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Pre-school Television

From 'flob-a-lob' to 'eh-oh'

Main image of Pre-school Television

The best-remembered children's programmes of the 1950s are almost exclusively those aimed at the very young, including the puppet series of Watch With Mother. These simple stories, often accompanied by jolly songs, were set in cosy lands lacking high excitement or danger. Come the 1960s, series were technically more sophisticated and tried to show the interactions of communities of people who helped each other in series such as Camberwick Green (BBC, 1966) and, later, Postman Pat (BBC, 1981-82; 1991).

The revolutionary Play School (BBC, 1965-88) opened a (round, square or arched) window onto the world outside the television studios, with a series of films introducing a wide variety of real life experiences. Play School was consciously based on input from early learning experts, with the result a mix of songs and dances encouraging viewers at home to join in rather than passively watch.

Similar educationalist input influenced new programmes that aired at lunchtimes on ITV from 1972. Four initial series, Rainbow (ITV, 1972-95), Inigo Pipkin (ITV, 1973; later renamed Pipkins, 1974-81), Hickory House (ITV, 1973-77) and Mr Trimble (ITV, 1973-76) aimed to develop language skills via stories and songs, introduce simple concepts such as colours and shapes and demonstrate notions of social interaction. Childish characters like Pipkins' Hartley Hare or Rainbow's Zippy could be difficult or noisy and disrupt the group, thus showing the viewers how their similar behaviour could upset others. Most of these series also ventured into the real world, with filmed visits to schools, hospitals or the dentist intended to reassure young children about such formative experiences to come.

Such ideas of 'exploration' were preferred to the 'hard' factual basis of American pre-school education in numbers and letters, shown in programmes like Sesame Street, first shown in Britain in 1971.

Pre-school television became a national talking point with the phenomenal success of the initially controversial but globally popular Teletubbies (BBC, 1996-). Sales of its associated merchandise refocused activity in this area but some have questioned the influence that toy manufacturers may have on pre-school programme-makers at the development stages, seeking assurances that producers will put educational values before tie-in profits.

Alistair McGown

Further Reading

Home, Anna. Into the Box of Delights: a history of children's television, BBC, 1993. esp Chapter 2: Puppets and Pre-School Programmes

'Pre-School Programmes - Not for baby-minding' in ITV 1974: Guide to Independent Television, IBA (Ed: Eric Croston), 1974, pp 70-72

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Camberwick Green (1966)

Camberwick Green (1966)

Animated series about the sleepy village of Camberwick Green

Thumbnail image of Flowerpot Men, The (1952-54)

Flowerpot Men, The (1952-54)

Stories about Bill & Ben, who live in flowerpots and say "flobbadob"

Thumbnail image of Pipkins/Inigo Pipkin (1973-81)

Pipkins/Inigo Pipkin (1973-81)

Imaginative puppet-based programme for pre-schoolers

Thumbnail image of Play School (1964-88)

Play School (1964-88)

Long-running BBC programme for pre-school children

Thumbnail image of Postman Pat (1981-96)

Postman Pat (1981-96)

The animated adventures of the lovable postman and his cat

Thumbnail image of Rainbow (1972-95)

Rainbow (1972-95)

Colourful pre-school frolics with George, Zippy and Bungle

Thumbnail image of Teletubbies (1997)

Teletubbies (1997)

Children's TV series featuring the hugely popular colourful alien foursome

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of Children's Television

Children's Television

Broadcasting for children of all ages

Thumbnail image of Watch With Mother

Watch With Mother

Pioneering programming for 1950s tots

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Benjamin, Floella (1953- )

Benjamin, Floella (1953- )

Actor, Presenter, Writer