A series about life for the staff of Spatz, a branch of a Canadian fast food franchise that has opened in England. The Canadian managerial staff are Thomas "TJ" Strickland and Karen Hansson.
Spatz ran for 3 series/33 episodes on afternoon Children's ITV, 1990-1992, with repeats later in the 1990s (on afternoon CITV and on Scratchy & Co on Saturday mornings) and a special repeat in 2013 (see below).
For me, at a time when it felt grown-up just to be drinking tea, and finding myself enjoying Brookside and Birds Of A Feather almost as much as cartoons, Spatz brought sitcom to a child audience, without being patronising. The characters were larger than life, but only slightly.
On this page you can read about the concept of Spatz and who the main cast and characters were, listen to sound clips and find links to video clips, and see photos taken on set and magazine cuttings about the actors. You can also take a look at the Spatz novel and read how Spatz writers Grant Cathro and Lee Pressman look back on the series.
If your ideal nostalgia trip would be to watch as much Spatz as you can, I have put together a YouTube playlist of all the episodes and clips I could find. It's in chronological order.
Spatz International is a fast food franchise, founded in
The location: the (fictional) open-air Manor Park Shopping Centre in Cricklewood in North West London.
Other shops in "the mall" include: a vet's surgery, the betting shop, Grant Lee Bookmakers (formerly Anthony's) opposite Spatz; a video shop; a bank; a library; Undieworld, a lingerie shop; a Blimpy's restaurant (see below).
It's no coincidence that Spatz writers Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro (yes, Grant Lee Bookmakers got its name from them) set another series in Cricklewood (NW2), as Lee explains over on my Mike & Angelo page.
Two Canadians, manager TJ (Thomas Jefferson) Strickland and European Co-ordinator Karen Hansson, are stationed at the restaurant, in an upstairs office. Teenage staff members are recruited and the fun begins.
Getting customers into Spatz involves various publicity schemes, such as celebrity appearances and children's parties, with a significant problem being posed by the competition: Blimpy's burger bars. The local outlet is managed by the nefarious Ivor Willis.
The Spatz Rulebook is often wielded by Karen and is supposed to incite fear and reverence, but has little sway in as chaotic a setting as the restaurant.
'With its multi-cultural cast and mix of accents, [Spatz] is a truly cosmopolitan teen drama peopled by sassy young characters and performed with verve.' - Time Out magazine, 1992
Jennifer Calvert as Karen Hansson
Grant Cathro says: ‘Karen … was always the best possible fun to write. How fantastic to be so utterly incredibly horrible to absolutely everybody all the time. Maybe it was therapy? Our mean and angry streaks exorcised through K. Hansson, could it be?
Our earlier creation, T-Bag, wasn’t so unlike Karen, now I think of it. Maybe Lee and I were born to write lines for women like these.
I’ve certainly always been attracted to end-of-the-line characters, but they’ve got to be performed just right: the trick is to bring genuine vulnerability to those devastating lines. As the writer you can hint at that quality in the text, but the success or failure is ultimately down to the actors to somehow play against the lines. How lucky we were with both T-Bag and Karen; imagine how cold and unappealing they might have been!!
Really glad we didn’t wimp out and blandify them for the sake of trying to “add warmth”. We trusted Liz Estensen and Jennifer Calvert and they paid us back gloriously.’
Jennifer Calvert says: ‘Karen is a dreadful woman. She’s ghastly – really, really awful. She may have a good side to her somewhere, but if she does she keeps it very well hidden. She’s got no sense of humour at all and she’s totally ambitious, just a working machine who sees everyone else just as working machines. She doesn’t mingle with people in her personal life because she just sees people as a means to further her career. She’s horrible. I got very worried that her character would start to creep into my life and I’d end up a bit like her.
‘I decided to leave
Paul Michael (TJ) says: ‘I loved working with Jennifer, daily. She always gave you so much to work with and off. The Gary Lineker episode [Star Attraction, Series 2] was one of my favourites too as well as the magic one [Clowning Around, Series 1]. [Chris Langham] who played the magician ... was very well known. I think it probably took longer to record his scenes than any others because he kept breaking Jennifer and me up on every take.’
Also been in: T-Bag, Mike & Angelo, The Bill, Stargate SG-1, Brookside, Red Dwarf, Doctors
I was delighted at making email contact with Jennifer Calvert in 2012:
Jennifer Calvert says: ‘O My Goodness, how amazing to see your website. So great to see there are some who remember Spatz in all its technicolour glory.
It was a treat working on that show. From Grant & Lee to Stan & Baz, the wonderful & talented cast & crew and guest artists, when I look back I realise now that we were doing something quite special. Not many kids' shows that I can think of have the same combination of surreal silliness mixed with sharp wit - it was a joy to play and I am thrilled and really grateful that I had a chance to stretch my comedy muscles in such good company.
At the time you just do you best and hope it's working. Thank you for remembering and for reminding me, us, that it did.’
Thank you to Robin for finding this clip of Jennifer Calvert and fellow Brookside cast members performing on Children In Need in 1988. What did she think about seeing it again? ‘I can't tell you how agonisingly, teeth-grindingly, toe-curlingly overjoyed I am’!
Kind thanks to Jamie of The High-T Website for contributing scans of an interview with Jennifer Calvert, in the TV Times magazine of 28/2/90, on the topic of cooking burgers! Click the thumbnails below for larger images.
Paul Michael as Thomas Jefferson Strickland, a.k.a. TJ
Grant Cathro says: ‘Paul worked hard and ceaselessly to pump life into Spatz’s “straight man” and make him memorable. I was always hugely impressed by what he did.’
Courtesy of Jamie of The High-T Website comes this cutting from the magazine Look-In from March 1990, with Paul revealing a surprise connection between him and Jennifer:
I was lucky enough to hear from Paul Michael in early 2005. Like many others, he enjoys remembering the laughter-filled days of Spatz, and would love it to return!
Thanks to Ellis, an early contributor to my website, for remembering that 'TJ was a fan of some kids' show called Rudy Rooster, which seemed to involve him wearing a stupid hat and strutting like a chicken. He also had a train set, which stopped at Strick-land and ended at 'Not Funny' Junction!'
Paul Michael also acted under the name Paul Rothery. He is now known to many in the United States as the voice of Dan Brown audiobooks.
Vas Blackwood as Dexter Williams
Vas Blackwood says: 'Dex has got ambitions of being a manager - so he can be a real crawler at times. But he's a bit of an Arthur Daley character too. He's always got some scam going on.
He's a very 9 to 5 kinda guy and he wants to get on, but ultimately he's a fool to himself. He’s a laugh though.
'I've done a lot of comedy work before like The Lenny Henry Show, and Only Fools And Horses. I reckon I'm a natural to do his part too, 'cause I worked in a McDonald's when I was 15. It was good because Michelle Collins, who plays Cindy in Eastenders, worked there too.'
Also been in: Casualty, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Mean Machine, Only Fools And Horses, I Love 1984, Creep, Mercenaries
Thank you to Jamie of The High-T Website for this cutting from Look-In magazine, April 1990, in which Vas reveals more about his fast food past:
Thank you to Vas for tweeting me in 2012 and remembering Spatz as #RealTV!
Sue Devaney as Jo Collins (Series 1)
Sue Devaney says: 'Jo is 17; she's a northerner who's landed a job working in Spatz selling burgers. She's very loud, very cheeky, very boisterous, very naive and totally man mad. In fact she's just like Sue Devaney, except l gave up men two days ago. I hate 'em.
'I've played a lot of different roles in the last couple of years both for children’s and adult telly. I was In
Also been in: Dinnerladies, Casualty, Coronation Street
Jamie of The High-T Website kindly sent me this March 1990 cutting from Look-In magazine, where Sue talks about her off-screen band:
Joe Greco as Vince Powers
Also been in: Mike & Angelo, Megamania, Motormouth, the Pink Windmill Kids ("I'm Joe to you!")
Thank you to Joe for messaging me in 2012:
'Had a quick look at your site... what a trip down memory lane! It's nice to know that you remember the show so fondly. People still occasionally ask me about Spatz and I'm always so surprised they remember it! I guess the TV shows you watch when you're a child are the ones that stay with you the longest.
Thanks for keeping Spatz alive.'
Ling Tai as Lily Quang (Series 1 + one appearance in Series 2)
Also been in: Bergerac, Doctor Who, Coronation Street
Stephanie Charles as Debbie Wesley
Also been in: The Bill, Grange Hill, Desmonds, the musical Boogie Nights and a Channel 4 ident
Jonathan Copestake as Stanley Rydale
Jonathan was kind enough to email me in December 2003.
Jonathan Copestake says: 'My memories of Spatz are very fond. It was my first professional job after leaving drama school and I considered myself extremely lucky to work with such a supportive cast and crew.
As I remember it, Spatz got funnier and funnier with every new episode and I think it had plenty more life left in it when the last episode was made. Such a shame they didn't go to at least one more series.
Interesting fact: I was at Clwyd Youth Theatre with Rhys Ifans, so when he guested on Spatz, we had already known each other since our teens. Rhys and I once did a production of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, a two-hander, which I consider one my greatest acting achievements.
Keep up the good work with the Spatz site, it's nice to see it getting the recognition it deserves!'
Also been in: Prime Suspect 4, As Time Goes By, Inspector Morse, The Bill
Katy Murphy as Fiona Reddy, a.k.a. Freddy (Series 2 and 3)
Grant Cathro says: 'It was actually me who suggested Katy Murphy for the part of Freddy. We'd just got the Series Two commission in, and that Friday night I went to see a play on the London Fringe (at The Bush Theatre) where Katy was appearing alongside an old drama school pal of mine, Tom Mannion. (Tom turns up as loopy busker in one of the later episodes [Poetry And Music, Series 3]). Katy played this spaced-out Glaswegian girl in the play, and something went click in my mind. Perfect for Spatz, I thought.
Lee and I both became huge fans of Katy, and cast her in everything we could. She was brilliant in a film we wrote called B&B and a perfect delight in the later series of Mike & Angelo. A little nod in the direction of John Laurie’s wonderful Dad's Army Scottish undertaker character in Freddy; the bagpipe-accompanied mystic visions always being a hoot to concoct.'
Thank you to Katy for dropping by and signing my guestbook in 2011.
Guest stars who went on to even greater things include: David Harewood, Rhys Ifans, Sophie Okonedo, Hermione Norris
Guest stars who appeared as themselves include: Gary Lineker, Nicholas Parsons, Lenny the Lion & Terry Hall
Grant Cathro says: 'Lee Pressman and I, as lead writers on the show, did much of the casting ourselves, often auditioning actors in our office at Thames Television whilst in the midst of actually writing the scripts. We were very ably assisted by casting director Joyce Nettles (late of the Royal Shakespeare Company) who often made super suggestions. We've always adored weird casting mixes.'
Created by Andrew Bethell
Produced by Carol Commisso and Alan Horrox
Written by Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro; Jim Eldridge
Directed by Stan Swan; Baz Taylor
Recorded at Grip House, Greenford (England)
A YTV/Thames Television production
Thanks to Chris from Canada, for explaining that '"Canadian content" rules force [Canadian TV channel] YTV to create original series often with the help of foreign networks for full financing.'
Facebook users can join the Bring Back Spatz group.
2015 is the year of Spatz's silver anniversary and some other anniversaries too. I've celebrated this by writing a sketch called Cha Crossed which can be found at the end of the Spatz Episode Guide page.
Children's ITV (Freesat 602, Freeview 122, Sky 621, Virgin 734) repeated Spatz as part of its 30th anniversary Old Skool Weekend. An episode from 1992/Series 3, Tango, was shown on Sunday 6th January 2013 at 9:50am. (It was on ITV Player until February 6th 2013, and is also on YouTube.) Episodes of Grant Cathro and Lee Pressman's other CITV series, T-Bag and Mike & Angelo, were also repeated.
When I started this website in 2002 to fly the flag for Spatz on the internet, I never dreamt that we would be seeing it on TV again. It was thrilling news. Here are some of the things that people were saying on Twitter about it:
SPATZ! I LOVED SPATZ SO MUCH! - @starchildluke
Yes! Spatz! @meg_la_mania
SPATZ! MIKE & ANGELO! FUN HOUSE! I'm so excited!! - @thenshedid
Spatz was brilliant - @JaredSchiller
Knightmare! Press Gang! SPATZ! So. Excited. Literally. Cannot. Breathe. - @ianfarrington
CANCEL EVERYTHING. CITV is doing 80s kids' shows all weekend. Knightmare, Fun House... good lord, Spatz is on. I thought I dreamed that show - DaisiestDaisy
I used to love it but no one seems to remember it :-) - @EmLou24
About to watch #Spatz on CITV. - @VasBlackwood
Oh my god! I have missed #Spatz so much!! - @Lucy_Edmondson
And now #spatz quality TV viewing - I don't want to leave my house!! - @nikkiwba
I can't begin to explain how much I used to love Spatz!!! HUGE crush on Karen Hanson! - @youngwildie
I love Spatz :-) One of my fave shows when I was growing up - @stuthedj
Spatz is one of the greatest sitcoms of all time - @pantsil316
Having a lovely cuddle with my youngest as we watch Spatz on citv!! - @chrisk1906
Spatz was bloody brilliant - @mark_random
#Spatz on CiTV. Comedy masterclass + Nicholas Parsons cameo. What a treat. - @LoopinLucy
Spatz is still pretty good..at least asgood as any prime time sitcom. - @JonnyLazertooth
I recorded and uploaded these in the early days of my website, when there were no audio clips (let alone video clips) of Spatz to be found anywhere online. They were wav files (remember them?) which I eventually converted to mp3 format. I've kept them here for old time's sake.
Music by David Stafford. I once got told off at school for stamping my foot, which I did because I had the Spatz theme in my head, got to the part where the burger bun comes down and I couldn't help myself!
Since this webpage's 2002 debut, YouTube has come along and taken nostalgia to new levels. Most episodes of Spatz are represented online either in clip form or in full: my YouTube playlist has them in order of first broadcast.
I have also found this CITV advert for Spatz uploaded to YouTube. It's marked as 1991 but is likely to be from later in the 1990s.
This CITV clip also contains an advert for Spatz, featuring clips of Series 3 episodes Tango and Driving Miss Wesley.
Here is a CITV clip that includes the first and last few seconds of Bye Bye TJ (1.13) from 2:47 onwards.
Written by Ben Steed (who also wrote the books that became another Children's ITV series, Kappatoo), it was published in paperback in 1991. It features adaptations of five Spatz episodes from the first series – Royal Visit, Sound Of Muzak, Karen’s Birthday, Greenpieces, Bye Bye TJ – based around the original dialogue and action. Not as much fun as the TV programme, but it has some interesting background information on Spatz, and offers the chance to appreciate the brilliant dialogue at your own pace. To see if Amazon has any for sale at the moment, try this link.
Thanks to the extinct http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/5144/spatz.html for some of the information and the logo on this website.
Special thanks to early visitors Amanda, Helen, Christopher and Joe, and later guests including Richard, Mark and Keith, for their positive remarks, which make this all even more worthwhile.
How do the Spatz writers look back on the series?
Grant Cathro says: 'Spatz is still one of my proudest things because we were really trying hard to make a kids' comedy that didn't seem like a kids' comedy, and I think we got kind of close. I'm so glad it's stuck in the minds of some of its audience.'
Lee Pressman says: 'When Grant and I get together we always agree that Spatz was the best series we ever wrote - the scripts, the cast, crew, directors, design - everything came together brilliantly and we're really proud of what we achieved.'
All dialogue and sound samples Copyright Thames Television and ITV. This web page is not intended to infringe those copyrights; it's meant to be an enjoyable tribute to a good programme.