One of my colleagues at work was enthusiastically telling me the other day about an exciting new children’s programme named Rastamouse. This, she explained, is a series concerning the adventures of a mouse who speaks patois, fights crime and possibly smokes ganja to bring himself closer to Jah. Sounds novel.
However, I would be remiss in my duties as a blogger and possibly get kicked out of the Ancient and Noble Order of Web-Loggers if I did not point out that this is not actually the first instance of a rastafarian rodent on British children’s television.
You see, back in the day (the day in question being at some point in 1988), there was another cartoon featuring such a character. The cartoon was called Tube Mice, and seems to be remembered by Yr. Humble Chronicler and almost no one else.
Those who do remember it tend to recall it as some sort of children’s version of Minder – not entirely unreasonable, as George Cole basically reprises his Arthur Daly role as the teddy-boy mouse Vernon and Dennis Waterman plays his sidekick, a punk mouse named Toaster. The series, as the name implies, was about the adventures of the mice who live on the London Underground. The protagonists were Bubble, a lifelong Londoner (seen right – the aforementioned Rastafarian mouse) and Squeak, a country mouse newly arrived in the city. Vernon and Toaster might be allies or antagonists, depending on the demands of the story. Other characters included mouse equivalents of various London types, including a bohemian artist and an MP (affiliation unknown).
The mice lived at Oxford Circus station in a kind of underground civilisation built out of litter and other items discarded by humans. Their adventures would take them all over London, to locations as diverse as the Houses of Parliament, the Mount Pleasant sorting office and a cheese factory at Swiss Cottage. It’s interesting that it was so specifically London-based – most kids’ TV shows tend to go with a vague or fictional location, one presumes to avoid alienating foreign audiences and to make translation easier. Even the more recent cartoon Underground Ernie, despite using the classic London Transport roundel and featuring characters named Bakerloo, Victoria, Hammersmith and City, was not set in London.
As you know, there is a simple rule for judging the quality of children’s television. Namely, if you watched it when you were growing up, it was awesome. If it came after you grew up, it’s terrible. So in retrospect, I should be fair and point out that it did have its faults – the animation was distinctly low-budget, for a start. But this helped to give it a very distinctive punk aesthetic, very ’80s style. Much use was made of crazy skewed perspective, washed-out colour and ransom-note style writing. It’s a pretty unique look, very much in keeping with the setting.