A while back I happened to notice that the closing credits to CBeebies at 7pm as the time comes to say goodnight have changed. Suddenly, Topsy and Tim, Sarah and Duck and Chuggington have popped up, and are going to bed (or in Chuggington’s case, the train equivalent) alongside Rastamouse, the Clangers and those talking vegetables from the Thing With The Annoying Northern Bloke in a Van.
Where is 64 Zoo Lane? I cry out, aghast, as I struggle to remember which other programmes the new arrivals have pushed out. Images of happy times past spent watching 64 Zoo Lane at my old flat in London flash before my eyes. Piglet rolling around on the floor before he could crawl; Piglet pulling himself up on the TV stand; Piglet shouting “A-DA” at the giraffe as it pops the little girl back through her bedroom window, Piglet bashing the television screen with a toy car.
And then I realise. Time is slipping by. Piglet is getting older, and 64 Zoo Lane has slipped into television past, along with such classics as Mr Ben, Cities of Gold,
Rolf Harris, Jim’ll Fix It and Superted.
And yet….and yet….Classics from yesteryear keep popping up in the children’s television schedules. It seems we can’t get enough of The Clangers, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Teletubbies and Thomas (the tank engine) and Friends. Either that or the TV people don’t have any new ideas and have to keep recycling ones from days of yore.
So I thought now would be as good a time as any to introduce a brief critique of Children’s Television: Then and Now. I have already written about my thoughts on the new-fangled Postman Pat with his absurdly expensive range of mail-delivering vehicles, but how do the others compare?
The Teletubbies first crossed my radar (no pun intended) when I was but the mere tender age of sixteen. Old enough to know better, but apparently still young enough that I was hooked, despite my already being at least fourteen years past the target age range. “again, again again!” I would cry, in a high-pitched squeal, whenever something good happened, even though the Teletubbies only ever said that when something very boring happened, like a brief video of some children screeching in a field. Eighteen years later, and nothing has changed. Nothing at all, except that the Teletubbies, like me, have gotten sprogged up, and produced the Tiny Teletubbies, a little gaggle of children of their own. Who’d have thought it?
2.) Fireman Sam
It goes without saying that when you are an elder stateswoman such as myself, things were invariably better in the old days, no matter how demonstrably false that proves to be. The 1970s? A veritable golden age to those who lived through it, despite the fact that we now know that it was in fact a misogynistic hell-hole peopled by marauding glitter-encrusted ogres fondling everyone on Top of the Pops and everyone was still sitting in a bomb site despite the war having finished thirty years earlier (and I know this to be true, people, because I have watched Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, and if there is a better social commentary on the era I have yet to see it).
However, Fireman Sam is that rare piece of ingenuity. A children’s television programme where the slightly shonky original is NOT AS GOOD as the current incarnation.
For a start, I give you Penny, in the olden days a forgotten add-on and probably love interest to the titular character; in the new version a fire fighting heroine in her own right.
Secondly, Bella Lasangne, the most crude racial stereotype ever imagined, has left Pontypandy for good. Probably in an ice cream van. Arrivaderci Bella. And best of all, Fireman Elvis Cridlington is still busting out some moves last seen on the King himself circa 1977. Long live Fireman Sam, and may Naughty Norman Price forever be a thorn in thy side.
3.) Thomas and Friends
I know, I know, I’ve bleated on about this before. In fact, I seem to spend most of my time these days lamenting the continued cultural dominance of a fictional island stuck in the 1950s and still running steam trains (according to the Fat Controller’s Wikipedia entry-yes peeps, HE HAS ONE) the venerable Sir Topham Hatt was opening branch lines all over Sodor, just as Dr Beeching was closing them down on the mainland. And if that’s not the feverish dream of a steam enthusiast, then I don’t know what is. But although I still have an issue with the general lack of female trains (Emily and the few others that pop up every now and then seem to be token females, rather than plot-drivers in their own right) at least the unashamed lack of modern mores leaves me with something to mock when I am stuck watching Gordon get stuck in a snowdrift again, or James being cruel to Percy. And Cranky the Crane deserves his own spin-off show, possibly called “Cranky’s Return: Heavy Industry Returns to Brendam Docks in Light of Brexit Vote.” You heard it here first.
And so, there may be no more Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and his Muskahounds are relegated to a BBC1 series where humans have taken the parts previously made famous by dogs and cats in what I can only assume is a flagrant betrayal of Alexandre Dumas’ original literary intentions; and SuperTed is still waiting for his renewed chance at the limelight, but children’s TV is not so different now to how it was back in the glory days of my own childhood, which were, of course, only glory days because I was there, and I wear my rose-tinted spectacles with pride.
And so to the eternal question, the call to action you have all been waiting for: Which children’s TV programmes would you like to see resurrected for the twenty-first century, and which should be forgotten forever?