Magazine article The Spectator

Play School

Magazine article The Spectator

Play School

Article excerpt

Catch 'em young makes sense if you're selling a product, an organisation or a belief system. And the BBC has never lagged behind the commercial broadcasters and their advertisers in this regard. From its inception children's programming was seen as crucial to its output. Dutifully at five o'clock, just in time for family tea, Children's Hour began on the Home Service, with a medley of dramas, quiz shows, news bulletins designed to entrance five- to 15-year-olds. (Does anyone else remember the inimitable voice of Derek McCulloch as Larry the Lamb, or the gravelly tones of the avuncular David Davis? ) Education was not the motivation; the BBC had the Schools Service for that, a generation of children stitching seams in sewing class while listening to Penelope as she kept on weaving (actually, if I remember correctly, the radio version had her knitting). Rather, the BBC wanted to create a dedicated band of listeners who would then as grown-ups make the transition to Woman's Hour, The Brains Trust and Saturday Night Theatre and stay tuned in to the BBC's airwaves.

The arrival of TV spelt its doom, and despite a barrage of protest (including a debate in the House of Commons) Children's Hour was axed in 1964. Those tweenies were needed to boost ratings on the new BBC2 channel and Play School.

Larry the Lamb transmogrified into Big Ted. So there is nothing new about the socalled 'cynical' use of broadcasting to woo the pre-teen viewer. CBeebies on radio is the new Children's Hour, and three cheers for that. There should be more of it. Why not run a blatant campaign to win over the kids instead of marginalising them to digital BBC7?

Whoosh! , the new CBeebies serial on BBC7 for those captive four- to six-yearolds, is scarcely a preparation for a career in the City but at least it's delightfully free of product placement, or any attempt to ingratiate itself with an adult audience -- a box of delights for a child's imagination. A regular cast of characters, straight out of Toytown or Jennings, appears each day in this tenminute drama slot, led by young Angus and Bernard the Bee. Plenty of wordplay ensues as Cuthbert the Compost Bin has his dinner of garlic mash and custard, garnished with strawberry jelly. And there's dive-bombing pigeons and rubbish jokes -- 'What's brown and hairy and wears sunglasses?' 'A coconut on holiday! …

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