Art Attack! with Neil Buchanan in the 90s

Hosted by Neil Buchanan, Art Attack was a children’s television programme which originated in 1990 and was popular with ITV viewers throughout the decade. The format consisted of a number of sections where Buchanan would demonstrate how to make amazing works of art using a wide range of techniques, all of which we were supposed to be able to copy and complete in our own homes.

A talented artist

Buchanan was a talented artist alright: his creations always looked amazing. The frustration came when viewers tried to recreate the magic in their own living rooms and usually failed miserably to make anything vaguely resembling the artistry of the great presenter himself! For one, they didn’t have production assistants on hand to prepare all the various resources they would need, for Buchanan never had to do this himself – oh no. Well at least if he did, he had the time and luxury of getting it ready before the show began, and wasn’t desperately scrabbling around for a pipe cleaner or ball of string with which he could complete his masterpiece before the show moved on to the next segment and the instructions for the particular piece of art were lost forever, unless you happened to be recording the show, which was fairly unlikely.

Resident Caricaturist with Artistic Ability

The show actually originated as a short segment on another television programme called No 73, which was a children’s show broadcast on a Saturday morning throughout much of the 80s. It had, among others, Sandy Toksvig, Andrea Arnold and Neil Buchanan as presenters who played different characters and mostly improvised a show based around weekly special guests, music videos and competitions. When Buchanan joined the cast he was the show’s resident caricaturist and his artistic ability as well as his likeable personality led to him presenting first the Art Attack segment of No 73, and then the show itself, as it became a programme in its own right.

The show was a TVS production at first, but as TVS lost their franchise in 1992, Buchanan and Neil Edmunds, the colleague who had conceived the show alongside him, bought the rights to Art Attack for their own media production company. They continued to successfully air episodes of the show for many years. Later, the show went to the Disney Channel, but its real home for die-hard British 90s fans will always be ITV.

Comforting viewing

Neil was at his best when presenting Art Attack, his soft Scouse accent encouraging his youthful audience that yes, they too could create amazing works of art. He made it look so easy: every brushstroke, every snip of the scissors, every bend and twist of a pipe cleaner seemed to lead to something magical coming to life before the viewer’s eyes. With the iconic background of a huge, primary coloured paint pallet, brushes, marker pen and pencils, Art Attack made for comforting viewing, even for those who never attempted to emulate Neil’s creations, happy just to watch and gasp at his artistry. From the familiar, chirpy theme tune to Buchanan’s cheerful goodbye wave at the end of the show, Art Attack kept its arty audience glued to their seats.

Favourite segments of the show included Buchanan’s large-scale creations, which often involved using huge amounts of space to get very messy. One particular Halloween episode involved creating an enormous picture on the floor using what appeared to be garlic powder. It ended up being a larger-than-life image of Dracula himself, made entirely of a cunningly scattered pattern of white powder. Try creating that one on the floor of the lounge! Just make sure you duck when your mum arrives home to a house that reeks of garlic and has half a ton of white powder all over her best carpet. Maybe not.

Art Attack Cancelled in 2007

And at the end of every episode when Neil wished us a happy ‘Try it yourself. And I’ll see you next time. Tarar!’ we felt we had been a part of something magical and were saying goodbye to an old friend until the next episode. Art Attack was finally cancelled in 2007 but one final segment of Art Attack was filmed and aired as part of the Thirty Years of CITV celebrations in 2012. An episode from 1992 was aired the same day as part of the ITV Old Skool weekend, and many a 90s fan watched with a mixture of nostalgia and the age-old frustration, as Buchanan again made amazing creations which viewers could never hope to match.

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