embarrassing and a lot like battered and badly-edited film prints, yet purchasing shiny new replacement copies would have been well beyond their meagre means. It's more than likely that whichever newer broom was looking after their bought-in catalogue by then didn't want to pay for any more trims than were absolutely necessary, and certainly wouldn't have wanted a huge great Least Effectual Top Cat-style music-kilter-skewing jump-cut at a key moment, especially if it might have to be reverted a couple of years down the line, and so just left it in. As for how it got there in the first place, it's possible that Sandy Frank Entertainment may have seen it as a younger viewer 'excitement'-generating selling point, but it's more than likely that it just slipped the net when they were trying to eradicate every single other trace of unsuitability from the decidely more adult-aimed Japanese original. As we shall see, sometimes this 'adult' nature was just too strong to disguise with any amount of chopping and changing, and without wanting to put anyone off there are a couple of troubling hints to come that a quick flash of knicker might have been the least of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman's worries. Anyway, suffice it to say that this did not go unappreciated by a generation of pre-Internet youngsters who had to take their kicks where they could find them. And also the reason why if you Google for some combination of 'princess', 'battle of the planets', 'cosplay' and 'comic con', you might find yourself with some explaining to do.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned undisguisable origins of the show meant that the target audience were at least able to get another, very different sort of kick where they could find it. At that time, the lurid and vivid world of Japanese animation (and indeed 'suitmation') was something of a far-flung exotic mystery, barely known about even by those who 'know these things', and only infrequently and unrepresentatively glimpsed through clunkily repurposed monster movies, earlier TV cartoon manglings like Marine Boy, and the occasional awestruck whisper from someone whose older brother had read about something once. Along with the similarly Anglicised Star Fleet (or, in old yen, X-Bomber) and Ulysses 31 (erm, Space Legend Ulysses 31), it gave an exciting hint of a whole alternate universe of sci-fi-flavoured animated entertainment, although despite the iconographically recognisable design hallmarks few actually knew what it was, less still what it was called. Stuck for a genre name, some would simply resort to calling it 'A-a-aaaaaa', in reference to the downtrodden and enthusiasm-deficient sigh croaked by the inevitable Keyop-esque 'gawky non-human child' character as they were knocked to the floor by a guard, or, if raining, saw a bird's eye gleam or something. It wasn't until somewhere around the late eighties/early nineties, when home video became more widely and affordably available and Akira briefly became the underground cineaste's obscurity of choice before being taken up en masse by an army of grubby schoolboys in WASP t-shirts, that anyone really realised that it was actually a 'thing'. And even then they mistakenly referred to it as 'Manga' at first.

Of course, once 'Anime'-mania kicked in, news of Battle Of The Planets' true origins spread like SPECTRA-disseminated plant life, and almost overnight those chirpy linking droids went from being dimly recalled figurheads of childhood cartoon excitement to fandom-denounced hate figures, mounted on a virtual dartboard for over-furious proto-bloggers to throw uncensored Metal Bird Things at. Even sidestepping the humourlessness, the tedious purism and the undertones of smug 'I could do better at cartoons because I seened a cartoon once'-ism inherent in this kind of attitude, it's also one that should be challenged because, well, untampered-with Science Ninja Team Gatchaman was not the reason why we all fell in love with Battle Of The Planets to begin with. Viewers who didn't know any better enjoyed the episodes with 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 present and correct, not in spite of them, and that wasn't simply down to blinkered youthful inexperience as everyone detested Scrappy Doo and wished that they'd just go back to showing proper Scooby Doo, Where Are You?. They were as much part and parcel of the show's success and appeal as, on a similar note, Godzooky and Brock (who is provably 'canon') were to Hanna-Barbera's contemporaneous Americanisation of the similarly-sourced Godzilla franchise, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Of course, this partness and parceldom does mean that 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 are going to be featuring heavily in The Fierce Flowers, the two-part story that this has somehow managed to expand into a three-part review of, so maybe we should get on with talking about those actual two parts themselves...

NEXT TIME: 7-Zark-7 causes a new 'BBC Fakery' scandal, Zoltar forms a double-act with Stewart Lee, and we might actually get around to talking about those 'Spaceburgers' at last..

Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 1

As we've already discussed at some considerable real-Nesmith-hatted length here, the BBC didn't in fact commence their early eighties repeats of The Monkees with the actual first episode, Royal Flush, preferring for no readily obvious reason to open proceedings with the more assured twenty fourth instalment Monkees A La Mode. Instead, Davy's rapier-wielding beachfront entanglement in a plot to overthrow Princess Bettina of Harmonica would have to wait until the repeats were temporarily shunted from their inaugural weekday slot to Saturday Mornings, where it was fortunate - well, we say fortunate - enough to form part of one of the weirdest TV schedules of all time. No, not just one of the weirdest Saturday Morning ones. One of the weirdest ones ever. Full stop.

For reasons best known to themselves and to whatever had apparently leaked into their collective cerebral cortex, on 22nd August 1981, the BBC saw fit to hand over the summer-replacement-for-Swap-Shop Saturday Morning presentational reins to one Buzzfax. And despite the seemingly straightforward embarrassing-attempt-at-being-down-with-the-kids implications of title, this was no ordinary summer replacement for Swap Shop (and let's face it, the majority of them were very ordinary indeed). It involved no clean-cut aspirant Blue Peter presenters gamely attempting to link tedious filmed inserts about 'improving' hobbies and interests with sufficient verve to prevent a mass switchover to ITV. No up-and-coming pop stars were seen struggling through the throwaway b-side of their hit single to mass disinterest in lieu of a proper 'second number'. Instead, Buzzfax saw the whole ninety minutes thrown open to the 'backroom boys', with the full morning's entertainment presented entirely 'by' Ceefax.

Yes, you did read that right. For one week only, The Monkees, Battle Of The Planets, long-forgotten Popeye-affiliated Hanna Barbera canine gigantism third-divisioner Dinky Dog, and the inexplicably revived yawn-inviting Chopsticks-heralded slow-motion black and white comedy escapades of Edgar Kennedy (this week apparently seen facing off against 'The Big Beef') were interspersed with blocky renditions of their primary characters and chirpy quiztacular interjections from 'Buzz', a Ceefax-derived post-Space Invaders Vectrex Gaming System-esque geometrically askew character who may or may not have been voiced by the same bloke as Jig from Jigsaw, and whom in an early excursion into primitive multiplatform interactivity also introduced some puzzles that volleyed back and forth with those set in the back pages of that week's Radio Times. No prizes for guessing, then, that Jigsaw supremeo, Radio Times puzzle-setter extraordinaire, and veteran 'backroom boy' in general Clive Doig was the main creative mover and shaker behind Buzzfax.

In some respects, Buzzfax was an attempt to roll back the post-Posh Paws clock to the lawless frontier days of Saturday Morning TV, when programmes were linked by terrifying splurges of electronic noise and psychedelic graphics courtesy of the over-exclamation marked likes of Zokko!, Outa-Space! and Ed And Zed!, all of which with their dustpan-and-brush-in-a-cupboard-with-cables-in-it ambience did little to counter the prevalent juvenile lack-of-in-vision-continuity-fuelled assumption that 'The BBC' was a big empty building that showed the programmes via some sort of sentient machines that worked of their own volition. But by that point, of course, Noel Edmonds had not only brought 'in vision' continuity right slap bang into the middle of the whole shebang, but had done it with the sort of sense of fun that you weren't really supposed to come across in the square-jawed, improving world of children's television, so no matter how much technological wizardry may have been involved, there was simply no going back and poor old Buzzfax felt the full weight of force; in fact, it's interesting to compare this with the last gasp I Have A Horsey Neigh Neigh flooding of the afternoon Children's BBC schedules with ropey linking BBC Micro-derived 'computer graphics' a couple of years later before Philip Schofield was brought in to perform his own particular riff on the Edmonds format. Well it would be interesting to do that, except that it would be straying a little too far onto the 'serious' side of things for what we're trying to do around here. We're talking about some talking Teletext, for 4-T's sake.

Zokko!'s name might have rung out from the corners back in the day, but we weren't back in the day no more. The week before Buzzfax, outdoor pursuit-obsessed Hazel O'Connor-themed Peter Powell-fronted deluge of irritating chipperness Get Set For Summer had come to the end of its somewhat more conventional six week run. The week after, the very same programmes that had been bookended by 'Buzz' were left to fend for themselves in the continuity wilderness. Buzzfax lasted for one solitary week and was an experiment that was never to be repeated, and yet was so bewilderingly, well, bewildering that it burned itself indelibly into the memory of anyone who witnessed it. And yet this memory-searing may not even have been entirely down to 'Buzz' and his 888-troubling antics, as within its scheduling walls fell possibly the most disturbing, disorientating, disquieting and just plain inappropriate twenty five minutes ever to find their way into children's television. And no, it wasn't Edgar Kennedy.

First shown by the BBC in September 1979, Battle Of The Planets was infamously a redubbed re-edit of the 1972 Japanese animated series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which it's probably fair to say, what with its cross-dressing villains, neck-twisting wallops, 'choice' language and what have you, was originally aimed at a slightly older audience. It had been purchased by the massively-credited Sandy Frank Entertainment to cash in on the first throes of post-Star Wars spacemania, and retooled for wider merchandise-friendly Stateside consumption by cutting out whopping great inappropriate chunks, replacing them with new explanation-heavy linking footage featuring R5D4-infringing fretbucket 7-Zark-7 and his comedy electro-canine sidekick 1-Rover-1, adding a big walloping disco soundtrack, and generally renaming everyone, everything and everywhere until it was, to all intents and purposes, a different series.

Most of the time, though back-of-the-mind question marks did still remain over such widely-spotted anomalies as why Mark's metal bird throwing star thing caused the Spectra guards to recoil in incapacitated 'astonishment' or indeed what in the name of all that was suitable for the target audience was going on with a certain bit in the opening titles that we'll be coming back to very soon indeed, this audacious gambit worked and little of Battle Of The Planets' origins was perceptible to the untrained eye. Sometimes, however, much like when the BBFC tried and failed to make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre suitable for an 'X' certificate around the same time, the source material was simply too strong for any amount of re-editing to prevent its true nature from seeping through. And nowhere was this more obvious than in shudderingly-recalled two-part story The Fierce Flowers.

When the first part of The Fierce Flowers rolled up as an accident-rather-than-design component of Buzzfax, it wasn't actually the first time that it had been seen by an unsuspecting audience; over the Christmas of 1980, as part of a mighty school holiday mornings schedule that actually extended into the afternoon, and impressively included Chigley, California Fever and The Red Hand Gang alongside the expected likes of Lassie, Play Chess and Why Don't You...?, a couple of new episodes of Battle Of The Planets had sneaked out more or less under the radar. As they were shown on consecutive mornings in the no-man's land between Christmas and New Year when officially nothing ever happens and TV viewing-depleting visits to distant relatives are the order of the day, it's likely that most juvenile fans of the show missed one or both episodes, with only the briefest of glimpses of its bio-horror hardcore weirdness to play on their minds until the repeats rolled around. And when they did roll around, in that more accessible and noticeable Saturday morning slot, it's fair to say that The Fierce Flowers was what the young people call a 'game-changer'. But more on that in good time...

NEXT TIME: Princess' Pants, The Great 'Spaceburger' Shortage, and what people called 'Anime' before they knew it had a name...

Take A Giant Step

Over the years, without anyone ever asking or probably even wanting me to, I've no doubt given several wildly conflicting accounts of where and how my interest in sixties music started. If you listen to this interview here, you'll hear me talking about how it all really started when I got hold of a ropey C90 of legendary garage punk compilation Nuggets, and heard the terrifying juddering buzzsaw guitar opening of I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night for the first time. At various other times, I've gone on record and in print with similar recollections - 'anecdotes' would be erroneously suggesting that they were stories that actually went somewhere - about similar inaugural encounters with Shapes Of Things, The Tears Of A Clown, Alone Again Or, See Emily Play and doubtless several dozen others that I can't remember right now. Then there's that feature I wrote about Sounds Of The Sixties. I've probably even tried to pin the blame on the poor old Walham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association before now.

The problem with all of these versions of events, though, is that they're all pretty much dependent on a pre-existing fascination with the hilariously amorphous concept of 'sixties' pop music. They're all ever so slightly similar accounts of where the story really started, rather than where it actually started. And if we're going to get anywhere near that - and indeed if anyone reading actually wants me to get anywhere near that - we're going to have to go back, give or take the odd Beatles film and/or cartoon, to when the BBC decided for no readily obvious or apparent reason to start repeating a TV series from almost two decades previously as part of their afternoon children's schedules.

Yes, I have tried and tried and tried to determine how and why The Monkees shored up in that post-school timeslot, but the reasons - if indeed there were any - have proved predictably elusive, so for now we'll just have to conclude that the BBC simply felt like showing them again. But shore up it did, and immediately caused a shockwave of baffled excitement as playground speculation ran rampant over whether those four identically shirted moptops that had achieved near-Rentaghost levels of laugh-inducement were 'new' or 'from them days'. As is only right and proper, Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter's antics and music quickly caught on in a way that probably nobody would really have expected of a fairly ancient imported TV show flung out as a bit of cheap filler. Birthday parties were momentarily suspended so that the assembled cake-crazed revellers could watch the episode with Stan Freberg as the toy factory owner, with howls of laughter greeting the scene where The Monkees accidentally invented a boomerang-esque toy that couldn't be thrown away - especially when Peter closed a window on it - that were quite possibly louder and more raucous than any actual party events. Reader's Digest's fortuitously-timed compilation Here Come The Monkees, which in line with their collectably esoteric wont placed hits alongside a handful of fairly obscure album tracks, proved a handy Christmas Present option for otherwise stumped relatives and gave their new-found fans the opportunity to enjoy the music without being distracted by speeded-up footage of chases on weirdly elongated bike-kart things. Those same after-the-event converts would quickly draw in their even younger siblings, giving rise to shared reminscences about how 'clever' they thought the lyric "Mr Green, he's so serene, he's got a TV in every room" was, or how weird that fast song with all the different coloured trumpets where Micky sang about them finding him in the morning wet and drowned was, or just how entertainingly re-enactable and generally sidesplittingly hilarious the 'Chaperone' episode was, in the same sort of circumstances where others would rightly elect to look jointly back on landmark family holidays. In truth, given their subsequent ubiquity in the Summer morning schedules, for some The Monkees actually were their holidays.

Many, if not most, would move on to other more modern thrills soon enough, but for some - like, you guessed it, me - this was an obsession that stuck. And, more importantly, led directly into other obsessions. Fascination at the fact that, as became apparent shortly afterwards during a brief spell of Monkee-free scheduling, someone had decided to copy it only more weirdly and with more cartoons about families who had a shrinking car and renamed it The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was one of the mundane yet intriguing things that got me wondering about the history of this television whatnot, and how it all fitted together and responded to changing fashions and values and advertising demands and what have you. And also, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was mindblowingly off-the-wall and had even better songs still... but that's a subject for another post. A constantly thwarted desire to see The Monkees' elusive and rarely-discussed big-screen outing Head, which finally showed up on Channel 4 in the late eighties (and let's not even get started on the long, long hunt for 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee), and the quest for tiny scraps of information in whopping great oversized books in the Film And TV section of  the local library, was instrumental in instituting a fascination with other neglected and forgotten corners of cinema history. Later, I would have enormous fun disproving the longstanding myth that Head was never shown in the UK at the time of release, but again, that's another story. More significantly, the search after seeing Head for a copy of The Porpoise Song - you would not believe the prices that the not-yet-reissued soundtrack album commanded in those days - led me to an obscure import-only American psychedelic compilation that also featured the likes of Love, The Turtles, The Seeds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Vanilla Fudge and Kenny Rogers And The First Edition. Whilst in that record shop, I also picked up a VHS bootleg of episodes of the TV series, which included the one where their old mucker Tim Buckley strummed and yodelled a really rather startling song at the end whilst sat on a smashed-up old car. It is safe to say that I was being ever so slightly lured in a certain musical direction.

It's also safe to say that we're also being inadvertently ever so slightly lured in that certain musical direction again now, which isn't so much addressing the conundrum outlined in the opening paragraph as replicating it entirely. So before we get irretrievably diverted and caught up in endless recollections about hunting down copies of Super K's Bubblegum Explosion, let's get back to what this outbreak of rambling originally set out intending to do, and take another look at that episode of The Monkees that so captured all those imaginations all that time ago. As it made such an indelible impression, we won't be needing BBC Genome to tell us that the episode in question was Monkees A La Mode - which, incidentally and astonishingly, still isn't available on DVD over here - so let's just put down the Tommy James And The Shondells 'Original Album Series' box set and get on with it, shall we?

Despite what you might not unreasonably assume, Monkees A La Mode was not actually the first episode of The Monkees but the twenty fourth (though we might also have reason to similarly revisit the actual first episode, A Royal Flush, very soon indeed... but more about that later); predictably there is no discernible rhyme, reason or logic to them, but all the same we're playing by the BBC's idiosyncratic rules here, and that's something that will come very much to the fore in a couple of paragraphs' time. Equally surprisingly, Monkees A La Mode doesn't open with a trademark display of four-handed Beatle-resenting social satire quickfire japsesmithery, but with one of those 'cold opens' that are all the rage now (or at least since Lost did one and everyone copied them), featuring an icy behatted career woman, a mod-attired groovy chick, and a camp psychedelic dandy getting up to all manner of Ugly Betty-prefuguring fashion industry-lampoonery in a Pop Art-styled publishing office as they rifle through pics of up-and-coming celebrities to feature in a forthcoming spread, alighting on some black and white glossies of The Monkees and summarily announcing plans to make over the long haired weirdos 'in our own image'. Then the action flips over - literally - to the long-awaited Monkee hangout, where the invitation to appear in Chic magazine is greeted with no little disdain, with Davy volunteering the style tip "why not take little metal bottle tops and nail them to your living room floor? It gives you the impression that you're walking... on... little metal bottle tops". Peter, however, is impressed that it features a 'serial' every month - "this month it's cornflakes", he adds whilst decanting some from the magazine into his bowl.

Then it's straight into the opening titles, but not the opening titles as anyone who watched those repeat broadcasts would know them. In the years since The Monkees had first been shown, the BBC had made all manner of 'improvements' to their purchased prints of the show, from removing flashframe cutaways and onscreen caption gags - you can bet the quick burst of that end credits montage of them trying on trendsetting hats that appeared during this episode's opening sequence had gone, for starters - to removing entire songs for no readily obvious reason. The Monkees was, of course, far from the only show to be subjected to this often blunt-scissored reappropriation, and not too far from it in the repeat schedules you would often find The Banana Splits (as it was renamed in ad-free BBC-land due to no longer lasting an hour), which had somehow mislaid the live action Danger Island serial along the way, and the famously doctored prints of Boss Cat (we'll call it by its proper name around here, thanks) which had been hamfistedly whittled to remove any trace of inadvertent free advertising for a certain pet food manufacturer, with the truncated opening titles cutting mid-Dibble-disobedience to an infamously shoddy title caption card, and a whopping great mid-lyric jump cut as he prepared for bedtime in a bin in the closing credits. Quite when and why this happened in the case of The Monkees is anyone's guess, but at some point the BBC's prints all had the series two opening titles edited onto them, which is why most viewers would probably be expecting the Wild West/Foreign Legion/Live Performance/Running Away From The Tide antics and the Peter? Peter! gag, but instead get an entirely different load of clips with the Monkeemobile surprisingly very much to the fore. And, erm, Mike sitting on a skateboard. What's more, it's followed by a Kellogg's sponsor bumper with its own Monkee jingle and box-hoisting comedy antics, which would doubtless have been binned before this episode got anywhere near the BBC. Then at last there's the familiar Four Faces On Orange Background caption card and brief harpischord reprise of the theme, but it's already obvious that this is, in some respects, going to be a slightly different experience to that of those edit-unaware youngsters watching way back when. But are we going to put this feature on hold for several months while we track down a possibly non-extant copy of that bizarre BBC-mangled version? Are we Mijacogeo.

Instead, it's straight back to the Monkees' joint, where a quick burst of polo-necked cod-Shakespearianism gets derailed by the arrival of the put-upon fashionistas - Tobi Willis and Robroy Fingerhead to give them their full names - wondering aloud how they are going to whip these long-haired scruffians into photoshoot-friendly shape. Their suggestion is that they should show the world "what you are and the way you live", to which Davy responds with alarm "you want to get us arrested?", and earns a Snorky-esque timpani-accompanied elbow in the ribs from Mike for his troubles; in an amusing bit of postmodernism, it appears that Davy has actually made this noise himself, and he sternly reminds Mike "don't do that". Some journalistic rifling through the band's bric-a-brac - including that never-explained Gerald Campion-alike ventriloquist's dummy - ensues, all of it hampered by a manically flailing Peter and sarcastically sceptical Mike, though it's actually the surprisingly touchy Davy who takes passionate exception to the shorthand-happy twosome's snobby dismissals. Micky just stands on the sidelines smirking, as though he's waiting for the right moment to deliver a scene-flattening one-liner, and sure enough it's him who delivers the spurious historical-one-line-cutaway-accompanied claims that the the various items of junk dotted about the place were in fact handed down a Monkee line of succession by the likes of George Washington and Paul Revere. Robroy remains cattily unimpressed, but Tobi is more sympathetic and asks them to come to the office at 9am the following morning. "What have we got to lose, fellers?" asks an unconvinced Davy. "Our shirts" is the group reply. You can guess the cutaway.

The following morning the Wilhelmina-Slater-Meets-Helen-A-esque Madame Quagmeyer is ruminating on "the worst looking dummy I've ever seen" when, bang on cue, Peter ambles into the studio. After being introduced to some haughty society gal-type researchers, occasioning Mike to 'introduce' himself to the other Monkees, Micky to try and seduce one by posing as a Chinese-born French-talker, Davy to remark that what he looks for in a girl "depends on what I've lost", and Peter to strike up a conversation with a lamp, they are ushered before the camera, where Robroy attempts to get himself on the Olympic bitching team with exasperation at their posture and lack of colour-coordination (not to mention Micky's incessant drumming), before it all degenerates into a performance of Davy-sung second album filler Laugh, accompanied by all manner of high-speed photo session diorama slapstick ranging from Micky wrestling with a stuffed tiger to Peter larking about with giant scissors and pencils and Davy being pursued by an alarmingly realistic-looking toy chimp. In a gleeful note of subversion, even some audience-pleasing shots of them actually smouldering for the camera get the rug pulled from underneath by the unexpected addition of comedy 'arrow-thru-head' props and what have you, simultaneously both acknowledging and refusing to take seriously the main reasons for the band's popularity.

Madame Quagmeyer is so pleased with the results of the photo session that she screws up the pasted-up pages without reading them and flings them binwards in front of Tobi's astonished face, and duly commissions Robroy to make a second attempt at it; in true media creep fashion (and indeed fashion), he's already got one ready in his jacket pocket. Meanwhile, back at the pad, the boys are busying themselves in, erm, feeding a toy giraffe when a procession of angry girls turn up at the door to slap them and a note around a brick comes through the window (which Davy presumes is "an advert for a glass factory"), before Tobi finally turns up with the long-awaited copy of Chic - "we haven't read it, but we've a feeling some of our friends have", muses Mike. Indeed, Robroy's hatchet job repositioning them as cultured aesthetes and overall snobs is so denigratingly effective that it has caused Tobi to quit her job in a fit of ethical pique. Flushed with success, Madame Quagmeyer sends them a telegram demanding that they represent her at The Young American People Trophy Award Thing later that evening, but while Davy and Micky propose replying with 'Monkee Telegram 26a' ("you can take your trophy and..."), they inevitably elect instead to turn up to the awards with a plan to create mayhem.

What follows is a description-defying frenetic madcap explosion of mime, sabotage, vandalism, snoring, babbling, pratfalls, bizarre accents, loose-limbed tomfoolery and close harmony barbershop caterwauling, striking terror into the very cultural sensibilities of the assembled 'suits', and culminating in them dedicating the award to Robroy, whose attempts to sneak out with his reputation intact are thwarted by more choreographed Monkee antics. Instead it's the boys who flee the building, performing conjuring tricks and building towers of teacups as they go. The next morning, they turn up at the Chic offices demanding a retraction, only to find that Tobi is now editor, with Robroy and Madam Quagmire as her meek and terrified assistants, and that despite this apparent game of musical office chairs basically nothing has actually changed. Rather a strong note of social satire for a sitcom widely derided as inconsequential trend-surfing zaniness-heavy appearing-and-disappearing-on-top-of-hills-fixated Beatle-plagiarising fluff to end on, you might think.

Except it's not quite the end of the episode itself, as there's still a mimed performance of then-as-yet-unreleased corker You Just May Be The One - written by Mike, and with most of them contributing to the instrumental backing, so stick that in your Not Even Mike Nesmith's Real Hat and smoke it - followed by the familiar end credits only with Variety-sized Kelloggs boxes troubling their faces. And, well, that's Monkees A La Mode, the very same episode that brought their getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet to a whole new audience way back when, and in its own small way did a large amount to introduce the idea that the pop music of the past could be resold to those outside of the more nostalgic members of their original target audience. Whether that was a good or a bad thing is something that you will need to take up with your nearest Fourteen Thousand Hits Of The Sixties - The Era That Defined An Era (Some Tracks Have Been Recreated Using As Many Of The Original Artists As Possible) box set.

So, how does Monkees A La Mode measure up to the reaction that it unexpectedly caused back then? Well, that's something that's very difficult to gauge, mainly on account of the fact that the entire attitude towards, and availablity of, archive media of all forms has so fundamentally shifted since then (and in a way that is most definitely a good thing). Despite the juvenile confusion over whether it was 'new' or not - in itself an indication of just how little archive material you'd find on television in those days - it was a garish film stock-facilitated window into the sound and style of another age at a time when ninety nine percent of anything that wasn't one hundred percent current was locked away in a big box labelled 'the past', and even something like Ragtime could seem like a hazy memory only a year or two after they stopped showing it. Or, if you prefer something a bit culturally, chronologically and geographically closer to The Monkees itself, the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You? did after it disappeared for a couple of years to be replaced by wall to wall Scooby Doo And Scrappy Doo. Even though, as noted earlier, this episode is bafflingly not commercially available, it only took me a couple of seconds to find and start watching it (yeah, and what are you going to do about that, Ian Screen Gems?; bring it out to buy and I'll buy it), and that couldn't be further removed from the days when you were lucky if you saw twenty seconds of Peter And Gordon during a local news report on someone 'bringing back' the 'swinging sixties'.  And that's not even taking into account the fact that this is a substantially different cut of the episode to the one that went out at the point we're harking back to. These things do make a difference you know. As you'd know if you'd heard the album edit of The Porpoise Song.

What it is easy to conclude, however, is that it's a good deal more sophisticated than zinger-and-camera-trickery-festooned memory and columnist prats who scoff that they weren't any good until Head might suggest, and certainly streets ahead of the likes of The Ghost And Mrs Muir that some would appear to want to retrospectively relegate it alongside. The satire of the fashion industry is much more barbed and disdainful than might perhaps be expected - something that was also very much true of the subjects tackled in other episodes - and in that sense, with all the music and film tinkering taken into account too, it's a lot closer to The Goodies than to The Mothers In Law. On a side note, it's also surprising to see just how involved as a character Davy was; often misrembered as a perma-chipper ludicrously-accented number-maker-up whose primary purpose was to fall inconveniently in love - an misconception that he admittedly did little to help with his self-parody bits in Head - here he's actually shown to be the most cynical and at times even most surreal of the four (which is no mean feat), though perhaps that kind of sardonic wit is easily lost on younger viewers. Even so, it's precisely that kind of hidden depth that caused it to become precisely the kind of renewed success it was; practically every other fondly-remembered comedy from the children's schedules around the same time, from Seaview and Maggie to Educating Marmalade and Behind The Bike Sheds to Smith And Goody and Luna, credited its audience with an intelligence and sophistication that was rarely to be found in any of the rest of the output aimed at them, which is perhaps why we're talking about them now and not sodding Brendon Chase.

So that's why The Monkees are still watched, listened to, enjoyed and indeed talked about now in a way that certain of their self-aggrandising contemporaries only ever have been in their own heads. Also, I would like an award for resisting the temptation to call this article 'Monkee Business'. I thank you.