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Children's Television by Alistair McGown
Introduction Schedules Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
Drama Youth Imports Schools    

Television aimed specifically at children began when the BBC came back on air after World War II. The few thousand well-off children watching in the late 1940s enjoyed simple stories and songs, many told using string puppets. One such puppet was Muffin the Mule, a dancing circus horse, often described as 'the first TV star'.

In the 1950s children's TV expanded to include magazine programmes (Studio E was a kind of forerunner to Blue Peter, which itself began as long ago as 1958) and live drama plays and serials, usually based on classic novels such as The Railway Children or The Secret Garden. It was hoped that one day children's television would offer 'mini' versions of all kinds of 'grown-up' TV, from news to quizzes to travel programmes. There were not enough resources or money dedicated to children's programmes in the 1950s but it was hoped that one day there would be such a wide range of programmes that children's TV would seem like 'a service in miniature'.

By the early '70s both BBC and ITV had realised that even if children only made up a small percentage of the viewing public it was vital that they had their own TV programmes - providing a public service should sometimes be more important than attracting the biggest audiences.

This new understanding allowed children's television to expand further into new broadcasting hours, continuing to entertain, educate, excite and entrance generations of youngsters. Today's mums and dads fondly remember programmes like Newsround, Grange Hill and Blue Peter from their childhoods, and may often sit with their own children to watch the modern versions that still run today. Despite modern distractions such as games consoles and the internet, not to mention a bewildering number of digital TV channels, it seems that today's children are drawn to television just as their parents and grandparents were.

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Still from Muffin the Mule (1946-55)