I was talking to Miss F last night about the television programmes she remembered watching when she was a kid. That led onto ones I remembered watching even further back, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a child. Before I knew it, she was pulling up clips on YouTube and we were laughing and reminiscing about favourites and remembering theme songs that we’d loved.
Some forty years ago there wasn’t the choice of children’s programmes that there are now, and we certainly didn’t have channels dedicated to them. We were relegated to that time between getting home from school at 3:20pm to the time our fathers got home, and tea was on the table at 6:00pm. I remember in the mornings there would be programmes for school on, and many a sick day was happily spent watching “Stop, Look, Listen” and “How We Used to Live”. There were maybe a few programmes for young, pre-school kids on at lunchtime, but us older kids had to be content with the two hours and forty minutes we got in the afternoon.
It always started with Play School – and which window were we going through today? BBC had only British made programmes, but ITV had imported American ones, and my brother and I would be jumping up and down like jack-in-the-boxes switching channels to get our favourite shows. This could cause friction – in the days before catch-up TV and even video recorders, if your show clashed with someone else’s then you’d missed it for good – but we muddled along somehow, compromising and making deals.
Saturday mornings was also strictly for kids. And back in the day we had a choice between Swap Shop on BBC and Tiswas on ITV. Now, my mother preferred that we watched Swap Shop, thinking it was a much nicer show because it was sedate and was hosted by that nice Noel Edmonds and lovely Keith Chegwin and sweet Maggie Philbin. As opposed to Tiswas, which was anarchy incarnate with characters like Spit the Dog and the Phantom Flan Flinger, and its steady diet of farts, custard pies, buckets of water and sheer silliness. Needless to say, us kids loved it and would watch it sneakily, always poised to jump up and turn over if we heard my mother coming in.
During the school holidays there would be telly just for kids in the morning, and bizarrely enough it always seemed to be black and white foreign imports with subtitles, which were repeated each and every holiday for what seemed the whole of my childhood. But I didn’t care. I would watch them over and over, and I still have very fond memories of Robinson Crusoe, the Singing Ringing Tree and White Horses – on white horses let me ride away…
There were programmes that were supposed to educate children, but we even loved them and lapped up shows like Play School, Blue Peter, Jackanory, John Craven’s Newsround, Vision On, Magpie and the unlikely named Why Don’t You Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something More Interesting Instead?
For me though, two bears ruled the airwaves – Paddington and Rupert the Bear. I loved them, I don’t know why, but there was simply something about talking bears that got me. I took Miss F to see the newest incarnation of Paddington at the cinema and loved it, happy they kept the essence of the stories but made him even more personable.
I can even just about remember really old black and white shows like The Flowerpot Men, Andy Pandy, Lambchop and the Romper Room, but the era I remember the most probably spanned 1972 to 1980, when I was five to thirteen years old. Apart from books, TV was our only form of indoor entertainment, and we were fortunate to have such quality shows as Bagpus, The Clangers, Crackerjack, Rainbow, Pipkins, Grange Hill and Dangermouse.
Then there was Captain Pugwash. A rumour has gone around that the pirates aboard this ship all had rather suggestive names – Seaman Stains, Master Bates, One Eyed Jack and First Officer Dick, with Roger the cabin boy, all aboard the Black Pig. Now, I’m pretty sure I remember the cabin boy being called Tom and have no memory of the other names. I’ve been told it’s an urban myth, that the names of the other pirates were all perfectly respectable pirate names with nothing rude or suggestive about them. I suppose I could check, a moment on Google will give me the truth, but I don’t want to know. It’s a wonderful story and one I rather want to be true, so please don’t comment about it and spoil the fun.
But it wasn’t all British, we had American shows as well. A lot were pretty awful, but there were some that I really enjoyed. Shows such as the Banana Splits (that theme song has been stuck in my head since the early 1970s – Google it and you’ll see what I mean), Deputy Dawg, Top Cat, Thunderbirds, He Man, Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny and Little House on the Prairie, which I absolutely adored.
As I said, at about 6:00pm children’s TV ended, and screen time was handed over to the adults again, but there was always a little five minute short programme to end the day with before the boring news came on. In those last five minutes we had programmes like Fred Bassett, Crystal Tips and Alastair, Ludwig, Noah and Nelly, Ivor the Engine, Willo-the-Wisp, and of course, the wonderful Magic Roundabout. Everyone loved the Magic Roundabout, well, what wasn’t there to love? A permanently stoned rabbit, a mad cow that seemed to be on happy pills, an OCD dog and some weird spring like creature called Zebedee. Once, the BBC in its wisdom, shifted the showing time of the Magic Roundabout to earlier and were stunned at the countrywide outcry it caused. Most adults made it home in time to catch it and were not amused that due to its earlier time slot they were missing their daily hit of psychedelic madness. Giving in to rather heated demands, the BBC swiftly moved it back to its 5:55pm time.
Then I grew up. Life got busy and I had no time for children’s programmes anymore, not until I had a baby of my own and Miss F became old enough to begin watching them. To my surprise, some of the shows were the same although updated, but there was also a whole batch of new shows to enjoy or suffer. There were dedicated channels just for children, some on 24/7 although quite why they’d be on long after children should be in bed, I never did understand, and a lot, more American shows.
There were the Teletubbies that she loved, but vaguely worried me as I feared it might have a negative impact on her vocabulary, but it didn’t seem to. When she was a little older, she really loved a show called Wynx about a fairy school. I didn’t let her watch excessive amounts of TV and it always went off an hour before bedtime so we could snuggle down and read some stories, but she was allowed to watch pretty much whatever she wanted on children’s channels such as CBeebies and Milkshake, as I knew there’s be nothing inappropriate on them.
One day I was busy cleaning and Miss F was watching something on the BBC children’s channel, CBeebies. Passing through the lounge I glanced at the screen and noticed that one of the female presenters was quite clearly pregnant.
“Oh, how lovely, she’s going to have a baby.”
Miss F stared at me.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, see how big her tummy is? That’s because there’s a baby in there.”
Miss F stared at the screen curiously, then seemed to shrug and dismiss the matter. I carried on and gave it no more thought, until 3:00am that morning when I was ripped from sleep by Miss F having the screaming ab dabs. She’d had a nightmare about a witch that ate babies and thought it was coming to eat her. Of course, my throw away comment which I’d instantly forgotten about had sunk down into her mind where it had brewed and bubbled. A baby in her tummy? Well, as far as Miss F was concerned, there was only one way anything got into someone’s tummy and that was through their mouth!
I soothed and comforted, and explained that no, she hadn’t eaten a baby, but instead was keeping her baby safe and warm and fed in a special place inside her so that it could grow and be strong. And that, when it was big enough, it would come out and be her darling little son or daughter that she’d love very, very much, just as I loved Miss F. She thought about this, then gave me a look and said.
“So, how does the baby get in there then?”
I was stumped and so not ready for THAT conversation. Thinking rapidly, I replied.
“God put it there.”
And to be honest, at age three and at 3:00am, that was as good as she was going to get.
One of her favourite programmes was Lazy Town, and for those of you who don’t know what that was, Lazy Town was exactly that – a town full of lazy, slothful people who have their lives transformed by the arrival of Sportacus, a six foot, Icelandic, Olympic gymnast who dressed top to toe in blue Lycra and would spend each episode flexing his quite considerable muscles, and bouncing energetically around the screen, much to the secret joy of every bored mummy who happened to be watching.
One day, I had a funny conversation with Miss F where she meant one thing, and I, bad mummy that I was, meant something completely different.
“Sportacus is really fit, isn’t he?”
“Oh yep, he certainly is.”
“Is he fitter than Fireman Sam?”
I considered the question.
“Well, Sportacus is all athletic and stuff, but Sam has the whole fireman and uniform thing going for him. I mean, he’s used to slinging women over his shoulder and carrying them away.”
“Well, what about Bob the Builder?”
“What about him?”
“In a fitness contest, who do you think would win? Sportacus, Fireman Sam or Bob the Builder?”
“That’s a tough one, like I said, Sportacus works out every day and he’s really got the body to show for it, and Sam, well, he’s a fireman, need I say more, but Bob, he’d put up shelves for you and fix things around the house, and that’s always… handy.”
There were the Fimbles, Rosie and Jim, Mister Tumble, Come Outside and Peppa Pig – an especial favourite was Peppa Pig, and I remember whilst shopping in our local supermarket, Miss F had a complete meltdown upon the discovery of a pack of Peppa Pig sausages in the chiller cabinet!! Who thought that was a good idea?!
Most of the programmes that I saw with Miss F I quite enjoyed, I especially liked one voiced by Stephen Fry that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of. Stephen Fry was delightfully sarcastic in a way that children completely missed but bored adults really appreciated. And then there was In the Night Garden…
Oh, good lord! In the Night Garden! Has ever a more turgid, soul sucking, mind melting programme been created? Millions of parents were forced to watch it, slumped on the sofa, slack jawed, their eyes glazing over and their brains leaking out of their ears. For those of you lucky enough to have escaped this torture, it was set in a bizarre, psychedelic garden somewhere, full of odd characters that did nothing but run around repeating their names. And that was it. There was no plot, no story, nothing to explain what the heck was going on.
There was a weird blue thing called Iggle Piggle that danced about clutching a red blanky, an even weirder big bottomed, rock collecting creature called Packa Macka, the Tumblyvors who never had on any underwear, and a girl character called Upsa Daisy who wore a very short skirt that kept flipping up and spent most of her time in bed – I’m saying no more, you make your own judgement.
Then there were spaced out birds that made funny noises, and rather scary big balloons with googly eyes that moved creepily through the trees. There was the Ninky Nonk – a train thing with different sized carriages that tore through the garden like it had a ton of cocaine up its funnel, and the Pinky Ponk – an airship type thing that farted its way through the sky. I may have the names of those last two mixed up, but really, who cares?
Finally, there were these two little families that live in adjoining houses under a big tree. Both families comprised of a dad, a mum and then eight children that all looked about the same age. One family dressed in identical red robes and I think were called the Ponty Pines and the other family all dressed in identical blue robes and I can’t remember what they were called. They were odd. There’s no other word for it. Well, other than cultish, I guess. They didn’t go out much, the papa’s in both these families seemed to rule the roost, and they all slept together in the same room! None of the kids went to school, had healthy relationships outside the immediate family or were encouraged to express their individuality at all. Obviously, Social Services never visited the Night Garden, otherwise all those kids would have been taken into the care.
The absolute worse thing about this programme though? It was on every single fricking night and lasted for thirty minutes! Thirty minutes of people dressed in costumes running about going “Iggle Piggle” and “Packa Macka Wacka Do” and “Upsa Daisy!” It was enough to drive any parent to drink.
But now Miss F is sixteen and the programmes she wants to watch are more along the lines of Love Island, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, so clearly her standards have lowered. My time watching kid’s programmes is once again over, and I suppose I won’t start watching them again until when/if I ever become a grandmother. I wonder what programmes will be around then? How much will they have changed?
Anyway, that’s it for another week. I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane and I wonder if it jogged any memories of programmes you used to watch and enjoy yourself, either as a child or maybe as a parent.
Take care of yourselves and have a great week.