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Play School

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Can you guess which one?

Here is a house…

Available as a t-shirt now from Steve Berry Capitalist Corps Ltd!It was all so nearly so very different. Had things gone as planned, the first programme seen on BBC2 would have been a news report about The Beatles being thrown off a bus or something. Instead, thanks to a power cut, that honour ended up going to a wonky self-drawing house and pair of grown adults hopping about in a bare white studio pretending to be farm animals.

Though that description probably also applied to at least one of the experimental dramas that clogged up early BBC2, this was Play School, the token concession to a pre-school viewing audience, and as such very much in line with the ‘progressive thinking’ endorsed by its parent channel. Created by Joy Whitby, Play School was intended as a sort of televisual embodiment of trendy new approaches to primary educational hoo-hah, with deft deployment of basic alphanumeric skills through the medium of songs, stories, windows, toys, and – of course – male and female teacherish presentational teams taking huge exaggerated strides all over the place.

And from that very first day on BBC2, Play School established the regular-as-clockwork format that would last almost right through to the end – cheery introductory sequence – originally unwhistleable call-and-response flutey extemporisation over a thick-lined house straight out of a sixties ‘libraries only’ storybook, with the show’s name rendered in Carnaby Street-esque asymmetrical lettering crammed awkwardly within alongside a space-filling Mary Quant-style asterisk – with much-loved “Here is a house/Here is a door/Windows – 1, 2, 3, 4/Ready to knock?/Turn the lock!/it’s Play School!” spiel; ‘Hello!’-spouting presenters dropping not particularly cryptic hints of what they’d be looking at today; prop-and-illustration-assisted storytelling introduced by a rotating clock with relevant bric-a-brac item underneath; invitation to guess which window (round, arched or square) we’d be taking a harp glissando-heralded vision-mixed voyage through in order to watch a film about milliners at work or similar; singalong song with appropriate physical exertions usually performed in cahoots with soft toy co-stars; interaction with generally unexciting pets; and fond farewells issued until ‘next time’, which for many was usually the afternoon repeat on BBC1.

Here is a door…

Initially the above was undertaken by presenters with vague but longstanding association with the children’s department (Gordon Rollings, Eric Thompson, Phyllida Law, Anne Morrish), alongside sundry bedazzled drama school graduates who rose to the challenge of being thrown a cardboard box and told to row out to sea (Brian Cant, Virginia Stride, Carole Ward), and, more puzzlingly, Canadian eco-aware folkie Rick Jones and Beatle pal standup comic Johnny Ball. Joining them, but of course, were those oft-parodied toys – initially bespoke cloth creations the perma-sixties-looking nursery-rhyme evocation figure stroke novelty football Humpty and polka-dot pop-art ragdoll Jemima; unloved Queen-visaged lump of commercially-available ugly plastic Hamble, purchased from Woolworths in an early display of anti-License Fee protestor angering in the name of reaching out to viewers from the lower end of the economic spectrum; and, at first, a tragically-forgotten one-size-fits-all ‘Teddy’. Nominally also part of the gang, but far less frequently seen, was creepy Olde English full-size rocking horse Dapple, seemingly only ever called into service when the props men could actually be arsed shifting it.

For all its forward-thinkingness and informality, Play School was still a bit of a formal experience in those early days, due in no small part to rigid adherence to a strict Theme Of The Day rota system and the constraints of a worryingly invasive obsession with having everything rhyme. As the decade went on, these were unsurprisingly dropped, while the presenters – late sixties recruits including hyperactive headcase Julie Stevens and erstwhile chart-topper with The Four Pennies Lionel Morton – were encouraged to ‘be themselves’ a bit more, which basically involved Jones and Morton getting to belt out a few singer-songwriter ballads and vaguely hallucinogenic self-penned stories, but it was with the dawn of the seventies that things really started to change.

Windows, one, two, three, four…

While the house took advantage of the glorious possibilities of colour television by acquiring a couple of barely-distinguishable shades of greyish-blue, before somebody saw sense and slapped a retina-infuriating combination of orange and red on top of it instead, in came a bunch of failed and failing acid-folkies after a bit of extra cash to prop up their almost defunct musical careers by essentially doing much the same only in front of the camera – Derek Griffiths, Jonnie Silvo, Miranda Connell, and most famously the winsome Toni Arthur, reputedly selected after she was spotted prancing about a folk club in sparkly hotpants by a male producer, and who would go on to set many an uncomprehending pre-adolescent heart a-flutter. Like their friends-in-quasi-hallucinatory-acoustics Rick and Lionel, they had a large number of songs sitting idle in their back pockets which could be repurposed accordingly (though not always quite as repurposed as all that – one notorious ditty has a noticeably (cough) ‘pharmaceutical’ take on the appreciation of Sympathy For The Devil-esque tribal rhythms, while one of the above recruits has since admitted to more or less setting real-life witchy runes to music), leading to a brief but glorious time when Play School was somewhat akin to a ‘shallow end’ equivalent of Bob Harris’ late-night Radio 1 whisperings. It’s also a sobering thought that, had things been only slightly different, Nick Drake might have ended up adjusting his tunings in the vicinity of Dapple. Meanwhile ‘Teddy’ quietly disappeared, darkly reputed to have been stolen by persons still unknown, to be replaced by the more familiar pairing of Big Ted and Little Ted (though Hamble, hated even by the presenters who were not above subjecting her to repair-occasioning physical abuse, somehow always survived), while the introduction of glossy colour and higher definition led to Play School becoming arguably the definitive BBC ‘white void’ show, further detached from reality by its strangely unpersonal opening and closing titles.

Ready to knock?…

Felt-tipped pubes not picturedWhile Play School remained resolutely unaffected by the ‘year zero’ ravages of punk rock, and even its most deeply progtastic presenters were given a much smoother ride than their contemporaries in Barclay James Harvest, there is no denying that the mid-late seventies saw the show’s true golden age. Particularly when under the stewardship of zen-endorsing producer Michael Cole, everything that was good about the show previously was streamlined into a bright, colourful and boisterous affair with more than a hint of surrealist wit. Joining the established roster of presenters – and as likely to be seen singing Penny Lane (accompanied by Little Ted as ‘the fireman’, whose ‘portrait of The Queen’ was about twenty times too large to fit in his pocket) or specially-composed efforts about a fussy crow that would only sit on a specific chimney pot, or the famously over-wordy tale of ‘Little Ted Bear’ and his efforts to climb ‘the perpendicular wall’, and all of it under the instantly-recognisable musical direction of Jonathan Cohen – were thesps Chloe Ashcroft, Carol Leader and Jon Glover, radio comics Maggie Henderson and Fred Harris (whose concurrent presence in The Burkiss Way was always a source of mental taxation for the target audience), and most famously of all Floella Benjamin, who added an enthusiastic touch of awareness of other cultures, delivered with frighteningly limitless reserves of energy and, it has to be said, equally frightening amounts of beads in her hair. Meanwhile, in tandem with the arrival of the more familiar proto-Acid Jazz theme music, the house bulked out sideways as if flattened by a hammer and repainted itself in slightly more tasteful shades of black, orange and yellow, before ditching everything but the colour scheme a couple of years later and rebuilding itself from scratch as the iconic chunkily-rendered ‘no sharp edges’ stylised effort, while the studio was graced (if that’s the right word) by the presence of Kattoo, a snarling bad-tempered cockatiel whose earwax-shifting shriek must be indelibly imprinted on the subconscious of a generation.

Turn the lock…

What a handsome chap!

Though they’ve all got their own write-ups on here, and rightly so, it’s worth mentioning the impressive catalogue of spinoffs that Play School gave rise to during this time. Sales of the show to overseas broadcasters in ‘kit’ form (i.e. they got a box of scripts and films and a Humpty decked out in ‘poison’ colour scheme) generated so much revenue that the excess ended up being channelled into Play Away, a weekend revue hoedown for slightly older viewers, with the presenters literally falling over themselves to dress up in silly costumes and tell pun-driven ice lolly stick standard gags. This in turn led to Johnny Ball-instigated pantomime-riffing retelling of historical sagas Cabbages And Kings, which in turn led to his innumerable number-driven offerings (and lest we forget, which to be honest we usually do, Johnny Ball Games), while Derek Griffiths conducted experiments in ultra-minimalism by repurposing old Play School stories and songs with a couple of basic props for Ring-A-Ding, and Fred Harris and Maggie Henderson traded absurdist repartee with old socks in the magisterial Ragtime, and it’s often forgotten that a certain Bod began his televisual wanderings within the confines of that one-two-three-four-windowed house.

It couldn’t last forever though. Come the early eighties, ITV suddenly started to take their children’s programming a lot more seriously, leading to a worrying ratings challenge for that not-that-all-important-really afternoon repeat. The answer, or so it seemed to those in charge, was to make Play School into a more modernist knockabout comedy affair in the style of, well, a second Play Away. Out went Hamble, traditional tales, and much of the educational drive; in came culturally aware (and, more importantly, less ugly) ethnic doll Poppy, madcap sock puppets Bingo and Cuckoo who came perilously close to infringing the copyright of The Banana Splits on two counts, a Heath Robinson-like Screwball Scramble-style mechanical clock, and recurring sketches, most notably puppet-rendered Breakfast Time parody TTV (later, with the addition of diseased puppet Scragtag, the genesis of one of the least distinguished spinoffs, and indeed least distinguished TV programmes full stop, of all time). To make way for this, a lot of the older presenters were shown the door too, replaced by young upstarts such as Ben Thomas, Wayne Jackman, Iain Lauchlan, Liz Watts and Sheelagh Gilby. Less well remembered from this intake is short-stay Doctor Who-reinventer in waiting Russell T. Davies, presumably hounded out of his post by militant fans of the ‘classic’ house grumbling “RTD MUST GO!”. Reflecting this drive for modernisation, said house became bedecked in colourful painty swirls and more akin to something you might have seen in the logo of a DIY superstore, while the music was replaced with something similar but a bit more bold and jazzy and modishly replete with Flying Pickets-style ‘psh-psssssh!’ percussion.

It’s Play Schoo… oh.

It didn’t catch on, of course (though it was bloody funny at times), and a couple of years later a determined effort was made to return to the familiar core Play School values and some of the earlier presenters were even brought back on board (but not Hamble), but it was too late – the show had lost a lot of friends, and was ironically by now too tied to an earlier age to survive the major boot up the arse that Children’s BBC as a whole received in the mid-eighties. Headlines pleaded, columnists tutted (including one Victoria Coren, who at least was barely old enough to have stopped watching it herself), but to no avail – Play School had taken its last trip through the arched window, and perhaps given that its cancellation came before the age of Birtism it had the best send-off it possibly could have done. In its place came Playbus, which was something else altogether…

And through the Square Window, it’s the presenters!

One of these men would go on to marry Leela

PATRICK ABERNETHY

Little-recalled lugubrious-looking Father Stone-faced character of the ‘dour moustache’ persuasion, who cunningly subverted his appearance by throwing himself into silly-voiced storytelling with aplomb.

BRUCE ALLEN

Adam Buxton-resembling man of mystery who seemingly dropped off the face of television straight after leaving Play School. Invariably tagged ‘current whereabouts unknown’ when newspapers run that old group shot of presenters.

TONI ARTHUR

Thigh length boot-favouring ‘bit of phwoar’ and former hardcore folkie who gave up a life of plainsong wailing about the misfortunes of Henry VIII’s wives to spend virtually the entire duration of the seventies grinning around no-budget children’s television sets. Later graduated to ‘serious’ presenting (ie TV-am and Woman’s Hour) and subsequently behind-the-scenes wizardry in theatre.

CHLOE ASHCROFT

No-nonsense straightman-esque ‘just the facts’ storyteller always ready to raise a ‘let’s get on with it’ eyebrow at the viewer in response to any off-script flights of lunacy, apparently saving all of that for her decidedly more manic Play Away persona. Later moved sideways to tedious See Saw drudgery Hokey Cokey and the far more pleasingly oddball Pie In The Sky. Also, as boring Doctor Who fans have contractually bound us to boringly point out, appeared in a boring Doctor Who story.

JOHNNY BALL

Frenzied fast-talking comedic polymath who oddly came to Play School via the supper club standup circuit. Famously presented what were possibly the only Making Learning Fun shows to actually succeed in making learning fun, Think Of A Number, Think Again, Think Backwards, Think This Way etc, wherein ambitious depictions of complicated scientific conceit using oversized prop pencils and swinging bags of salt were very much the order of the day.

BEN BAZELL

Jobbing actor with a curious speciality in portraying that most seventies of cliches, the Villainous German In A Suit. Possibly selected on account of even at his most immersed in said roles, still not appearing as villainous as Hamble.

FLOELLA BENJAMIN

Vaulted over childhood ambition to become Britain’s first black female bank manager by graduating from original cast productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar to become pioneer of cultural diversity in mainstream entertainment, breaking down cultural walls by sheer weight of hyperactive force and singing calypso-lite reggae-inflected songs about global themes to audiences who were too young to know any different (and later waving aside further pointless taboos by continuing to present the show whilst extremely heavily pregnant). Also had a lot of beads in her hair.

WILLIAM BLEZARD

Original resident pianist who moonlighted as the ivory-basher of choice of Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich and Joyce Grenfell, the latter of whom only accepted an invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace on condition Blezard was invited too. Luckily, he didn’t mistake The Queen for Hamble.

STUART BRADLEY

Fresh-faced latterday recruit and one of the few to survive the transition to Playbus, also seen and/or heard on the likes of Words & Pictures and Catterpillar Trail. Now runs a corporate video production company that has Humpty on its board of directors. No, really.

BRIAN CANT

Discovered playing a figure on a Roman urn for schools’ TV, and hired by a producer who thought he’d enjoy doing other equally offbeat things in the name of educative broadcasting. With a stridently-voiced personality and take-no-prisoners belief that whoever you were, you were going to watch and join in and have fun and no arguments, Brian Cant came to embody everything that was great about Play School. Also the driving force behind Play Away, and anecdotage-fuelled semi-’canon’ Bric A Brac, and lent his vocal talents to those series set in and around Trumptonshire.

Carol Chell

CAROL CHELL

Plaudit-bombarded drama student who was given the House-ular come hither about three minutes after graduating and remained with the show for the remainder of its screen life. Much given to Christmas Tape-friendly innuendo-laden camera-winking delivery of purportedly innocent lines. Later a big cheese in the world of satellite broadcasting.

GORDON CLYDE

West End board-treader – who appeared alongside Phil Silvers in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum – with a sideline in Stilgoesque topical satirical ditties as frequently essayed on Radio 4 shows. Discovered by Michael Winner, apparently.

JONATHAN COHEN

Electric Piano-adoring permanent resident of the BBC’s children’s studios for decades on end, contributing to about eight hundred million other programmes in addition to lengthy associations with Plays School and Away. Also enjoyed a stint as baton-wielding public face of legendary schools effort Music Time.

KATE COPSTICK

Big-spectacled rising star of the Bottom Right On Blankety Blank firmament, also seen on On The Waterfront and sundry other junior madcappery before making the unexpected sideways career move of becoming the nation’s foremost expert on erotic literature.

MIRANDA CONNELL

Mild-mannered actress/dancer/folkie type who nevertheless always looked on the back of the Play School albums as though she’d just stepped straight out of London’s hippest mod-psych nightspot. Rumours that the bad trip-inducing orange and red house was inspired by one of her far-out crazy acid prophecies were probably just made up as a joke for this page.

BRIAN CROUCHER

Better known to TV audiences for playing intergalactic psychotic Travis in Blake’s 7, homophobic swindling thug Ted Hills in EastEnders, Harry The Bastard in Bottom, and that bloke who snarled “give it to a robot!” in uber-controversial Doctor Who And The Robots Of Death, and therefore ideally suited to singing ‘Well Jemima, Let’s Go Shopping’.

SIMON DAVIES

One of the last ever new presenters, arriving shortly before it all ended and subsequently parachuted into both Playbus and Sophie Aldred co-helmed CBBC Factutainment masterpiece Corners. Now doing voiceover duties on ‘Web 2.0′ Play School-riffing effort Tikkabilla.

PERCY EDWARDS

Bird-twitterer extraordinaire usually to be found in his natural habitat of the ‘panel show’, but regularly roped in to Play School whenever a story or an extremely limited outside broadcast needed some bird-twittering magic sprinkled on top.

SHEELAGH GILBEY

Edutainment-cheerleading real-life expert in pre-school learning, who also presented offbeat make-your-own-entertainment puzzlement Do It! and the decidedly improving Zig Zag.

DEREK GRIFFITHS

Rubber-limbed renaissance man who arrived at Play School after learning the ropes with the RSC, the folky singer-songwriter scene, and a mild excursion into topical satire, and found his many and varied talents could be put to even greater use within its confines, not least an audially-alarming ability to improvise ‘free jazz’ scat-yodelling around whatever song he’d been given to sing. Such versatility made him a natural choice for all of the main spinoffs (including one of his own, the busked-storytelling ‘prop comedy’ extravaganza Ring-A-Ding) as well as narration and/or presentation duties on the likes of Heads & Tails, Bod and Look & Read, usually also furnishing them with full-length musical soundtracks to boot. Kept up his comedic leanings throughout Play School tenure, meaning that he could also regularly be spotted in cahoots with Frankie Howerd, Marty Feldman, the Private Eye mob and Alf Garnett, as well as playing no end of visiting African princes on the likes of Terry & June, and answering audience-put posers on popular science show Don’t Ask Me.

JANE HARDY

Hazily-recalled post-’zany’ introduction who also participated in the ill-advised Fingermouse revamp.

DAVID HARGREAVES

Fuzzy haired type whose extra-Jemimular career moves include appearing in guest roles on just about every detective series ever made.

FRED HARRIS

Tank Top-popularising leading exponent of dry wit within the Play School universe, which not only helped him last the course through the reinvented days and beyond, but were also put to extra-curricular good use within such radio comedies as The Half-Open University and The Burkiss Way, such TV comedies as End Of Part One, and ultra-droll Play School spinoff Ragtime, not to mention acting as Chock-A-Bloke for the subsequent Chock-A-Block. Possibly at least partly as a result of the latter, ended up as the BBC’s face of home computing, fronting the likes of Micro Live and The Chip Shop (with free off-air recordable ‘program’ at the end), subtly promoting the virtues of “an ordinary home computer… like this BBC Micro”. Famously staged an outtake show-hogging mock-tantrum for the camera in reaction to The Toys’ refusal to stay upright for the duration of a take.

MAGGIE HENDERSON

Fringe-graduating Clive James pal revue comedy regular turned Michael Cole prodigy, and thereby also to be found co-anchoring Ragtime and acting as chief tambourine-shaker on Bod.

WAYNE JACKMAN

Ubiquitous bloke-in-sort-of-costume contributor to the likes of Chips Comic and sundry other earlier eighties excursions into lacklustredom. Now a writer, but never forgiven by a generation of Pipkins fans for his willing participation in (*spit*) Let’s Pretend…

BRIAN JAMESON

Perennial supporting player type who later became the big wheel behind Play School’s spiritual heir Balamory.

COLIN JEAVONS

Or ‘Character Actor Colin Jeavons’ as it’s apparently a legal requirement to refer to him as. Combined Play School stint with honours as the voice of Barnaby, and surrounded it with a list of cult-friendly credits as long as several arms – Doctor Who, The Avengers, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Billy Liar, The Baron, Adam Adamant Lives!, Man In A Suitcase, Doomwatch, Paul Temple, The Baker Street Boys, K9 & Company, Only Fools And Horses, House Of Cards…

RICK JONES

Iconic countercultural barometer who arrived as slightly spaced-out Canadian ex-pat with folksy world-musical leanings, strong conservational streak and pronounced liking for playing around with the script. As the late sixties approached, cultivated startling ‘Rise Of The Yippies’ visual image and always first in the queue for any feature that involved electronics or sitars. Cemented standing within the Children’s Department ‘underground’ by presenting tradicraft-tastic surreal wit showcase Fingerbobs and endless wildlife-skewed forgotten Watch With Mother efforts. Later quit to become a genuine rock star with seventies festival faves Meal Ticket, and to write Alice Cooper/Keith Moon/Elkie Brooks-starring sci-fi rock opera Flash Fearless Versus The Zorg Women.

MARLA LANDI

Exotic statuesque dark-haired former cinematic eye candy literally straight out of the pages of Vogue, also familiar from fondly recalled BBC linguistic instructional effort Parliamo Italiano.

IAIN LAUCHLAN

Deceptively heavily-bearded young whippersnapper who became Fingermouse’s much-maligned ‘Music Man’ and later, with the aid of The Tweenies, very rich indeed…

PHYLLIDA LAW

Wife of Eric Thompson. Mother of Emma Thompson. Character model for Ermintrude The Cow. Favoured player of ‘distinguished elder female’ for Stephen Fry and his chums or any self-respecting TV dramatist. And best of all, even despite all this, she still talks about Play School like it was one of the greatest achievements of her life.

CAROL LEADER

Bolshy, boisterous ‘bossy big sister’ type much given to deep breath-requiring physical exertion, and sporting a blow-wave/perm hybrid that really did have to be seen to be believed. One of the most memorable presenters of the lot though perhaps even more celebrated for truck-riding Rock-A-Block-turning activites as Chock-A-Girl to Fred Harris’ Chock-A-Bloke in BBC Micro-shaming masterwork Chock-A-Block. Later did the soap/light drama rounds before jacking it all in to become a psychotherapist.

SARAH LONG

One of those faces that always seems to turn up in Brit movies of a certain vintage, fondly remembered for getting noticeably doe-eyed over any given Play School animals.

STUART MCGUGAN

Burly blonde I-Am-Adam-Prince-Of-Eternia type who kept up a successful small-screen acting career throughout, meaning that he’s probably better known for regular roles in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Tutti Frutti, Hamish Macbeth and Wish Me Luck than he ever has been for Square Window shenanigans.

ELIZABETH MILLBANK

Little-remembered late-period recruit more usually to be found pulling stern faces in Caledonionally-sourced ‘regional drama’.

CARMEN MUNROE

Celebrated TV veteran, probably best known for playing Shirley in Desmond’s, but also well remembered for similarly sitcommy roles in The Fosters and Mixed Blessings, while those who recall her energetic stint on Play School may also remember her from early inclusivity-leaning ‘playgroup’-themed Watch With Mother effort How Do You Do!.

DELIA MORGAN

Long-serving and enthusiastic type of the modishly Julie Covington-ish brutally cropped hair persuasion.

ANNE MORRISH

Perma-startled-looking ‘serious actress’ for whom Play School (and indeed Jackanory) was just a brief experimental interlude between regular appearances in blockbusting BBC Sci-Fi-Tinged Dramas Of The Week and a long, long list of costume drama credits. Also appeared concurrently in Churchill’s People, which she probably won’t appreciate us mentioning.

LIONEL MORTON

Erstwhile lead-crooner with close-harmony chart-toppers from the weedier end of the ‘Beat Boom’ spectrum The Four Pennies, who turned to Humpty and company after a couple of now uber-collectable solo singles flopped, and brought with him a chiming-with-the-times combination of big hair, loud shirts, and – perhaps most importantly – the theme song for Play Away.

JENNIFER NADEN

Mysterious sixties-bouffanted mainstay of the early days, whose only other credits appear to be on ropey and probably deservedly forgotten ITV lunchtime efforts where nobody can remember anything beyond the not-particularly-inspired title.

VALERIE PITTS

Early presenter who became an influential guiding force in the classical music world after marrying Georg Solti and later a panellist on Face The Music. Has sadly yet to arrange ‘I Like Peace, I Like Quiet’ for a sixty piece orchestra.

GORDON ROLLINGS

Narrator of The Herbs, the man who dodges a Ringo-thrown dart in A Hard Day’s Night, dog-accompanied John Smiths advertiser, The Bed Sitting Room, Rhubarb Rhubarb, The Persuaders!, Sykes, Worzel Gummidge, Kelly Monteith, Give My Regards To Broad Street, Bloodbath At The House Of Death and Play School presenter too. His CV practically writes TV Cream for us!

JOHNNY SILVO

Former permanent resident on all those Light Programme shows called The Folk Of Folk and what have you, once toted alongside Sandy Denny as an acoustic guitar-wielding One To Watch, who rolled up on Play School in cahoots with regular bassist/percussionist Dave Moses.

LUCIE SKEAPING

Klezmer-toting cheerleader for Early Music cunningly disguised as Total Babe, photogenic properties (rather than the plainsong-promoting) also leading to fronting duties on Take Two, Get Set For Summer and Pob’s Programme. It’s (Sic Gloria) Mundi!

DON SPENCER

Rolf Harris-aping Aussie sportsman turned singer (who performed the closing theme from Fireball XL5) turned UK-based children’s TV presenter, always noticeably more clean-cut-looking than his contemporaries and a little too enthusiastic for songs and films about sporting derring-do. Post-Play School, lent his vocal talents to such undistinguished vehicles as Over The Moon, Animal Fair and Hokey Cokey.

JULIE STEVENS

Manic whirlwind of energy who disguised past as a hastily-ditched Avengers girl by whizzing around the Play School set almost too quickly for the cameras to keep up with. Suggested presenter-wide adoption of dungarees as uniform of choice after drawing admiring comments on her selected knicker colour. Also regularly heard trading vocals with Derek Griffiths on Look And Read.

VIRGINIA STRIDE

Former Z-Cars regular roped in as first female presenter and thus primary occupant of that oft-repeated opening clip, very much of the ‘pretty frock’ school of substitute schooling that dominated the early days but would soon be left behind, though she adopted a somewhat snazzier haircut as the primary stooge (alongside John Sergeant) in Alan Bennett’s legendary sketch show vehicle, On The Margin.

BEN THOMAS

Variably-bearded Griffiths-esque prime mover in the sideshunt towards ‘zany’, whose Cuckoo-assisted crimes were more than atoned for by portrayal of a confusing alien in Pie In The Sky.

ERIC THOMPSON

Long-serving contributor whose work on the show has been rightly and understandably overshadowed by a certain voiceover job he got as a result of his Play School yarn-spinning…

CHRIS TRANCHELL

Serious acting type who emerged from the Old Vic (where he was a contemporary of Patrick Stewart) and eventually found his way into Survivors, where a scene featuring him playing guitar oddly led to an invitation Play School-wards. Notorious for using Humpty as a makeshift football during studio downtime.

CAROLE WARD

Former ITC stock actress, usually to be found in the challenging roles of ‘Receptionist’ and ‘Nurse’, who went on to forge a lucrative sideline in compiling most of the Play School books.

LIZ WATTS

Barbara Dickson-barnetted mainstay of the final years much given to comic repartee with ‘Cuckoo’; later the voice of the irritating Lizzie on Playbus.

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Trumpton Riots

Posted in The Programmes by TV Cream | 3 Comments »

SUBLIME filling of the popular-cultural no-man’s-land between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day with a set of short but charming mini-documentaries on a handful of erstwhile childrens’ TV favourites too old to still be ‘on’ but too recent to be properly nostalgised over yet: Tiswas, Play School, Vision On, the Smallfilms ouvre, Crackerjack, an odds-and-ends collection taking in Bill & Ben/Trumptonshire/Fingerbobs/Captain Pugwash/Mr Benn, and most infamously of all, a startling look back at the rivalry between Blue Peter and Magpie, peppered with guarded inter-presenter verbal barbs and hinting at all manner of shadowy The Fourth K-esque management power struggles behind the scenes. No wonder Noakes and Shep were so keen to ‘Go’! Packed to the ‘white void’ studio rafters with original contributors and bizarre anecdotes about stolen Teds, incinerated Mintons, foul-mouthed Clangers, New York taxi drivers shouting ‘COMPOST CORNER!’, ‘baby bump’-concealing scenery, Hamble-torture, Gilliam/Yellow Sumbarine-emulation, Leo Sayer fuming at theft of trademark ‘perm’, hypothermia-afflicted future Doctor Whos, backstage Play School joint-toking, and sticking two fingers up at Noel Edmonds, and with nary a second-rate standup doing that counting an imaginary ‘witty’ list off on their fingers thing in sight, this was – in a very real sense – what they want. Not to mention inspiring someone, somewhere to upload a handful of Fred Harris JPEGs…

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