television, children’s

television, children’s
   Both ITV and BBC1 run children’s programmes after school hours from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday, and also at lunchtime and on Saturday mornings. The midday programmes are designed for pre-school children, as are the earliest afternoon shows. Despite the existence of separate educational programming, an emotive debate on television’s educative role has pervaded children’s television since its inception in 1946 (with the BBC’s For The Children). The longest running children’s programme is Blue Peter (1958–). Consistently endorsing a duty to inform, its presenters suggest socially useful hobbies for children and reward the achievements of the programme’s viewers. For younger children, Play School (1964) and others achieved a televised version of good nursery education. Cartoons and puppet characters are widely used, asking the naive questions that young viewers wish explained and helping to avoid the alienating didacticism of a pontificating adult. However charismatic facilitators have frequently made overtly factual and instructive programmes popular, such as Johnny Morris (Animal Magic, 1962), Johnny Ball (Think of a Number, 1972) and John Craven (Newsround, 1972). Entertainment is an equally strong priority in this field. Tiswas (1977) created a genre wherein adults behaved like children, exploiting children’s innate appreciation of the anarchic within a safe structure. Quiz shows and trials of progress such as Record Breakers (1972–) have always been popular with children. Most afternoon shows are shorter than half an hour to account for the short concentration span of the child and to provide a representative range of programmes.
   Jackanory (1965–), a children’s story read to camera, and serializations of novels such as The Box of Delights (1989) prove that powerful narrative is still gripping. Drama featuring magical characters and unusually proactive children are satisfying to the socially powerless child, which accounts for the popularity of fantastic, comedic series such as Rentaghost (1983) Woof! (1996) and the long-running Dr Who (1963–). The activities of fictional children in realistic settings are increasingly favoured. The soap operatic Grange Hill (1978–) has been joined by Byker Grove (1989) and The Biz (1996). Jimmy Savile bridged the intriguing gaps between fantasy, reality, entertainment and documentary by granting the wishes of his young audience on Jim’ll Fix It (1980), which was enjoyed by both adults and children. For slightly older viewers, children’s broadcasters were initially responsible for programmes such as Top Of The Pops (1965–).
   Further reading
    Hartley, I. (1983) Goodnight ChildrenEverywhere, Kent: Midas.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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