BBC children's TV at the Lowry: Here’s One We Made Earlier

Desmond Bullen

An exhibition on children’s TV from the BBC comes to The Lowry, bringing some beloved programmes with it.

This is a story about all the stories. About the dreams a nation’s children dreamed. It ends in Salford, taken up by a CBBC dog from Wigan – but it begins in a time even before the monochrome tones of The King’s English. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Curated by the BBC’s history manager, Robert Seatter, Here’s One We Made Earlier is a nostalgic clip show barely contained by the gallery walls at The Lowry; a partial and digressive history of the Corporation’s children’s broadcasting, from Children’s Hour to Hacker Time. 

Seatter’s aspiration was one of “tapping into a national memory”. There is certainly something about drifting around the exhibition that is oddly akin to leafing through an old family album – an album in which John Noakes is the eccentric uncle, Janet Ellis a bohemian aunt, and Trisha Yates shows up as a wayward but glamorous cousin.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

The kinship, perhaps, is closer still to home; the knitted creatures who speak in whistles and the Wottingers who always wave are siblings without the rivalry, friends as reliable as imagination.

A tad ironically, given the recent consignment of CBBC and CBeebies to their respective digital orphanages, this really is an exhibition that can be enjoyed by all the family – although, overhearing the pithy reviews of the beloved figures of yesteryear by Salford’s schoolchildren demonstrated how one generation’s nostalgia can be another’s baffled indifference.

Still, some hardy perennials transcend the decades; Newsround, no longer the sole possession of John Craven, but a whole press gang of young men and women, still softens the blows of the rolling news, and the Blue Peter ship sails on, with new hands on deck and a bewildering array of still sought-after badges.

Similarly, many of today’s programmes bear a distinct family resemblance to their predecessors; for all its boy band haircuts and girl group trappings, Friday Download is – in essence – Crackerjack in the hands of precociously confident teenagers, whilst the sometimes glorious 4 o’clock Club carries on Grange Hill’s estimable tradition of using school-aged soap opera to critique social policy. Except with more rapping. It is exactly the kind of serial that the then Schools Minister, Michael Fallon, would have denounced in 1991 as “wicked, brazen and sinister”, and all the better for it.

Indeed, there is little here to support Teletubbies producer Anne Woods’ alarmist contention that British children’s television is in “long term decline”. For all its incarceration in the digital dumping ground, Horrible Histories – the only ensemble ever to make the obligatory comedy song a thing of joy rather than pain – has managed to establish a foothold in the shared experience of BBC 1. Perhaps, in a better world, the chaotic comedic charisma of Hacker T. Dog from Wigan would be celebrated as widely – and far more justly – as Peter Kay. In the meantime, as the meat-paste-eating canine himself would say, “You gotta watch this…”

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