Wednesday, 23 May 2012

At Least There's Somewhere Now to Keep the Brooms

This week please indulge me on a topic that is both close to my heart and has kept me clothed and fed for seven years, as I discuss my passion for children’s television – that’s my passion for children’s TELEVISION you dirty minded selective readers.

The BBC Trust, if that’s not an oxymoron (I personally find it difficult to find trust in anyone who puts Homes Under the Hammer on our television screens), have completed their latest Putting Quality First spending review. Putting Quality First is nothing to do with ensuring that Snog, Marry or Avoid? is in the latest possible scheduling slot, but in making sure that as the BBC tries to save money it puts its quality programmes first.
The main nugget of news that hit the headlines last week when this broke, was the decision to move children’s programming off BBC One and BBC Two, keeping it all on the CBBC and CBeebies channels. There’s a good logic to this decision, by the time the changes are made every television in the country will have access to the children’s channels, the vast majority of kid viewers already use CBBC and CBeebies. And critically the children’s department loses no funding, in fact by not having to provide content for the former terrestrial channels it has more money to spend on its main channels.

This decision has come under a lot of fire, from those who believe this is some kind of snub to children, that this somehow is a sad day for the children of the nation. Actually it isn’t. Children’s programmes in the afternoon on BBC One are traditional in your childhood, because then that was the only option for children’s programming – we didn’t have dozens of 24 hour children’s channels, we didn’t have DVDs and an endless supply of on demand programming. To children today the end of children’s programmes on BBC One means a little less choice in quite a busy programming landscape. Kids aren’t going to get lost and not find the CBBC and CBeebies channels, they’re more across remote controls than the average adult! For the majority of today’s children the concept of four channels is something studied in history alongside the Vikings and the Romans. In actual fact the terrestrial channels to children are the odd channels, channels that sometimes show news, sometimes kids’ programmes, sometimes entertainment and sadly sometimes Dickenson’s Real Deal.
All that said the decision is a little sad, but I am acutely aware it is sad as it represents the end of something I held in high esteem as a child, a tradition for my childhood not today’s children! Yes a sad, but logical decision. It’s a bit like the death of an elderly relative, it’s sad but you know logic is saying you can now sell their house and make lots of money.
For many people of my generation, a lasting memory of their childhood will be children’s programmes on BBC One (or ITV) in the afternoons, my incarnation being The Broom Cupboard, and the big Saturday morning shows – Going Live and Live & Kicking being the ones I most remember. And to me as a child, there was something special about those programmes being on BBC One, it was saying this is the time for kids. Afternoons were the kids’ version of the evening primetime, and Saturday mornings the big entertainment extravaganza mirroring Saturday nights. And the fact these were on the primary channels was part of the draw.

Of course such nostalgia doesn’t concern today’s kids, and it’s important than children’s television evolves for today’s kids – not old f**ts like myself. I’d love to be making massive Saturday morning children’s shows like Live & Kicking, but today’s children don’t want them. The idea of sitting in front of three hours of Saturday morning television is as arcane to them as sending in an answer on the back of a postcard. Kids today are busy, they can’t give up their precious time to watch several hours of a phone-in with Judi Dench and Phillip Schofield laugh his way through a cookery item with his puppet sidekick. And in fairness if they did want to see that, they could just watch This Morning – apologies to Holly Willoughby.

However it still seems fitting to mark the passing of the children’s afternoons on BBC One for us children of the eighties! To do that, I’d like to have a quick nostalgic trip through some of my favourite children’s programmes of my time. The shows that made up the gaps between Phillip Schofield, Andy Crane, Andi Peters, Toby Anstis, Simon Parkin, Phillipa Forestter, Edd the Duck, Gordon the Gopher, Wilson the Butler and many more I’ve probably forgotten. So here is a non-exhaustive look at some great children’s telly shows!

Maid Marian & Her Merry Men – Essentially Blackadder for children, apparently this remains the most expensive children’s programme ever made in the UK. The 22½ residents of the muddy village of Worksop (an early Glastonbury) are protected from King John’s temper tantrums (modelled on myself after I’ve missed an edition of The Apprentice) by a cowardly Robin Hood.

Blue Peter – Everyone has a different generation of Blue Peter they remember, your parents probably remember Lulu pooing on the studio floor (the elephant not the singer) during a time when Blue Peter was presented by wholesome forty-somethings. Nowadays the presenters are so young, that the current ones are actual foetuses that would show you how to make a model of Tracey Island out of the placenta and the umbilical cord, if it weren’t the fact that they’re too young to remember Thunderbirds. My generation was Mark Curry – when he was busy knocking the heads of LEGO men and not dying a death on Catchphrase; Anthea Turner – between getting blown up in an explosion, and becoming annoying; John Leslie – before he allegedly starting showing the ladies “something he made earlier” whether they wanted to see it or not; and Caron Keating – who it’s very hard to write anything funny about.

The Girl from Tomorrow and Escape from Jupiter – Nowadays we’re used to American imports dominating our schedules, but these were two excellent Australian sci-fi dramas. The Girl from Tomorrow, which centred around a girl from the year 3000 who chose to travel back in time to the year 1990 (presumably to be niche, as everyone else was going back to 2000). Her time machine being the Crystal Dome stolen from Richard O’Brian. Escape from Jupiter featured an unlikely group of children (led by a ginger kid - controversial) escaping from a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon Io. I remember being particularly annoyed when an episode was taken off air to cut to a newsflash announcing Margaret Thatcher’s resignation ahead of a leadership challenge. I’m sure as an adult I’d be much more tolerant now if a programme I was enjoying was taken off-air to go to David Cameron doing something.

In my mind the special effects were better as a child than they appear now!

Newsround Newsround has been, and continues to be, an amazing show for kids. I regret not appreciating it more as a child, and making it an appointment to view. The show’s never shied away from explaining the complex issues of quite an unpleasant world to younger viewers. A few years ago explaining the suicide of a CBBC presenter.

Around the World with Willy FogAround the World Willy Fogg was the cartoon serialisation of the Jules Verne novel Eighty Days Around the World, with one minor plot point – Willy Fog was a lion and the world was populated by animals. This excellent cartoon, conveyed the excellence of the story, whilst including the fun and excitement required to keep it suitable for kids. Although the cartoon never did explain why no one ever complained about Fog smelling – despite the fact he wore the same suit for eighty days, nor why Transfer had a disco ball for an eye, or why the Governor of the Bank of England was allowed to gamble away all his wealth (fortunately today’s politicians could never be that irresponsible). I remember sending off for a song sheet with all the words to the theme song, from then broom cupboard presenter Andy Crane. Ahh how easily I was pleased back then.

I’m sure there’s many other highlights you remember. So here’s to the end of CBBC on BBC One. Whilst I totally understand the decision, the kids of today probably don’t realise the significance of the change. I for one will be a little sad at the passing of an institution of my childhood, that later went on to inspire what I laughably refer to as “proper” job and career!

And whilst I’ve sung the praises of programmes past, it goes without saying that today’s children programmes still feature some excellent content, particularly the programmes I’ve produced! As a final note I would like to say that all the programmes made and shown by my current employer and any future employers are excellent and well worth watching by children and adult alike – especially if you own a Barb box.