I wonder if anyone, as I did, watched ABC children’s shows exclusively as a child. My dad didn’t like the idea of commercial television so all we ever watched on the box was the ABC. But I have such fond memories of Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (in black and white), The Magic Roundabout, Banana Splits, Playschool, Mr Squiggle, Kimba the white lion, the Wombles, etc. My dad, a keen environmentalist even back then, used to take us ‘wombling’ in the streets around our house and we spent many hours of my childhood happily collecting other people’s discarded rubbish to clean up the neighbourhood (don’t remember doing anything very useful with it though!).
Of all these, my favourite programs were those produced in Australia, namely Play School and Mr Squiggle. Playschool first aired in 1966 but I probably didn’t start watching till the early 70’s and then only in black and white. I remember a truck delivering our first colour television some time in the 1970’s. Playschool then, as now, featured many of Australia’s most talented and popular actors. They always looked as though they were having a lot of fun and I’m sure having a regular gig on Playschool helped many stay afloat in between plays or television series. My favourite things were the amazing crafts they made out of bits and pieces, choosing which shaped window we were going to look through today, telling the time on the clock and listening to a story. I have loved watching Playschool with my own children as the presenters come and go. I think it is one of the best children’s programs there is. It has certainly stood the test of time, being Australia’s longest running children’s TV show.
Mr Squiggle was also very clever. His character was created by Norman Hetherington and the show aired from 1959 to 1999. In addition to Mr Squiggle, there were a number of characters including Blackboard, Gus the Snail and Bill the Steamshovel – all marionette puppets. There was also a series of different female assistants through the years who interacted with the puppets and helped Mr Squiggle with his drawings. At the start of every show Mr Squiggle came down from the moon in his rocket ship, greeted his assistant and was shown a series of squiggles sent in by children for him to turn into pictures with his pencil nose. The pictures were almost always upside down so as to leave the audience in suspense as long as possible and Mr Squiggle had to tell his assistant to turn it the right way up to reveal the picture. Blackboard always grew impatient whilst Mr Squiggle was drawing and urged him to “Hurry Up!” I loved trying to guess what Mr Squiggle was drawing each time. For those children who sent in squiggles there would have been a real excitement as they waited to see if their squiggle would be picked each time to be turned into a picture.
Actually, I guess it wasn’t only children’s shows I watched on the ABC. I also watched things like The Aunty Jack Show, The Goodies, Doctor Who (although it was far too frightening to watch really) and probably a whole lot of British comedy, most of which was entirely unsuitable for children. Why my parents thought this was ok I’m not sure. Maybe because TV was so new and there was only one in the house and they wanted to watch these programs. My kids borrowed a Goodies DVD from the library a while ago. While some of it is still funny, as an adult I can recognise the racism, sexism and crudity I was unaware of as a child. I wonder if my children see it? Perhaps it goes over their heads or they’re so desensitised to that stuff now that they fail to notice.
Despite our technology-soaked society, I find it interesting that my children still enjoy watching similar programs to those I watched and enjoyed as a child, although their choices are so much wider than mine and they undoubtedly watch more TV than I did with ABC4Kids broadcasting children’s shows at least twelve hours per day. Children’s programming has definitely broadened its perspective but generally I find kid’s TV, at least on the ABC, is still well produced for children. It will be interesting to watch how children’s viewing habits change in the future and what impact this will have on programming. I guess the best programs will survive anyway, if only on YouTube .
National Archives of Australia. (2005). A Star is born. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/snapshots/find-of-the-month/2005-february.aspx
National Museum of Australia. Playschool Collection. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/highlights/play_school_collection
Television.au. (2011) Playschooling for 45 Years. 19 July. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from http://televisionau.com/2011/07/play-schooling-for-45-years.html