Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Children's Television by Alistair McGown
- Introduction Scheduling Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
Drama Youth Imports Schools    
< Previous Page
Still from The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (BBC, 1975)

Storytelling for children is a folk tradition stretching back thousands of years, one which television initially continued using readers speaking to camera and the occasional drawing. The Hot Chestnut Man and, most famously, Jackanory were examples of this style.

Early full-cast drama plays and stories were shown live, very much like small theatre productions with television cameras pointing at them. Television drama was, and still is, very expensive to make and children's television was short of money in the 1950s.

The BBC of the '50s tended to make dramas based upon 'classic' novels, intended to entertain and help children studying for English exams. Children's television drama has always had a close relationship with published fiction, from the adaptations of turn of the century works such as The Railway Children or The Secret Garden to modern bestsellers (Alan Garner's The Owl Service was adapted for television in 1969, having won the Carnegie Medal book prize only two years before).

The '60s brought exciting adventure stories of modern-day kids foiling bank robbers and jewel thieves, usually while on their school holidays. Such gang adventures - for example The Barnstormers (ITV, 1964), Adventure Weekly (BBC, 1969) - were obviously 'borrowed' from Enid Blyton's popular Famous Five and Secret Seven books (the Five would appear on ITV in 1978).

Drama of the '70s began to use more believable and realistic characters in serials like Carrie's War. The mid '70s introduced series set in modern-day, inner-city Britain, most famously Grange Hill. Sometimes violent and covering difficult issues, these prompted complaints from parents. By the '80s the play series Dramarama tackled topics such as bullying and disability, while the BAFTA-winning Press Gang examined glue-sniffing and child abuse. Soap opera Byker Grove, set in a North East youth club, continues using similar storylines.

While the mid '70s brought harder realism to children's television, fantasy too has been a staple ingredient since the '50s. Fantasy includes rip-roaring adventure (The Box of Delights) and has also been used as a way of putting across complex emotional issues (The Owl Service, The Queen's Nose).

Next Page >
examples EXAMPLES