Whatever Happened To…After School Kids’ Telly?

Pat Sharp's mullet left to present its own programme after just one series of Fun House.

By Matthew Laidlow.

If you gave someone the opportunity to live in the nineties instead of the present day, chances are they’d pick 2012. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in an age where technology can be slotted up your nostril or where there’s an upmarket KFC (Nando’s), on every corner?

But though the past is unappealingly full of brick sized mobile phones, Global Hypercolour t-shirts and endless, hideous Celine Dion hits, surely you’d revisit that period if you happen to be the owner of a small child?

Everybody knows that when the kiddywinks come home after learning pointless mathematical theories that they’ll never use in later life, they’ll want some light relief. But flick on the TV for your munchkins these days and what do you find? Nothing. That’s right, an absolute void of entertainment for children. At time of writing, this is the BBC’s post-school offering:

4pm – All Over The Place – A show dedicated to finding strange and random places in the UK.

Brilliant, just what kids want to see, a boiled down travel show that’s interesting for the first thirty seconds when they witness fascinating segments such as the air guitar world championships.

4.30pm – Helen’s Polar Challenge For Sports Relief – If children knew that our license fee was essentially funding this women’s holiday that’s packaged as charity work to raise funds to save a squirrel that’s stuck inside a crisp packet, they’d be shocked.

Now, before you all start yelling and shouting the obvious of “OH MY GOD, IT’S SO CLEAR THAT YOU DON’T HAVE CHILDREN,” you’d be right. But honestly, I have your best intentions at heart and I’m only thinking of your precious offspring.

While the BBC does offer some TV that you could conceivably entertain a child with (if they like other countries, that is), just look at what ITV are broadcasting in the same timeslot:

4pm-5pm – The Hungry Sailors – Jesus H. Christ on a stick, it’s another bloody cookery show. But the difference this time is that they travel via boat. Are they dressed like Captain Pugwash? Like bugger are they. Do kids have any interest in how to make an apple cake? No. They’d prefer to be cramming it down their gob.

OK, you could argue that kids telly has migrated to freeview: to Ceebeebees (which sounds more like a 70s prog rock/disco group than a channel), or, if you’re willing to fork out for a subscription- Nick Jr or Cartoon Network. But that seems unfair to people who can’t afford a freeview box or satellite dish. Plus, it somehow saps the joy from children’s TV when it’s segregated to its own channel and forced to sit at the back of the proverbial telly bus.

Back in the day there were so many iconic TV shows it was impossible to keep up with them. Everybody wanted to be on Fun House, not just because you could mock Pat Sharp’s mullet or feel confused in your special parts when you saw the twins due to your hormones not being fully developed, but because the show was what any child wanted: fun. Who wouldn’t love to complete in something that they couldn’t do at home? It was a game! AND a race! A real wacky place.

Plus there were prizes to be won.

Even deaf children could comfortably watch TV without a patronising sign language interpreter. ZZZap! was a visual comic that brought to life a batch of recurring characters and featured everything from DIY magic to sketches. At no point were any words uttered, granted some background music might have been used but storylines were simple enough to grasp. These short bursts of variety guaranteed positive viewing figures, hence the nine years that it ran.

Other treats included the truly wonderful Knightmare, Get Your Own Back and Jungle Run (not to become confused with Keith Chegwin’s The Naked Jungle). And when you say ‘yes, but do we parents really want to have our channels invaded by sword wielding teens or Tony Robinson pretending to be the Sheriff of Nottingham’, ask yourself this- would you rather watch well scripted children’s sitcoms such as My Parents Are Aliens, or bore yourself with aging repeats of Midsommer Murders?

And don’t get us started on Saturday morning TV. Live and Kicking and SM:TV are sorely missed. That argument is for another day.

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

2 Responses to Whatever Happened To…After School Kids’ Telly?

  1. Jenny says:

    I quite like All Over The Place as its quite funny and informative, and some programmes like SORRY I’VE GOT NO HEAD, HORRIBLE HISTORIES & YOUNG DRACULA, altho they are on freeiew are great but i would agree with you. There seem to be a better variety of children’s programs in the 90s, nowadays we r usualy faced with repeats on bbc and itv.

  2. Hilary Wardle says:

    Horrible Histories? That sounds suspiciously like…EDUCATION to me.
    Bring back Thundercats, that’s what I say

    Oh. They have. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ThunderCats_%282011_TV_series%29
    *instantly disapproves*

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