Children’s Television Still Going Strong after Fifty Years

It’s ‘Flobberpop’ I tell you, ‘FlobberPOP’! They never, ever, ever said ‘FlobbaLOB’! Phew. I’m glad I got that out of my system. Yes, it’s The Flowerpot Men and the decades-long urban myth that has put misleading words into their wooden mouths. Star Trek fans have had the same issue with the never-uttered line, ‘Beam me up Scotty’ that also permeates the cultural phrasebook. Ah, children’s television, the bastion of education and entertainment for youngsters coming home from school. I can’t help but look at it with misty eyes. Readers of my posts will know of my love for transport and engineering so it should come as little surprise that one of my favourite childhood series was the brilliantThomastheTankEngine.

As an adult I look back at programming for kids with a sense of pride that my era was the best. But doesn’t everyone? Without my rose-tinted glasses on, I’d like to think that the output for our kids was as good today as it’s ever been so let’s review the history. It’s fair to say that since the dawn of television in the UK, children’s programming formed a staple part of the output under the BBC charter.

One of the most popular, well-known characters made his first appearance back in 1946 under the umbrella programme For the Children/Children’s Hour’. He was of course – Muffin the Mule.

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In the years that followed we were introduced to:

Andy Pandy (1950), Sooty (1952), Bill and Ben (1952), Watch With Mother (1953), Crackerjack (1955), Pinky and Perky (1957) and who could forget Captain Pugwash in 1957. Let us not forget that Sir David Attenborough cut his televisual teeth in 1954 in Zoo Quest.

Readmore about early children’s television.

While many of these series have had long lives, remakes and headlined modern advertising campaigns, such is the affection and regard the public have for their childhood friends, some series are still strong today. It was way back in 1958 when a once-weekly, 15 minute show called Blue Peter first hit the screens and the rest, as they say, is quite literally history.

Blue Peter

This is officially the world’s longest running children’s television show. Since its inception the programme has always been fronted by men and women with the intention of ensuring that both boys and girls could relate to the show. In its long history there have been many presenters, dogs and cats that have enthralled countless children over the decades. Its mixture of crafts, activities, adventure and interactivity has doubtless been the key to its success.

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Doctor Who

As a committed Doctor Who fan I’m the first to say that this series was never a children’s television programme; it was commissioned and held uncomfortably by the BBC’s drama department where directors and producers alike were bemused trying to pigeonhole it. Nevertheless it is now the longest running sci-fi show ever and, according to Guinness World Records it is themostsuccessful.

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The reason why this show makes it into my article is that it has spawned two popular spin-off series: The Sarah Jane Adventures and K-9.

The Sarah Jane Adventures

Carving out its own distinct niche in the Doctor Who universe, this series pits erstwhile companion, Sarah Jane, and her trusty band of school age friends against bad guys who are trying to enact evil, unpleasant schemes. The fifth season will air in October 2011 and will be the last, owing to the untimely demise of Sarah Jane actress, Elisabeth Sladen.

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The second spin-off follows the adventures of the Doctor’s robotic pet dog who, in this incarnation of the show, has been spruced up into a live-action model and CGI creation that can do all sorts of things his remote controlled cousin couldn’t. Fly mainly. This series is an Australian production and is currently being aired in the UK.

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Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men

These delightful characters were first seen 57 years ago and made a full-colour stop motion comeback in 2000. All those years ago, if you couldn’t wait for the next episode you could follow their exploits in the ‘Robin’ magazine along with other popular character, Andy Pandy.

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Initially aired as John Craven’s Newsround after the anchorman and creator, this was the first children’s news programme. It has been on air since 1972 and continues today with new presenters who impart the news to the 6 – 12 year old demographic. This was and still is the only dedicated children’s news programme and has acted as stepping stone for children interested in current events while not being as graphic or upsetting as the regular news programmes.

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Rentaghost was one of my favourite slapstick comedy shows in my youth. Over its eight year history I followed the antics of a company that hired out its ghosts for a range of spooktacular activities.  While I am delighted at the news of its impending return I am less than impressed by the casting of that egregious Russell Brand as Fred Mumford.

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According to online magazine, ‘Deadline’, Warner Bros intend the production to be a ‘Beetlejuice-style’ affair.

Shaun the Sheep

Following his hit first appearance in Wallace and Gromit’s ‘A Close Shave’, Shaun the Sheep was awarded his first own series in 2007 and continues to this day.  It’s a great looking stop-motion series that both children and adults (me included) enjoy. It’s even spawned its own spin-off for pre-school children called Timmy Time that follows the adventures of a little lamb with a lot to learn.

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Paddington Bear

First broadcast back in the heady days of 1975, this 3D puppet’s adventures centred around his marmalade sandwich-eating habits and his exploits with his adoptive human family. It was an unusual looking series with the backgrounds – and many foregrounds – being a two dimensional monochrome affair. On occasions, Paddington would receive a monochrome 2D jar of marmalade that would become a colour 3D jar in his paws. This endearing bear resurfaced on our screens in the cleverly controversial Marmite ads.

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This series ticks many of the boxes of what makes a great children’s programme. Made in Iceland with a huge budget of £750k per episode, dwarfing the average £15k budget most shows enjoy, Lazytown wears its funding on its sleeve. With its mix of live-action, CG and puppetry, kids follow the adventures of Sportacus, a super-healthy hero who espouses activity and healthy eating in a non-preachy, fun way. With his friend, Stephanie who encourages frenetic, vibrant dancing they foil the plans of evil Robbie Rotten and his plans to make kids eat junk food.

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Winnie the Pooh

Most people today think of the televisual fun of Winnie the Pooh as the colourful Disney animations but this bear and his friends first hit the screens as marionettes in 1960 on the The Shirley Temple Show in the States. More recently, Disney’s latest Pooh series, My Friends Tigger & Pooh, used all-CGI animation. AA Milne’s beloved bear continues to feature in series and films and his latest is due on the big screen later this year, entitled (imaginatively) Pooh Bear.

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And finally…

Thomas the Tank Engine

We come full circle with the Rev. WV Awdry’s train tales! If Awdry had still been alive he would have celebrated his 100th birthday last month. His charming tales began in 1945 and made their screen debut in 1984. The model-work was magical and the deeds of these anthropomorphised steam engines were engaging. In 2009 the series was produced in Canada using CGI.

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As with most children’s series a lot of merchandise has become available. Since one of my hobbies is stamp collecting, could I say no to these featuring Thomas, James, Percy, Gordon, Toby and Daisy?

All things considered, I think that children’s television is almost as strong today as it used to be. Budget cuts and the increase of using non-domestic series has undoubtedly dented our own programming quality but at least it gives people like me the excuse to break out the DVDs to show youngsters some of the things they’ve been missing!

Guest blogger,GregColtman, grew up with philately and follows the Royal Mail’s special stamp release program with keen interest. He’s got the Thomas the Tank Engine release on order and is already looking forward to the commemorative Olympic and Paralympic Games stamps later this year.



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