Do You Remember THE RED HAND GANG? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Do You Remember THE RED HAND GANG?

La la la, la-la-la. La-la-la-la-la-la-laaa.......

Back in the 1970s, when the BBC bothered to show television during daylight hours, they seemed to have a policy of mainly broadcasting incredibly patronising children's television programmes that were originally produced in the 1950s or a selection of public information films that were intended to scare the life out of anyone watching, especially children.

If you think Alex Jones and his Infowars nonsense does a good job at getting people into a panic with his ludicrous conspiracy theories, 1970s BBC had me believing rogue farm machinery was lurking around every corner waiting to cut off one of my young limbs...

The cause of many a nightmare that. What's more, according to Auntie BEEB I couldn't even fly my kite without fear of electrocution...

To be fair, it wasn't just us kids who got short changed with television, the same was often true in BBC prime-time. For every classic series of the era there are a dozen bonefide snoozefests. Take the Onedin Line, a show about boats that seemed to always take place in an office. Then there was Z-Cars, I'm pretty sure no-one had told the producers that color broadcasting was now available. I know it's old hat to moan about Last Of The Summer Wine, but my Lord! How many times did they have to go down a hill with a bath tub?

But over the pond they did things differently. It's like the old saying, Britain has the steak, America has the sizzle. And occasionally some of the sizzle made it to our shores. Shows like Starskey & Hutch started to seep into the BBC Saturday night schedule. It was a series that, to me, felt as if our PYE 17" Television just couldn't contain it. From the opening sequence it burst out into the living room in glorious color and was just BIG! It was like watching a movie at the cinema, a new movie every week, with people in it who didn't look like physics teachers from the local polytechnic. Amazingly at this time I never realized that Starskey & Hutch wasn't made by the BBC, the accents and location should have been a giveaway, or the fact that there was a black guy in it who wasn't Lenny Henry, but I was young and nobody thought to mention it to me.

Occasional U.S. shows made their way into the cuddly BBC children's output, nestled between Newsround and Noggin The Nog. Again, oblivious was I that they were imports, I just couldn't fathom how the same people behind Bagpuss could also make The Hair Bear Bunch???

They were the shows I tuned in for. The shows I suffered through Blue Peter for. The shows that made childhood a little more fun. One of those such shows I stumbled across one weekday morning in the school holidays still stays with me today, and I loved every single second of it...

That, my friends, is the opening credits for The Red Hand Gang. Originally airing on NBC in 1977 and lasting only 12 episodes, it made its way to Britain the following year for the first of, by my estimation, three annual (or bi-annual) showings before never being seen again. The Red Hand Gang featured five crime-solving pre-teens and their dog Boomer, who, like me, lived in an inner city. These kids might not have exactly been Starsky & Hutch or driven around in a cool red car but they solved crimes and they had skateboards. And boy, could they skateboard...

I was hooked.

The group was so named because its members left red hand prints on fences to mark where they had been. It had, as you have witnessed above, an incredibly catchy theme tune. You may have also noted that the opening credits see the gang gleefully jumping in to shot at various angles, pre-dating Byker Grove by more than a decade!

So who made up The Red Hand Gang? I'm glad you asked. There was Frankie (played by Matthew Laborteaux) the gang leader, his younger brother Lil' Bill (Johnny Brogna), Doc (played by the absolutely brilliantly named James Bond III), Joanne (Jolie Newman), J.R. (J.R. Miller) and Boomer the dog (played by a dog named Johnny the Dog).

Of all of them, Laborteaux remained the most prolific. He played the character of Albert Quinn Ingalls in Little House On The Prairie between 1978 and 1983 and still finds plenty of work as a voice-over actor to this day. He could also be seen in the 1980 spin-off series entitled Here's Boomer, although the real star of that was Johnny the Dog of course. Here's Boomer was a sort of knock-off of The Littlest Hobo with Boomer travelling the country helping people. It ran for 20 episodes over 2 seasons, so it bested The Red Hand Gang's total.

Anyway, I digress...

Unlike the majority of other kids shows of the time, The Red Hand Gang was serialised, with each story split across several episodes, and most of them ending in a proper cliffhanger. Lovely stuff!

The first adventure is split across the first 5 episodes. A young boy called Johnny, is kidnapped and held for ransom in an old house. The Red Hand Gang find out where the boy is being held by trailing one of the kidnappers to their hideout. The gang set traps to scare the other kidnappers, but the kidnappers move to another location with the gang in pursuit.

The second story is split across the next four episodes. The gang go to a hotel to meet their hero, a football player called O.K. Oakins, who is the special guest at a charity auction where the star attraction is a priceless jewel. Whilst at the hotel the gang stumble across a plot to steal the jewel by replacing O.K. Oakins with a lookalike and replacing the real gem with a fake.

The final story is set over the final three episodes. The gang visit an animal sanctuary with their friend Holly, who is deaf. The animal sanctuary features a chimpanzee called Maxwell who can understand sign language. Unbeknownst to the gang, the chimpanzee is going to be used by two crooks to help them carry out a museum robbery.

I discovered over the years that nobody I knew ever seemed to remember The Red Hand Gang. Whenever I'd mention it there would be blank faces all round. But then in 2008, out of nowhere and with little fanfare, the whole series was released on DVD. I snapped it up and educated my friends. I say educated but as soon as the theme tune kicked in most people I showed it to seemed to recognise it and have a faint childhood memory of the show.

I think it was with The Red Hand Gang that I began to realise these shows that I loved came from America, and I pondered how come American children get to wander the city and solve crimes ALONE when I wasn't even allowed to go to the corner shop by myself!!

Clearly I wouldn't have wanted to though, just in case a stray combine harvester was waiting around the corner for me.

So you remember The Red Hand Gang? Let us know your memories of this classic 1970s children's show in the comments below.

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