Feb 7

Like most kids, when I was young I liked to get in two solid hours of television between getting home from school and having tea. I have fond memories of those afternoon TV shows, which were mostly re-runs of American shows from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Let’s see if your memory is as good as mine.

You’ll almost certainly remember Flipper, which featured the exploits of Sandy and Bud Ricks, single-parent dad Porter, and their friendly dolphin Flipper. The show was set and filmed in Florida, utilising the surrounding ocean and beaches, as well as some of the least convincing green screen work you are ever likely to see:

Here are the opening titles with original theme music. (In later years this was replaced with a jazzy, Dean Martinesque version of the same tune.)

OK, so we started with an easy one, but do you remember Salty? Salty was very much in the mold of Flipper; two young boys with a tragic backstory – the death of their parents in a hurricane – find solace in the companionship of a freakishly intelligent ocean-going mammal, in this case a seal, which they name Salty.

Sadly I couldn’t find the opening titles for Salty, just a brief clip from the show. The young boy at the start, Tim Reed, is played by Clint Howard, brother of Ron Howard, a.k.a. Richie Cunningham. There is something sinister about this clip that I can’t quite put my finger on.

OK, so we’ve done dolphins and seals, let’s move onto the land with the next one, Gentle Ben. The eponymous Ben is a large American black bear that is befriended by young Mark Wedloe – coincidentally, played once again by Clint Howard. The pair live with Mark’s parents in the Florida everglades and zip along the shallow water aboard one of those flat boats with the big propeller at the back. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the opening titles, which I am thrilled to have found. I have often questioned people my age about this show and usually get blank stares. I was starting to think I may have imagined it.

Hmmm, now here’s something odd. The Wikipedia entry for Gentle Ben implies that the bear, Ben, was in fact a man in a bear suit. This to me seems incredible. Look at those opening titles again – that is one convincing bear suit! My memories of the show are of course vague after nearly 30 years, but my belief has always been that Ben the bear from Gentle Ben is the same Ben the bear as appeared in Grizzly Adams. But the Wiki states, quite pointedly, that “there is no connection between the bears”. Smells like a cover-up.

So, did you remember all three of these TV classics? If not, shame on you. What the hell were you doing every afternoon between four and six o’clock? Homework? Playing outside? Pffft.

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