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Play Away (1971-84)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Play Away (1971-84)
BBC, tx. 20/11/1971-11/2/1984
190 episodes across 13 series, colour
ProducersCynthia Felgate
 Ann Reay
 Jeremy Swan
 John Smith

Regular players: Brian Cant; Chloe Ashcroft; Derek Griffiths; Toni Arthur; Johnny Ball; Tony Robinson; Floella Benjamin; Julie Stevens; Musicians: Jonathan Cohen, Spike Heatley, Alan Rushton, Martyn David, Dill Katz

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Songs, jokes and sketches hosted by Brian Cant in this Play School spin-off aimed at a slightly older audience.

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'It really doesn't matter if it's raining or it's fine. Just as long as you've got time to P-L-A-Y Play, Play Away'. So went the theme song - certainly many a rainy 1970s Saturday afternoon was brightened up by this series. Play Away was intended as a Saturday Play School (BBC, 1964-88), made possible by revenue from overseas sales of the original format. Scheduled after BBC2's film matinee, it attracted a far wider audience by providing a welcome distraction for non-sports fans while Grandstand and World of Sport plied their trade on BBC1 and ITV.

The first series mixed location films of children at play with links, makes and songs from Brian Cant and team in studio. It lacked Play School's constant explanatory introductions but was obviously similar.

In the series' first episode (aired 20 November 1971), Cant had been discussing how to make kites when he dropped in a pun, "Do you know which paper makes the best kites? Flypaper!" The series would soon become known for this groan-inducing humour. The films were phased out and infectious studio tomfoolery, jokes and comic songs took over, informed by Vaudevillian traditions (most gags began, "I say, I say, I say") and performed by a range of unselfconscious talents, including Derek Griffiths, Floella Benjamin, Julie Covington and Jeremy Irons.

The programme was usually recorded 'as live' in studio, with live musical backing from the band (led by pianist Jonathan Cohen). Occasional Play Away Away Days journeyed out on location. 1980s episodes utilised a studio audience of children, making it feel similar to Crackerjack (BBC, 1955-84).

Play Away was succeeded by a fully-fledged children's sketch show Fast Forward (BBC2 1984-87), overseen by Ann Reay and John Smith and featuring Play Away regulars Floella Benjamin and Nick Wilton.

References and Further Reading
Home, Anna. Into the Box of Delights: a history of children's television, BBC, 1993.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Extract (1:58)
Ball, Johnny (1938-)
Benjamin, Floella (1953- )
Griffiths, Derek (1946-)
Irons, Jeremy (1948-)
Children's Entertainment and Comedy
Children's TV in the 1970s