YOU can usually tell someone’s age by asking them what their favourite children’s TV programme was when they were little.
The surreal delights of the Clangers, Mr Benn, Rainbow, Rentaghost and The Wombles would label you as a child of the 70s, while Dangermouse, Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would shift you into the 80s.
If Thunderbirds, the Sooty show and Andy Pandy in black and white trigger misty eyed reminiscences, it’s safe to say you are older than me.
Our own children, now ranging from ages 14 to 3, were blessed – and some would say cursed – by the invention of multi-channel TV in the 1990s.
Our eldest two boys were the original Cbeebies generation; the first to enjoy Teletubbies when it was causing a national kerfuffle, and Bob the Builder when he was still made of clay and flirting with Wendy (Sunflower Valley and CGI ruined it).
And while Billy had Balamory and Bonnie enjoyed the strange delights of In the Night Garden and Waybuloo, it seems some fear decent programming for children may become a thing of the past.
Russell T Davies, the man credited for rescuing Dr Who from TV purgatory and restoring it to prime-time family viewing, is warning that children’s programmes are on life-support.
In an interview with the Observer, Davies said: “I am passionate about children’s television, but it is, as ever, an endangered species, under threat.
“The most shocking thing I have seen is that, apparently unnoticed, five years ago ITV dropped children’s programmes. There is now the complete absence of children’s programmes made by ITV on CITV.”
When we were growing up there was always a snobbery about ITV, which I’m not sure has diminished much in 40 years.
While I always did prefer Magpie over the goody-two-shoes Blue Peter, and liked Press Gang more than Grange Hill, I can’t say I’d automatically associate ITV with great children’s shows.
It’s probably also worth pointing out that the undoubtedly talented Mr Davies is working on another children’s TV show for the BBC – Aliens Vs Wizards – about a teenage wizard and his scientist friend trying to stop aliens who intend to destroy the earth. And while his ability to spin a good script is undeniable, he did also write for Chucklevision.
Certainly as budgets get hit, children’s TV isn’t going to get as much dosh thrown at it as perhaps it deserves. It’s probably cheaper to import some overdubbed cartoons, or Disney-style tosh about overconfident teens than it is to make a decent home-grown programme. Deadly 60, the hugely popular and intentionally hilarious wildlife show, must cost a fortune, as its bonkers presenter Steve Backshall travels the world looking for creatures that can kill you.
But I agree with RTD about TV networks not seeing the bigger picture with children’s productions, and that by categorising a show as ‘just for kids’ is failing to recognise both the writing talent and the potential cash-cow. After all, he made a lot of money for the Beeb from Dr Who and its Sarah Jane spin-offs.
Now I’d like to see Horrible Histories, the very best thing on TV, moved to prime-time BBC at, ooh, 7pm every night? Even its repeats would be far more intelligent and entertaining than what is currently offered in that slot.
Until the BBC complies with my demands, you can go to the CBBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbbc/episode/b011qlwb/Horrible_Histories_Series_3_Episode_2/ and catch up with Series 3 of Horrible Histories. You don’t need to have the kids around. Put your headphones in and enjoy. It’s more educational and humorous than any half hour you’d spend on Facebook.