Muffin the Mule. Val, John and Peter. Zammo. Teletubbies. Mr Tumble. Tracy Beaker.
They are just some of the timeless TV icons created by the BBC Children’s department over the past 90-odd years.
The next generation of publicly-funded children’s TV is now being produced at Salford’s MediaCity. And what better place for a new exhibition celebrating the glory days of the broadcaster’s children’s output than at their new next door neighbour, The Lowry.
So, what can Northern families expect from Here’s One We Made Earlier which opens on July 19?
“The exhibition looks at the story of broadcasting for children on the BBC from its very early days in 1922 to the present day and beyond, as the last room looks at how children might interact with broadcasting in the future,” says Michael Simpson, The Lowry’s director of visual art and engagement.
“There are too many programmes to do them all justice so we’ll focus on the more popular ones with stories, photographs, films and exhibits. We want the whole family to come together so you can make things – there are children’s guides on the walls for them to respond to, and new technology to play with.”
The beauty of looking back at nearly a century of children’s broadcasting is that little kids and big kids alike can discuss, debate and even laugh at some of the programmes. Twenty-first century children might find the idea of John Noakes skidding around the Blue Peter floor in a pool of pee deposited by an incontinent elephant incredibly hoary, or just as funny as their mum or dad did once.
“The show genuinely has something for everyone because we wanted grandparents, parents and kids to compare notes about the television they remember when they were kids. So we have a whole Grange Hill uniform in the exhibition which is fantastic,” says Simpson with a note of pride in his voice.
“Grange Hill was of those programmes which had a huge impact because quite often it was telling children things about their lives and relationships which they couldn’t talk about to their parents or friends. There it was being played out on the television in front of them.
“Between 1922 and now there has been a fundamental shift because back then children would sit down in front of the wireless listening to uncles and aunties telling them stories, but now children have much more say in what goes on TV so they are really calling the shots.”
The other big change is the internet meaning that the way children consume their entertainment is almost limitless. The box in the corner of the living room is only one static medium competing with laptops, tablets and the latest smartphone. This BBC exhibition will remind its viewers and listeners that it is still a key player in children’s broadcasting.
“There are 34 dedicated children’s broadcasting channels in the UK which I had no idea was the case so it is a very tough market, and the BBC have been fantastic from day one,” notes Simpson.
“So many of the objects that we’ve retrieved from the back of dusty BBC cupboards was stuff they didn’t even know they had – and we’ve managed to squirrel them out of them. There is masses of archive film, some of which they literally had to take down from the top shelf, and it hasn’t been seen for years, but the BBC have not tried to call the shots. And they have happy to let us shape the show.”
For the BBC it is a chance to look back at its history and showcase how the only children’s broadcaster funded directly by the taxpayer is still relevant to an audience being seduced by the multi-channel world now on offer.
Joe Godwin, director of BBC Children’s, says: “I remember the Michael Aspels and the John Noakes of my childhood, so I if have the pleasure of walking across the piazza at MediaCity with Barney Harwood and Radzi Chinyanganya from Blue Peter or Justin Fletcher it is like walking down the street with Elvis. I am often pushed out of the way by pushchair wielding hordes to get to those people.
“They’re the people who connect you to those programmes who are your friends, they inspire you about things. Although to a lot of older people the names are less familiar than John, Val and Peter, to children now the Johnny Morris or Johnny Ball is as squeal-inducing exciting as it ever was.”
Meanwhile, Simpson’s ceaseless quest for iconic exhibits struck TV gold for 40-something big kids when they visited the Blue Peter office.
“The big thing for me is we have looked at the classic Blue Peter ‘makes’ and we have the original Tracy Island that they made on television which had been tucked away in a corner. So when I tell all my colleagues at work they are bowled over, and people have rushed down to the store just to look at it.”
For more details, follow this link: http://www.thelowry.com/event/heres-one-we-made-earlier