On this day in 1964, BBC Television broadcast the very first edition of Play School. The series ran for some 5,000 programmes before being discontinued in 1988. It is astonishing how much of the programme still lingers in the memory. “Here’s a house, here’s a door, windows, one, two, three four. There were the toys and the windows through which the audience were taken, the square window, the round window and the arched window.
Perhaps it is the power of the memories of early childhood that so many of the children’s programmes broadcast to younger viewers remain fresh. The “children’s hour” programmes at teatime were not the earliest of the day, at lunchtime there would be Watch with Mother.
The lunchtime programmes are easily remembered.
Who could forget the poetic recitation of the names of the Trumpton fire brigade? Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. I can only remember one occasion where the Trumpton fire brigade actually went to a fire, I think something valuable had accidentally been placed on a bonfire. There was also Camberwick Green, which, along with Chigley, was associated with Trumpton. Chigley even had its own address: Chigley, Camberwick Green, Trumptonshire. It was the sort of order that appealed to a small boy sat watching the black and white television.
The Herbs had a cast as big as that of Trumpton: Lady Rosemary, Sir Basil, Parsley the Lion, Dill the Dog, Bayleaf the Gardener and the Chives.
There was Mr Benn whose life was constantly enriched by costumes into which he changed and the adventures he enjoyed. The Woodentops were dated by the late-1960s but still commanded attention, while in The Flowerpot Men Bill and Ben stood in flowerpots either side of Little Weed, nothing happened but it couldn’t be missed.
The favourite moments at teatime were not things like Blue Peter, or even the anarchic Crackerjack, but the cartoons and the animations. Scooby Doo and the Wacky Races could be watched repeatedly. Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet were completely unconvincing, but captured the imagination.
The children’s programmes would conclude each day with a five minute programme just before the news. The best remembered will always be The Magic Roundabout. There were Dougal the dog, Brian the snail, Dylan the hippy rabbit, Ermintrude the cow, Florence and Zebedee. When I was young, it was said that the apprentices at Westland Helicopters in Yeovil made a new spring for Zebedee.
Play School belonged to a television era that will never be recaptured.