The Seventy Sixth Annual Academy Salute To Fifty Eight Million Years Of The BBC Part 5: Children's BBC

We’re now exactly some of the way through the Great Big Groovy Vague Musings Over Some Old Televisual Polyfilla That You Used To Get Between The Programmes On The BBC, and this time we’re taking a look at what virtually amounted to an independently-governed walled city within the BBC heirarchy… Children’s BBC!

Before we get down to the cardboard-sourced brass tacks of Children’s BBC presentation, it’s worth giving a quick highlighting to this Globe-prefiguring slab of bafflement that once revolved merrily away between programmes for younger viewers. It’s clearly supposed to be some sort of carousel type affair, but can anyone decipher what it’s actually made up of? It looks like it could be a scaled-down model of the Play School clock circled by copyright-infringing Anglia Knight-a-grams interspersed with the clock figures from Trumpton, albeit before any of those things even existed, but in reality it’s anyone’s guess. In any case, such extravagant overspending on children’s television continuity was never going to last for long, and within a couple of years it was perfunctory caption slides all the way…

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have seen fit to preserve any of the carousel-usurping bluffness for the masses, and the earliest example our experts have been able to unearth is this schedule listing dating from some time in the mid-to-late seventies. Despite extensive research, it’s proved impossible to actually pin it down to a day, month or even year (yes, alright, this isn’t Robin Carmody’s Saturday Night Takeaway, you know). And, well, on first glance it appears to be doing pretty much what it says on the ‘tin’, albeit in a world where you can buy tins with that day’s license fee-funded post-school viewing embossed on the side, and is rendered in the same retina-infuriating navy/mustard colour scheme as the contemporaneous BBC Globe. But consider the choice and positioning of programme-related iconography a little more deeply, and all manner of existentially-troubling undertones come to light. On the left hand side, there’s a youngster gazing with awe at the Play School house and Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout, while on the right, there’s another regarding the Blue Peter ship and Scooby Doo with equal agogness. Presumably the former grew up a cerebral creative who had ‘seen’ the  Zen tenets of the ‘White Void’ studio and the pop-art ethics underpinning the Play School toys, and subsequently cultivated an obsession with French cinema and lo-fi music, while the latter grew up to remember Spangles. It really is the Left Brain/Right Brain theorem writ large, only the wrong way round and with more Barnaby.

By the early eighties, we’ve gained a good deal of colour, but lost any discernible hint of anything approaching modernity. Perhaps it’s only to be expected from a BBC that still insisted on foisting ropey genteel derring-do costume dramas on youngsters who only wanted, well, Godzilla, but the whole thing reeks of a dogged insistence that the youth of today were no different to the youth of the twenties. And again, it’s proved impossible to pin it down to a day, month or even year (yes, alright, this isn’t Robin Carmody’s Got Talent, you know). Still, nice to see ‘Nice Theme Tune, Shame About The Show’ imported drama about outlawed ‘grog’ being sold to ‘Maoris’ Children Of Fire Mountain represented. And does anyone have any idea of what What’s The Idea! was??

Hang on a minute… Parky? What’s he doing here?! Don’t start adjusting your set just yet – unfortunately, despite extensive research, it’s proved impossible to locate any examples of the late seventies/early eighties programme-linking continuity slides that featured a photo from the show haphazardly cut into the shape of a jigsaw piece (which included, boom boom, Jigsaw), so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in its place. Anyway, that’s the last we’ll be seeing of him.

What we do have instead is an example of the jigsaw-replacing early eighties ‘balloon’ gambit, which featured a photo from the show haphazardly cut into the shape of one of a bunch of balloons. Because it’s like a ‘party’, you see. Especially when God’s Wonderful Railway is on. Here you can see an indefinable and probably several-years-out-of-date Grange Hill cast performing this very function whilst apparently sliding off to the left.

What’s going on here then? Dating from the ‘balloon’ era, this is some sort of oddly mismatched artwork rendition of what’s on ‘Today’, only crucially lacking any interpretable details of what’s on today. Notice too how several of the characters represented in this rainbow-hued montage (cue thousands of petrified youngsters fretting that they might spot ‘The Clown’ in amongst the multi-character lineup) had long since sodded off from the schedules, suggesting some sort of cheapskate cut’n’shut of something that had been lying around for donkey’s years. Anyway, this would prove to be the very last gasp of stuck-in-the-past skinflintery, as a modern hi-tech overhaul was just around the corner…

Yes, it’s the very end of the very end of an era, and the lazily-slung together slides were abandoned in favour of modish (and indeed MODE 2) ‘Computer Graphics’ created on a trusty BBC Micro. Up to the minute technology, perhaps, but not technologically advanced enough to stop the intro animation from being accidentally cued up in the middle of an episode of Grange Hill when Roland was boarding a bus. Incidentally, despite extensive research, yet again it’s proved too administratively complex to pin this down to  a day, month or even year (yes, alright, this isn’t Don’t Scare The Robin Carmody Hare, you know).

And then, one afternoon late-ish in 1985, it was all over. Phillip Schofield and his swivel chair arrived in the hastily-redubbed ‘Broom Cupboard’ with surprisingly little fanfare, and ushered in a new era of live presentation, birthday greetings, vision-mixing mixups and Glasses by Chris Jarvis. Incidentally, note the presence of Gordon The Gopher-predating stuffed sidekick Hogan The Monkey in this screenshot. Anyway, that’s your lot as far as Children’s BBC continuity goes, but if we look at who’s flying Thunderbird 2 in this hand-drawn-birthday-card-sent-into-the-Broom-Cupboard, it’s The Open University logo…!