Sunday, 14 April 2013

In my day....

I am very much not down with the kids right now.

Well, I might be down with the kids, but I’m definitely not down with what the kids are watching on TV these days.

In my day [assumes pose intended to indicate that ‘my day’ was back in the heyday of the British Empire] children’s television was sensible and comprehensible, with well-rounded characters – and I don’t just mean the Flumps- and meaningful plots.

Like half-human, half-feline cat-creatures who fled their planet and went into cryogenic sleep for about twenty years, during which time only the main character aged, for vital plot purposes, while everyone else mysteriously stayed the same, befo re arriving on a planet ruled by a really angry mummy. 

We could all understand that – I mean, we’d all come across really angry mummies from time to time.

Then there was Jamie, whose magic torch opened up a portal under his bed to another world which was accessed via helter-skelter.  I’m guessing Jamie’s Magic Torch came to an abrupt end after Nightmare on Elm Street made sure that the underside of a child’s bed was never going to be a friendly, sunshiny place ever again.

And Mr Benn who never actually had to walk anywhere.  He’d just strike a pose and, as if by magic, a slightly creepy shopkeeper appeared, all the main character’s clothes fell off and were replaced by a costume apposite to whatever strange fantasy he was entertaining that day.

I think Thomas may have seen some vintage Mr Benn.  He seems to be under the impression that standing stock-still, on one leg, halfway up the stairs is the appropriate response to “Will you please get dressed RIGHT NOW.”

Anyway, my point is that children’s TV made sense in those days.  I have to concede that I had a fairly narrow viewing experience because children’s ITV was banned in our house.  I grew up with this faint sense that ITV was a bit dirty and nasty – if I’d heard of porn back then, I would have been convinced that naked ladies would appear if you pushed that forbidden third button on the television.  It has taken me about three decades to realise that the reason I wasn’t allowed to watch children’s ITV is because it had adverts for shiny, plastic things that cost money. 

As opposed to shiny plastic things that writhe around in the nuddy making strange noises, obviously.

Children’s television these days is rubbish.

Nothing makes sense.

Take In the Night Garden for example.  Leaving aside the fact that the whole thing is one giant innuendo about Uppsy-Daisy blowing on Iggle-Piggle’s trumpet – shame on you, Derek Jacobi – can someone please explain to me what is going on with the scale.  Are Iggle-Piggle and Uppsy-Daisy human sized (as seems to be the case when they are embarking on jolly japes, like chasing Uppsy-Daisy’s errant bed around the woodlands) or are they actually smaller than the Ninky-Nonk?  And what about the Harhoos, or Hargoos or whatever you call them?  Why does no-one ever see them next to anyone else?  Are they giant inflatable shapes or little teeny-tiny inflatable shapes?  And what is going on with the Pontipines and the Wattingers?  They clearly have some sort of long-running neighbor dispute that the Pontipines are in denial about.  Stop inviting the Wattingers to picnics and things – they HATE you.  And you’re all really, really small and keep getting lost under flowerpots and logs and things.

Or you might be really, really big and living in a strange giant world.  Who knows.

And then there’s Mike the Knight.  The whole premise of which seems to be that you should learn from your mistakes.  Which makes it rather odd that they’ve chosen for their main character someone who never, ever learns from their mistakes.  Ever. 

“It’s time to be a knight and do it right.”

Good plan.  Excellent idea.  Except that you said that yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.  AND YOU’RE STILL SCREWING UP SPECTACULARLY!

Even Ben sometimes looks puzzled while watching Mike playing with matches on top of a haystack, or turning his parents into frogs, or whatever, quite incomprehensibly, seemed like a good idea to him that day.

But I think I’ve figured it out.  Children’s television is clearly part of a government plot to brainwash the voters of tomorrow into accepting unpopular policies.

Look at Bob the Builder, for example.  Bob and his motley collection of talking road-diggers have clearly been enrolled on the Workfare scheme, or some variant thereof, and are quite obviously working on unpaid projects for the benefit of the community.  Seriously.  No local authority in this economic climate is going to be spending money on some of the frivolous projects that Bob seems to be spear-heading.

And then there’s Postman Pat whose local rural post office is quite clearly about to be shut down as part of a Royal Mail cost-cutting exercise.  And to be fair, if the owners have enough time to wander about the village during opening hours, helping to track down a missing sheep or an errant parrot, they can’t really argue that they are running a profitable franchise.  Even if they try to market themselves as a Special Delivery Service, their days are numbered.

Grandpa’s Amazing Shrinking Cap is an extremely transparent metaphor for the dwindling pension pot, and the producers are clearly trying to portray the elderly as unruly, frivolous and slightly bonkers, in order to ensure that no-one has any sympathy for them, while that family who live in the windmill with an unfeasible number of children (including an extremely sinister magic baby) are
obviously intended to attract criticism of large families and garner support for proposals to cap child benefit at two children.  Although it's always entertaining when the lady who sometimes pops up to do the signing for CBeebies appears on Baby Jake, makes a token attempt at signing "Goggy gee-ah" before giving up with a shrug and a weak smile. 
Then there’s that scary doctor with his fixed, manic grin who is clearly designed to put children off medical professionals for life, thus preserving the limited health budget.  I’m not quite sure what Mr Bloom’s Nursery is all about, but I want to be there for the episode where the “Meet the veggies” song has to be changed to “Eat the veggies” and Mr Bloom has to explain that those cute little anthropomorphic characters are now inhabiting the rather nice root-vegetable pie that all his little volunteers had for lunch before filming began.

But it’s all fine.  We now have an alternative to the brainwashing of CBeebies.  The StrawberryLine Miniature Railway has followed up the phenomenal success of its “DVD of really small trains driving round a really small railway, punctuated by people talking about really small trains” with a sequel.  Given that Thomas’s current list of heroes includes Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman and Mike, the owner of aforementioned Strawberry Line Railway, that is his viewing sorted for about the next six months. 

I suppose it’s better than Tractor Ted, the other current Thomas-and-his-cousins obsession.  You’d think there would be limited entertainment that could be extracted from watching people drive tractors through narrow gates and tip grain into a barn.  You’d think that, but you would be very, very wrong.  When Tractor Ted is doing his thing, a nuclear bomb could go off in the back garden and there wouldn’t be even the slightest flicker from the intensely concentrating faces on the sofa.  Which is great if you need to get things done, but not so good from the point of view of having really, really annoying songs stuck in your head.  When Tractor Ted entered our lives, I discovered that there is actually more than one song about combine harvesters in existence.

And trust me, it is nowhere near as good as the Wurzels’ take on the subject.


  1. Oh I hear you - and it only gets worse. CBBC is pretty dreadful once they get old enough - I blame the fact that they are programming for 12 hours a day instead of a short burst after lunch and a slighly longer burst in the afternoon.

  2. Oh no. I thought things would improve...