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Why Don't You... (1973-94)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Why Don't You... (1973-94)
BBC, 1973-1995
Almost 300 editions in 42 series, colour
Production CompanyBBC TV (various regions)
Series Producers includeMolly Cox, Peter Charlton
Directors includeCarla Singer-McIvor, Hilary Murphy, Russell T. Davies

Miscellaneous activities and suggestions of what to do with the school holidays.

Show full synopsis

This series' full title Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead? (Radio Times originally billed it as Wdyjsoytsagadslbi?) often met with confusion but reflected an attitude held since the dawn of the BBC children's service, that television for children should be rationed and provide stimulation and ideas for time spent away from the TV. At the time of Why Don't You's early 1970s launch, television was not the 24-hour multichannel experience it is today.

The first series, shown during the summer school holidays, was a mix of jokes, play ideas and tricks based on viewer letters, rendered in the surreal style pioneered by Vision On (BBC, 1964-76). Central to the series were self-authored film reports from children at all sorts of work or play - doing a paper round, helping out at stables, even building their own hovercraft.

For the next few years the series was shown early on Saturday mornings and, once, in the teatime slot, but eventually settled into its famous bunk enlivening Easter and Christmas holiday mornings (only once more, in 1985, was it shown in the Summer holidays).

The show came originally from the imaginative BBC Bristol, but from 1980 'gangs' in other regional centres joined in. Programmes came from different studio sets, recreating a dusty basement in Bristol, a Belfast church hall, a barn in Scotland, a seaside café or old cottage in Cardiff. This regionalisation unintentionally gave viewers something to do in the holidays - take the mickey out of the various accents.

The late '80s introduced fictional storylines and ever weirder locations (a disused railway station, a spooky mansion). Instrumental in a new scripted comedic style, usually centred around hare-brained young Welsh inventor Ben, was BBC Manchester producer Russell T. Davies - who later found fame as writer of Queer as Folk (Channel 4, 1999-2000) and the acclaimed revival of Doctor Who (BBC, 2005-) - working on Liverpool Gang editions.

The show eventually became something of a junior Blue Peter, with presenters travelling to meet the featured hobbyists and filing travelogues from as far afield as Amsterdam and Pamplona.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete 1985 edition (23:51)
Opening titles (0:40)
Why Dont You 1. Hospital radio DJ (4:27)
Why Dont You 2. Penguins (4:18)
Davies, Russell T. (1963- )
Factual Children's Television