Every time I tell Son and Daughter that they spend too much time staring at a screen, I get a guilty conscience because I can also see a photo of myself, aged about 3, standing 50cm from a bulky, black-and-white television set, staring it, completely mesmerized.
To be honest, even the first words I learned to read were words in a TV advertisement.
But that’s probably not a surprise, considering that when I was old enough to sit by myself, when my hard-working mother needed some me-time so she could concentrate on her studies, she tied me up in a chair with a scarf (so that I wouldn’t fall down) and put me in front of a TV. Especially when the Thunderbirds were on.
In short, I was raised on TV.
Back then, we only had two channels, and they sure didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day, not even close. There was no Cartoon Network, which is why the Pink Panther shorts that were sometimes shown between programs were so special, just like the Christmas Eve morning’s cartoon (and puppet) marathon. That was the one day of the year I could sit in front of the television in the morning and watch children’s programs until noon.
Saturday afternoons were reserved for Happy Days and whatever other teenage series came before and after it.
But it was the Friday afternoons that made me feel cool and independent because Friday afternoon were the only time of the week that I was alone at home watching TV.
And it was cool because it was Thrillseekers time. Every week, it featured daredevils doing dangerous stunts. It was a celebration of the Evel Knievels of the world, the people who run on adrenaline, who push the boundaries of what humans think they can do, and who jump over buses on a motorbike.
Everybody at school was talking about the show on Monday, so if you wanted to be a part of the schoolyard conversation, you’d better be at home on Friday afternoon and see what the Thrillseekers were up to. And it was cool to be in the know.
However, there was another show just before Thrillseekers that I liked a lot, maybe even more that the daredevil show, and it made a huge impression on me. It was a cartoon in which the main character visited a costume shop each week, and whatever costume wore walking out of the fitting room, that’s the kind of adventure he’d end up in. I especially remember one in which he dressed up as a frogman, and then, like Jacques Cousteau, my other hero, went on an underwater expedition.
I thought it was the best show I had ever seen. I loved the idea, it was such a great, fantastical idea. Imagine walking into a fitting room with a cowboy’s costume, and walking out into the Wild West!
But I didn’t know what it was called. I’m sure it had a name, but it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to find someone who had seen it so that I’d know I hadn’t dreamt it all up.
I’ve since asked those old schoolmates if they remember the show, too, but they all shake their heads and change the subject. I’ve asked my new schoolmates, and they do the same. Every once in a while, when I’ve made new friends and we’ve really hit it off, I’ve snuck in a question about the “innovative TV show we used to watch” but nobody has ever seemed to know what I’ve been talking about.
But I never asked Rob.
Until last night.
We talked about music, and TV, and movies – like we always do. We talked about Bowie and the Beatles, and London back when Rob used to live there, and golf and tennis, the Onedin Line, Borg and McEnroe, and James Bond and The Saint, and Mork and Mindy, until it got dark and I could see the lights reflect on the puddles outside the restaurant.
I didn’t even think about. It just came out of my mouth and I heard the words come out of my mouth the same time as Rob did. Before there was time for me to be shocked over my own words, Rob pointed at me and said, “Mr Benn.”
“What? Who? Where?”
“That’s Mr. Benn,” Rob said. “The show you’re talking about.”
“It is? You know it?”
“It’s an awesome concept. Just fantastic.”
And we talked about Mr. Benn for a while, and I told Rob about that episode in which Mr. Benn goes diving, and how I’ve never forgot it.
“Mr Benn was the best,” Rob said.
“Yes, he was,” I said.
And, most importantly, I now know the show was real. Another mystery solved.