Play School (UK TV series)
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|Play School (UK)|
|Genre||Children's television series|
|Created by||Joy Whitby|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Executive producer(s)||Cynthia Felgate (1972-1983)|
also BBC One from 1983
|Original run||21 April 1964– 11 March 1988|
Play School is a British children's television series produced by the BBC which ran from 21 April 1964 until 11 March 1988. Devised by Joy Whitby, it accidentally became the first ever programme to be shown on the fledgling BBC2 after a power cut halted the opening night's programming (and later it became the first children's programme to be shown in colour by that channel). Play School originally appeared on weekdays at 11am on BBC2 and later acquired a mid-afternoon BBC1 repeat. The morning showing was transferred to BBC1 in September 1983 when BBC Schools programming transferred to BBC2. It remained in that slot even after daytime television was launched in October 1986 and continued to be broadcast at that time until it was superseded in October 1988 by Playbus, which soon became Playdays.
When the BBC scrapped the afternoon edition of Play School in September 1985, to make way for a variety of children's programmes in the afternoon, a Sunday morning compilation was launched called Hello Again!.
There were several opening sequences for Play School during its run, the first being "Here's a house, here's a door. Windows: 1 2 3 4, ready to knock? Turn the lock - It's Play School." This changed in the early seventies to "A house, with a door, 1 2 3 4, ready to play, what's the day? It's..." In this version blinds opened on the windows as the numbers were spoken.
The blinds were no longer featured towards the end of the 1970s and the word "windows" was added before "1 2 3 4". The final opening sequence involved a multicoloured house with no apparent windows. This was used from 1983 until the end of the programme. This saw the most radical revamp of the programme overall (not just in the opening titles). The opening legend then became "Get ready - to play. What's the day? It's..."
Presenters included the first black host of a children's show, Paul Danquah; Brian Cant, who remained with the show for 21 years; actress Julie Stevens; former pop singers Lionel Morton and Toni Arthur; husband and wife Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law; Italian model Marla Landi; and Balamory producer Brian Jameson. British presenter Don Spencer also appeared on the Australian version. Play School and another BBC children's television programme Jackanory were sometimes recorded at BBC Birmingham or BBC Manchester when BBC Television Centre in London was busy.
Overseas sales and adoption
Play School was sold to Australia, and was then followed by local production. the Australian version has been produced since 1966. Similarly New Zealand bought the programme before producing their own from 1975 to 1990. The Canadian adaption was Polka Dot Door.
Other countries including Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Israel were provided with scripts and film segments so they could produce their own versions.
Sesame Street was a derivative of Play School, adopting their "strong visual style, fast-moving action, humor, and music".
In many cases five programmes would be produced in the space of two days, with one day of rehearsal and one day of recording.
A number of famous people also appeared on the show as storytellers: many became semi-regulars. They included: Val Doonican, Richard Baker, Rolf Harris, Clive Dunn, Patricia Hayes, Sam Kydd, James Blades, Frank Windsor and Cilla Black.
The presenters were accompanied by a supporting cast of cuddly toys and dolls. The five regulars included:
- Humpty, a dark green large egg-shaped soft toy with green trousers, to look like Humpty Dumpty from the nursery rhyme, appeared in the very first programme in April 1964. Several versions were made.
- Big Ted and Little Ted, teddy bears. (Originally there was only the one Teddy, however this was stolen in the mid-1970s and replaced by the two Teds.)
- Jemima, a ragdoll with long red and white striped legs.
- Hamble was a little doll and one of the original five toys but dropped from the show during the 1980s to be replaced by Poppy. According to Joy Whitby, creator of Play School, Hamble was chosen as representative of a more "downtrodden", humble background than the "middle-class" associations that the teddy bears had. She was disliked by presenters as she could not be cuddled. According to the BBC website Chloe Ashcroft "did a terrible thing to Hamble. She just would not sit up...so one day I got a very big knitting needle, a big wooden one, and I stuck it right up her bum, as far as her head. So she was completely rigid, and she was much much better after that."
- Poppy, a black doll who replaced Hamble in November 1986, in response to changing attitudes in society (the Hamble doll was also getting rather fragile at this point.)
A rocking horse named Dapple was first seen in May 1965 and made occasional appearances, when a particular song or item suggested it. The final line up of toys are on display as exhibits of the National Media Museum, Bradford. However Hamble went missing after being dropped from the programme.
- Katoo - a cockatoo
- Bit and Bot - goldfish
- Rabbits, including Buffy, Mopsy, Peter, Benjamin and Becky.
- Guinea pigs including Lizzy
The pets were cared for by Wendy Duggan, Fellow of the Zoological Society. 
Contents of the show
A section of each episode was a filmed excursion into the outside world taken through one of three windows: the young viewers were invited to guess whether the round, square, or arched window would be chosen that day. A triangular window was added in 1983. Very often the film would be of a factory producing something such as chocolate biscuits, or of a domestic industry such as refuse collection, but a number of subject matters were covered, such as watching animals or fish, boats on a lake, children in a playground or at school, a family going tenpin bowling, people in a cafe and visiting a jumble sale, among other things.
At the beginning of the 1983 revamp, the windows were now referred to as "shapes" as in "'let's have a look through one of the shapes..." After the shapes being moved to a spinning disc, the programme went back to using windows which resembled those used in the late 70s, albeit with the addition of the triangular window. Whenever they were shown now, only the window that the show was using for the day would be the one that would be used on the set.
Each episode would also include a short story read from a book, introduced by checking the time on a clock. Normally the clock would show either an hour or a half hour and the young viewers were asked, "Can you tell what time the clock says today? Well, the long hand is pointing straight up, so that means it's something o'clock - and the short hand is pointing to the number...two (or whatever). So today, the clock says, two...o'...clock" (the latter phrase always delivered very slowly). This was followed by, "But what's underneath the clock?", and viewers would then see a turntable under the clock featuring certain items such as toy animals or clocks, which were, in a clever twist, always a clue to the forthcoming story. This was all accompanied by a slightly eerie, yet undeniably catchy, clock-like tune. (On one occasion, the item under the clock turned out to be none other than Little Ted, so the presenter concerned said, "What a very odd place for a toy to be!" and the story appropriately turned out to be about odd things).
Both the clock and the three window option live on in the children's programme Tikkabilla, which borrows much from Play School, while a similar choice of portal into a film clip was provided by the abdomen-mounted video displays in the children's show Teletubbies.
There would also be songs and stories.
From 1971 to 1984, Play School also had a sister programme called Play Away.
Many 2 inch Quadruplex videotape master copies of Play School editions were wiped by the BBC in 1993 on the assumption that they were of no further use and that examples of some other episodes were sufficient.
- Williams, Sarah (15 October 2012). "How we made: Joy Whitby and Phyllida Law on Play School". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- BBC press release Cult Classic bbc.co.uk
- Joyce Whitby, Creator of Play School, Children's TV on Trial. BBC Television, broadcast 28 May 2007
- The Reunion, BBC Radio 4, 19 September 2010
- Bob Chaundy Obituary: Wendy Duggan, The Guardian, 4 March 2012
- 25 Minutes Peace - Celebrating Play School (BBC TV programme, 1979)
- Paul R Jackson Here's A House - A Celebration of Play School Kaleidoscope
- Volume 1 (2010)
- Volume 2 (2011)