Kids today, eh? They’re not what they used to be. At least what they’re watching on television isn’t. Just look at today’s CBBC schedule. ‘Friday Download’ with Nick Grimshaw? ‘Dani’s House’? This week: ‘Max and Ben’s attempt to write a love song gets very bad online feedback’.
That’s a worry, because children’s TV has an enormous influence. Or at least, it did on me. My television heyday was the early 1990s. Postman Pat, Fireman Sam. In hindsight, it’s astonishing that the right-wing press didn’t rail against it. Here you have good, honest, public sector workers, going about their daily business with a smile and not so much as a hint of industrial action / a widespread restructuring and efficiencies programme.
And what about the heavy handed moralising with environmentalism? The Animals of Farthing Wood remains the ideological bedrock for most of my opinions on green belt expansion (it had a brilliant theme tune too, with a delicious crescendo at the end to out-Disney any actual Disney film). And as for Cyril Sneer in the Raccoons – he was just a crude amalgam of every grasping magnate that has ever lived, a Mr Burns with a curious penile extension to his nose.
Now I’m not saying the TV we had back then was perfect. Far from it. The poor quality production values, and the fact that Jess the cat was just a tatty cotton bud with a face on it, were slightly disappointing even at the time. And some of it was just plain old shit. I’m looking at you ITV, with your flattering-to-deceive Zzzap!, deeply mediocre Tots TV and sexually dubious Rosie and Jim. The only good thing on ITV was Art Attack, and that was only good when they were doing the ‘big’ art attack, because Neil Buchanan briefly stopped talking.
Our childhood television mostly had charm and class, and at the very best, a kind of warm genius. So did the wonderful, trippy stuff that Oliver Postgate produced before that (which I think was an indirect but massive inspiration for 90s rave culture). But that’s mostly dribbled away, replaced by Dick or Dom (the shop-soiled version of Ant or Dec) and, well, this. The rot set in, I believe, with Taz.
I have a theory that the consequences of children’s TV are felt 25 years after it’s aired. Those who watched it when their minds were most malleable finally ascend to maturity at that point – and in the TV world, they rise to positions as producers and commissioners who can put the same things they fondly remember back on the telly. So, we’re about due some new classics heading our way. But just in case that doesn’t happen, you should definitely watch this to remind you of the greatness there once was.