My Influential Television Series: Once Upon A Time… Man (1978) My Influential Television Series: Once Upon A Time… Man (1978)
An overdue homage to a popular TV show for kids that masterfully combined entertainment and educational content. My Influential Television Series: Once Upon A Time… Man (1978)

Hello, AsimovLives here.

It’s funny how things seem to come around.

I think of myself as a film geek primarily. But I arrived to film relatively late. My love for cinema didn’t start when I was as a child like most other geeks. It was only in 1986 when I first watched Blade Runner in a rerun that, in a watershed moment in my life, I became a full fledged film geek, a revolution that happened during the duration it took to watch that film for the first time. Before that, I was pretty much a TV boy.

Television was really my thing until then. Going to the movies was an expensive hobby back then that my family, like many others, couldn’t afford. Times were pretty rough for my country Portugal from the late 70s to the early 90s, and most families couldn’t afford to spend money on luxuries like hobbies when things like education and housing took obvious priority.

But that didn’t mean there was no means of entertainment. For me, during those years and until I first watched Blade Runner, it was, together with reading, watching television. Television provided movies to watch, most of them quite old films (it means I got to watch a lot of classic western and pirate movies, natch!).

And there were television series, of course.

While I still see myself as a film geek, it’s from television that I have taken the most joy as an audience recently, far surpassing and supplanting cinema in terms of quality and intelligent storytelling. Today we are living in a veritable golden age of television. It’s as if things have come full circle.

This article, which hopefully will be the first of a series, concerns the television shows which influenced the way I not only enjoy fictional entertainment but also which helped inform my view on the world and my own tastes. I call it My Influential Television Series, for which I created the acronym of MITVS. MITVS looks like Canis Latinicus for the word “myth” which is appropriate for television series which have a mythical value for me.

The MITVS of today is one of earliest and most important television series I watched as a child and it’s called…


Title: Once Upon A Time… Man
Original title: Il était une fois… l’homme
As I knew it: Era Uma Vez O Homem
Country: France, Japan
Year: 1978
Created by: Albert Barillé

Creator Albert Barillé

Once Upon Time… Man was an ambitious series created by Albert Barillé with the intention of teaching world history to children through animated entertainment. It consisted of 26 episodes, each dedicated to a specific era in the history of mankind, starting with the pre-history and the emergence of man up until the then present time and a glimpse of a possible future.

The history presented in the show was quite well-researched and even though it was created for a young audience in mind, many times the show didn’t shy away from the harsher realities of history, especially when war or tyranny was concerned.

Each episode featured a group of recurring characters. They were Pierre, the likable and heroic everyman; Le Gros, the gentle giant and Pierre’s best friend and sidekick; Pierrete, the kind young woman and Pierre’s perpetual love interest;  Le Teigneux as a big imposing bully and recurring villain; Le Nabot as the sniveling cowardly brains behind Teigneux’ brawl; Maestro (my personal favorite) as the kindly wise old man, the smartest man in the show; and “The Clock”, a rectangular box with eyes and arms which displayed the year the story was set and sometimes provided an emotional reaction to the events depicted.

Sometimes they represented historical figures, but more often they were representation of types, from heroic to villain. It helped the viewers to have a sense of continuation from episode to episode and underlined the notion that no matter what era was presented, people are people.

Upper: The Clock. Lower: Adults: Le Gros, Pierrette, Pierre, Maestro, Teigneux and Nabot. Below children: Le Gros, Pierrette and Pierre as children

The series was very popular at the time and gave rise to much merchandise, of which the most prized was the sticker album. Of course, I had one. It was great fun to get the stickers and glue them to the album. In lieu of VHS-players, it was the next best thing to review the series after the episodes were aired, while they also retained the educational nature of the original show.

One memorable element of the series was the opening credits sequence: it showed the evolution of Man from the earlier amphibious ancestors to the various eras of mankind all in the figure of Pierre, until it ended with him embarking in a space rocket to space while behind the Earth was destroyed by some cataclysm. And all this was accompanied by a rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata” and “Fugue in D minor” as the main title theme music. This sequence and the especially the music enthralled me and I suspect my love for classic music might have also had its origins with this show as well.

The success of this series spawned sequels, collectively know as the Once Upon A Time Series. While the others series maintained the educational nature of the first, the second was a fictional science fiction space opera Called Once Upon A Time In Space.

Once Upon a Time... Space

Once Upon a Time… Space

Like the first it was also an unmissable series for me. As the first was historical, the second was also about my other longtime love, Science Fiction. After the second series however, as my interest for animation waned as I grew older, I didn’t follow the rest of this series, and after the 3rd they even stopped airing it in my country.

I think this series did much to spark my love for history in my very young self, and possibly also the genesis for my love of historical fiction as well. The mixture of animation entertainment and informative history was just perfect for me. I’m very glad for the existence of this series in my life and to have it happened when it did.

As always, thank you for reading.

This is AsimovLives signing off.

Author Image


Hailing from the atlantic lusitanian shores, AsimovLives is a native of Portugal (it's in Europe). An enthusiastic fan of Science Fiction and Cinema, together with varied interests in Science, Astronomy, History, Arts, Gastronomy, Wines & Spirits and all things Beauty. Unshakable convictions of humanism, secularism and rationalist kind. Tireless supporter of intelligent and honest-hearted entertainment. Staunch enemy of superstition and all dumbed down shallow hack made cynical cash-grabbing cinema and tirelessly calling out on their supporters, no half-measures. Passion is the game.

  • Never heard of this before. Figured it was maybe never available in North America but it looks like the Canadian network CBC carried it back in the day, so maybe just before my time.

  • Mr Nick Nightly

    I’ve never heard of this. When I was in high school, Warner Bros. put out a history-based cartoon called “Histeria” that was fantastic. It needs a DVD release.

  • Great article, Asi. I loved this series and all the spinoffs. The animation holds up surprisingly well.

  • Abe

    And you use Winamp still. Not much is before you time, impressive.

  • Bop

    I think this cartoon is known in whole western Europe if you ask me.

  • Oh, man – I remember all of these “once Upon a time…”-series. Loved them. I remember some stuff in the “space”-series really creeping me out as a kid.

  • Hey, what’s wrong with Winamp? I still use it too XD

  • Sagamanus

    That ship looks like Chris Foss influenced it. This show looks somewhat familiar too.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Very cool article. Never heard of the series, but my wife is a World History buff (she is department head of her school’s history dept) and she would love to see these. Thanks for sharing. You Da man, tha ASI man

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    I remember that one.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    How about these classics

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Don’t mess with Levar

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    They have TV in Canada? Who knew?

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    I love Llamas with Hats…..Damn Carl!

  • Full Frontal Throttle
  • I heard he writes emails on outlook.

  • Netscape Navigator is the only web browser to go with as far as I’m concerned.

  • CoolHandJuke

    Every time I shit it’s like a reverse ass-fucking…

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    “It was only in 1986 when I first watched Blade Runner in a rerun”

    Oh, but I thought that Blade Runner wasn’t rediscovered and reappraised until the early nineties, Asimov?

    Something isn’t adding up here.

  • Do you still use yahoo search too?

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    And dial-up.

  • I also just logged in to this crazy place called Myspace. They say it can unite people in some kind of social network

  • brrrr—-zzzzzzttt

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    This new-fangled “interwebs” thing is truly amazing!

  • He’s from Finland.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    They have TV there too? I really need to catch up

  • Tarmac492.1

    Lycos bitches. Lycos!!!

  • About the same latitude though

  • Yes. In a few years, we might even have a color TV

  • Full Frontal Throttle


  • Bop

    Can someone tell me where the intro song is from? It must be some classical piece.
    And it was also in the game Gyruss.

  • Bop

    How about Altavista?

  • And cell phones.

  • Mr Nick Nightly

    I looooooooooved Gyruss.

  • Bop

    Game classic for sure, if you ask me.

  • Do you know the German intro, Bop?

  • Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”
    It’s also the opening credits theme of the classic SF film ROLLERBALL (1975).

    It’s one of the most awesome pieces of music evern created by Man.

  • KilliK

    Firefox is Netscape Navigator..

  • KilliK


  • Captain Genius

    that’s frankie smalls material

  • CoolHandJuke

    is that mr, natural in the last pic?

  • KilliK


  • Full Frontal Throttle


  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Pretty cool. First time I hear about this.

  • Bop

    Thanks, Asi.

  • Bop

    I think I saw more episodes of Es War Einmal Der Mensch than of the dutch version. Don’t remember the intro well, though.

  • It has a song by Udo Jürgens.

  • Thanks.

  • One of my motivations is to shed some light to obscure movies or TV shows, or to call attention to people across the ocean to movies and TV series which were popular here but were not exported overseas. I find that to be one of the best aspects of the geek community.

  • Bop

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing for you?

  • depends

  • That song is a good one.

  • KilliK

    yeah, that cartoon was part of my childhood. the national tv here was playing them the whole time, the human history one, the other about space exploration and the one about how the human body was working which was my favourite.

  • KilliK

    I hope you ll do it for obscure porn movies too. although that seems to be more of Creepy’s area of expertise.