Magazine article The Spectator

Kiddies' Night

Magazine article The Spectator

Kiddies' Night

Article excerpt

A new series of postage stamps celebrates children's television as it was in the days of Muffin the Mule (20p) and Sooty (26p). Sooty does survive, as a multi-million, multi-national enterprise. But the real children's television these days are quasiadult shows, such as the soap operas. You can tell which programmes are really aimed at children because they are heavily featured in the Sun, whose readers also struggle to make sense of a confusing world, filled with people who claim to be their superiors.

The central time and place for the new kiddy shows is early Saturday evening on ITV. The most important are Blind Date and Gladiators. However, they fill the gaps between series with programmes such as You Bet, Man Oh Man and The Big, Big Talent Show, in which people of Small, Small Ability compete for the votes of you, the viewers at home.

As in all television talent shows, there is usually a comedian who would be booed off at the Comedy Store after one minute, a sweet-voiced soprano who hasn't learned that to be a star you have to take control of the song and an amiable-looking group who play forgotten country tunes.

We realised how important this two-hour period was to our children when our son, then six, asked his mother, `What number were you when Daddy chose you on Blind Date?' This grisly show, which returns shortly for the autumn season, actually made sense to an infant, anxious to understand the questions which baffle children, such as `How did my parents meet? Why did they fall in love? Would I have been born if they hadn't? If I run upstairs now, can I be in my pyjamas by the end of the commercials?' It's unnerving that, at such an age, there is almost nothing between sex education classes (`sex is a wonderful experience if you truly love the other person. And it's pretty good as well if you don't', which they never add), and Blind Date.

I find the programme dreadfully manipulative. In each edition, one girl makes a selection from three boys hidden behind screens, followed by one boy choosing a girl. Between times the couples chosen the previous week describe the blind-date weekend they had together.

Clearly the leering questions (`If I took you on a sleigh ride, would you ring my bell?') are scripted, as are the equally knowing answers. Contestants are usually self-obsessed show-offs, which is how they are able to mouth the scripts. …

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