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Vision On (1964-76)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Vision On (1964-76)
168 episodes in 15 series
Production CompanyBBC TV
Producers includeUrsula Eason, Leonard Chase, Patrick Dowling
Directors includePatrick Dowling, Gerald Wiltshire, Diana Potter, Michael Grafton-Robinson, Peter Wiltshire, Clive Doig

Presenters: Pat Keysell, Tony Hart, Ben Benison, Wilf Lunn (aka Wilfred Makepeace Lunn), Sylveste McCoy (aka Sylvester McCoy)

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Highly visual and colourful entertainment aimed at deaf children.

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For Deaf Children (1952-64) was a monthly show on the margins of BBC children's programmes. Pioneered by Ursula Eason (assistant head of Children's 1955-70), the programme was revamped by Eason and director Patrick Dowling as Vision On (BBC, 1964-76) to reflect the societal integration of deaf and hearing children. Vision On was "intended mainly - but not exclusively - for deaf children".

Host for the entire run was Eason's former PA Pat Keysell, a mime and dance teacher for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. Magicians, jugglers and mime artists accompanied Pat for the first series.

Spoken dialogue was minimal to dispense with the conflicting need for close-up shots for lip readers and mid-shots for Keysell's sign language. Quirky music filled the silence for hearing viewers. The experimental first series featured deaf children putting on plays in the studio, a quiz for both hearing and deaf children and stories told in mime. Much of the programme presented library films, including American comedy silents and European animation.

Since art pursuits could be followed equally by hearing and deaf children, artist Tony Hart joined as co-host in series two, with all sorts of painting ideas. Viewers were encouraged to send their pictures to The Gallery, Keysell informing us that "We're sorry we can't return any but there is a prize for those that are shown".

As the series progressed, new animations and films were commissioned. Surreal shorts came from names like Oliver Postgate, David Sproxton, Peter Lord, Bob Baker and Dave Martin (the last four would eventually make Aardman's Wallace and Gromit films). David Wyatt and David Cleveland created The Prof, a manic figure in a lab coat who enjoyed adventures in silent movie style.

By the 1970s, most viewers were completely unaware the programme was made 'mainly' for the deaf. The oddball format crystallised with colour television - wordsmith director Clive Doig, beanpole mime artist Ben Benison and eccentric inventor Wilf Lunn came on board. Hart created a new insect-like logo by reflecting the programme's title in a mirror.

The popular programme - and its deafness element - was dropped in 1976. Hart and Dowling continued with wacky animations and art ideas in Take Hart (BBC 1977-83), while Clive Doig created puzzle show Jigsaw (BBC 1979-84). Both series owed much to Vision On's freewheeling invention.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Wheels (3:21)
Take Hart (1977-83)
Hart, Tony (1925-2009)
Children's TV in the 1970s
Factual Children's Television