When I was a kid, we didn’t have cable. Cable was for rich kids, and my grandparents, who paid for cable but never watched it and liked to complain how there was never anything on even with all the extra channels.
Like most children who grew up in rural Canada, we had two channels – CBC and CTV. “Screen time limits” being a phrase never heard or uttered in the 1980s, my sister and I would binge from just after breakfast until lunchtime, when the programming flipped to soap operas on every channel. Usually we did the trifecta of comfort programming on CBC; The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup, and Sesame Street. Then we’d switch over to CTV and the completely weird Harriet’s Magic Hats.
The premise was simple. A little girl had a trunkful of hats in her attic. When she put on a hat, zap! she was instantly transported to the appropriate setting for the hat. Chef’s hat? Zap! to a restaurant kitchen to learn about being a professional chef. Hardhat? Zap! to a dangerous-looking construction site where you learn all about the construction trades.
I loved the show. I loved the “special effects” that even little-kid me knew were kind of cheesy. I loved the strange opening theme sung by what sounded like a British children’s choir. For years whenever I was playing the whole “do you remember” game with people, I would ask them about Harriet’s Magic Hats.
No one did.
I started to think I was crazy. It became a kind of quest for me; would I ever meet someone who remembered the show? Did it ever actually exist? Were my sister and I just sharing in a hallucination brought on by years of eating carob-chip cookies and Red River cereal because my mom was a clean-eating localganic sort of person before it was cool?
I resolved that my first post for “Throwing it Back” would be an ode to Harriet and her magic hats, because dammit, Allison and Nicole have a longer reach than me and I was hoping someone, somewhere, would validate me.
I decided to Google that shizz, just in case… AND OH MY GOD, THE INTERNET IS WONDERFUL.
I found it! I found it on Wikipedia (although it’s not a full article and needs more detail). I found full episodes! I found the opening credits and the years didn’t lie, it does sound like a British children’s choir is singing it!
It’s strange, though. Apparently I was so young when I watched it (it went off the air in 1986, when I was eight) that I was remembering it all wrong. The little girl is not named Harriet; her name is Susan. Harriet is her aunt. MIND = BLOWN. I’d also managed to block out the creepy puppet that lives in the attic; it’s a parrot that talks and reads the newspaper (??) and is also roughly the size of an ostrich. Like, it’s a huge bloody parrot. A scary parrot. And although the quality of the YouTube video isn’t great, it looks like it has Groucho Marx eyebrows.
The 1980s were a strange, magical time, children.
I maintain that it was a great show. There was no gender divide about the featured jobs. There was a good balance between white collar and blue collar careers. The information was given in simple language and since an episode was only 15 minutes kids couldn’t get bored.
Imagine a rebooted version for today’s kids? I would totally watch that, and make my kids watch it, too. Right now they think the only available jobs are the ones their dad & I do, plus astronaut, palentologist, nuclear physicist, and professional baseball player. A little dose of information and reality would be kind of awesome.
You can leave the parrot out of it, though.
Do you remember Harriet’s Magic Hats? Please tell me if you do!