Review for Jossy's Giants
The eighties could be regarded as the halcyon era for children’s television drama and not just the historic, slightly middle-class wonders of stuff like the BBC Narnia series and ‘Five Children and It’. It was also a great era for gritty, down to earth children’s drama like ‘Grange Hill’. ‘Jossy’s Giants’ is a fantastic example of the latter, full of fun and, despite its soccer theme, really more about the trials and tribulations of being a young teenager than the sport itself.
Running for a mere two short seasons of five episodes a time, it will be fondly remembered by a generation of kids born the 70s who might have seen it when it originally aired in the exalted post-school, pre-tea slot on CBBC in 1986 and 1987.
It was devised and written by Sid Waddell, perhaps best remembered as the voice of darts at the time – the king of one liners like "Look at the man go: it's like trying to stop a water buffalo with a pea-shooter" and "His eyes are bulging like the belly of a hungry chaffinch." Despite his gritty, northern accent, Waddell was actually quite an academic, graduating from Cambridge with a degree in History before joining Granada TV in 1966. TV historians will know him for series like ‘The Flaxton Boys’ but after the best part of a decade voicing darts, ‘Jossy’s Giants’ saw his return to his original love’ children’s TV.
The series is centered around a hapless children’s soccer team who, under the guidance, expertise and leadership of a cheeky geordie sports shop owner, Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair (played brilliantly by Jim Barclay) actually become rather good.
The series kicks off with the elderly Albert Hanson (Christopher Burgess) desperately trying to manage of the downtrodden and de-motivated Glipton Grasshoppers, with little success. Just when all seems lost, a stranger (Jossy) who has been watching from the side-lines gives them the benefit of his observations and expertise – in no uncertain terms, delivered with Geordie honesty.
Before long they persuade Jossy to manage them and he rises to the challenge in no uncertain terms. He was, after all, once a contender for professional soccer himself and, as the series progresses, we learn that he is well connected, counting guest stars Bobby Charlton (no less) and a young Bryan Robson among his friends.
Series 1 sees their rise and rise against great adversity (like the potential closing of their practice field, due to be sold off for development) whilst Series 2 explores the jump from boisterous boyhood to teenage years with the cast all now a year older and more interested in girls, fashion and music than in soccer. Both seasons are a complete blast, not only as wonderful time capsules from 30 plus years ago, but as fun, comedic dramas in their own right.
In common with other great kids shows (The Double Deckers, Grange Hill) the team is made up of a number of different sorts. Goalkeeper Harvey McGuinn (Julian Walsh) is a serious young lad who initially dislikes handling the ball and has a natural propensity to dive away from it. Later we find that his preference is ice skating and ‘serious’, almost adult-like relations with his girlfriend. Then there are the strikers, Glenn Rix and Ian ‘Selly’ Sellick (Stuart McGuinness and Ian Shepherd), more likely to be striking each other than the ball with their matching ‘punk’ hairstyles.
Then there’s the one good player, Ross Nelson (Mark Gillard), backed by his pushy and wealthy bookmaker Father, Bob (John Judd) and super-concieted and big-headed as a result; though also clearly the teen pin-up for the series too.
But the most prominent character throughout (apart from Jossy) is the team’s number one fan - Tracey Gaunt (Julie Foy) who shows enormous organisational skills as well as being the resident agony aunt.
Each episode moves the story on, yet is standalone too, with some of the most enjoyable being one where the team get to sit in the audience for ‘A Question of Sport’; another where Jossy is tasked to romance a member of the local Council (who he later weds in an equally fun episode) to save their practice field; the first of Series two where Jossy returns from a stay in Newcastle to find the team changed into girl-obsessed teens, and another where an Italian team visit the area and take on the team. All great fun and, if you loved this first time around, you’ll love it all over again here.
In common with many such series, the bulk of the cast were pretty inexperienced and some of the lines a little wooden, but that’s all par for the course in series like this and undoubtedly part of their nostalgic charm.
Others, like Julie Foy, are absolutely stand-out.
Image quality is good for a series of this vintage, as is audio. The theme song, a bombastic throwback to the days of glam, will be going around your head for days after the final episodes credits roll too.