21 November 2005 | Chip_douglas
One customer a week at the Tickle General Store and Post Office
After his big success with 'The Streets of London' folksy singer Ralph McTell dabbled in Children's Television in the Eighties, writing and performing the hauntingly beautiful theme to "The Wind in the Willows" and appearing in "Alphabet Zoo" with Nerys Hughes. In 1984 he settled down in Tickle Town (on the river Tum) and, apparently using the royalties from his records, opened up the Tickle Post office/General Stores. Each Monday one of the eccentric town residents would wonder into the shop to buy something or post a letter and tell a funny story that happened to them that week. This would inspire McTell to come up with a song on the spot or else he would sing a ditty associated with the Tickle patron at hand. Singing along and helping out behind the counter (but mostly sitting on top of it) was Danusia (Danny for short) Harwood. Now I honestly cannot figure out how Ralph could afford to hire a shopkeeper when they only had one customer a week.
Familiar faces that used to come in included: Bill Oddie as Doctor Dimple, Madge Hindle as post woman Winnie Walker and the aforementioned Nerys Hughes as Bunny Brown, who owned a pet shop. Billy Connoly played village dustman/part time inventor Bobby Bins at the start but was soon replaced by Willie Rushton as the similar looking Tommy Tidy. Mollie (Mrs Slocombe) Sugden owned a laundrette as Bessie Bagwash, 'Carry On' legend Joan Sims was policewoman Connie Caper and even Kato, aka Burt Kwouk entered the shop as Chip shop owner Willie Wok. However, Tim "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet" Healy stole the show whenever he came in as bargain builder Barnie Bodger. On those occasions, Ralph and his shop assistant would perform Bodger's memorable theme song. And as Barnie struggled to perform all the tasks Ralph sang about, McTell would usually not make it all the way through without bursting out with laughter.
There was also a regular feature in which young readers could send in jokes that were read out as 'Tickle mail' (nearly everything in town was preceded by the word Tickle). Don't know how the postmen managed to find Tickle, as not a single map of the Britsh Isles lists it, nor the River Tum for that matter. Actually, most of the Tickle mail was sent from schools, so it's likely that the producers went round several of them asking pupils to submit jokes. Danusia Harwood moved over to cable's "The Children Channel" to write and perform the funny "TCC Express" with Steve Morewood, and the enjoyable "All New Steve & Danny Show". Jacqueline Reddin replaced her as the new hired hand at the post office and it this middle period of the show which is best represented on Youtube at the time of this writing. That is to say, a fair amount of the musical numbers can be found. The only full episode on line (as yet) is the 1986 Christmas special. Although this episode runs twice as long as a normal Tickle installment, rather disappointingly it doesn't feature any of the regular guest stars. Just Ralph and Jacqui. Also, Ralph is shown returning from a music tour and mentions that the entire shop belongs to Jacqui now!
By the time the series reached it's fourth and last season, Ralph decided to focus on his music career again. So in what today would certainly be recognized as a 'Jump the Shark' moment, Jacqui began working at the brand new Tickle Television station in 1988. She also sang the theme tune from now on and was accompanied by a puppet cat called Dexter (played by John Eccleston). Other than that most of the same people still came in for their regular chats. None of these episodes have surfaced on the web yet, but this may change now that part of the first season (with Danny) has been released on DVD in 2010. Unfortunately, the DVD does not feature the full first series, but rather a selection of episodes from the first recording block (39 episodes spread out over series 1 and 2). This means everyone's favourite builder, Barney Bodger, is nowhere to be seen on the DVD despite appearing in the very first episode as broadcast... 8 out of 10