Monday, 20 January 2014

Is Children's TV Good for Kids?

Reading this weekend that the Prime Minister has 'successfully' (his words) curtailed his children's 'screen time' - including banning television in the morning - reminded me of a wonderful episode (they're all wonderful - this one especially so) of Michael Rosen's Radio Four programme Word of Mouth all about the evils (or otherwise) of children's TV.

Searching the BBC website reveals (unaccountably) that this episode is unavailable on iPlayer (apparently it's the only one of the series that isn't) but you can still download the podcast (odd)! But if you haven't heard the programme yet I urge you to do so before the BBC catches on and decides to take it down for some obscure copyright reason or because they think it's just too darned interesting and Reithian and all that old fashioned 'informed, education and entertained' nonsense.

I'd go as far as to say that every parent of small children (well, every owner both of small children and a television) ought to listen just to gain an insight into what the makers of these programmes, the ones many of our children watch, are doing.

Michael Rosen has a foot in both camps of course, being himself the author of several children's TV favourites (including episodes of the new series of Old Jack's Boat which starts tonight) and so his analysis is all the more insightful.

And you'd expect him, as a writer, to have a keen interest in the linguistic content of such children's TV programmes too, especially as language development is the raison d'ĂȘtre of so many of them. Play School, for example, was started in the belief that there were some children 'out there' who might otherwise lack some form of interactive conversation. Yes - they were (and are) encouraged to talk to (at?) the television.

With that in mind, it seems obvious that the language such programmes uses needs to be carefully considered. But would you believe that The Clangers scripts (which were written, in English, and then 'blown' on the Swanee whistle by their creator, Oliver Postgate) were actually censored? Yes! That's how seriously the BBC takes the content of its children's programmes.

Mind you, at least you could never mistake them (The Clangers with their Swanee whistle language) for anyone else. Because I have to confess that, although I watch most CBeebies programmes with my children and do my best to encourage a little gentle interaction, the hard-working, multi-tasking voice-over artists do occasionally cause me some confusion. Ever thought you were watching Tilly and Friends only to hear what you think is the voice of Octonaut Peso (Otherwise known as Paul Panting)? Or be reminded of Mike the Knight whenever Elvis appears in Iconicles?

Keith Wickham, in addition to voicing Shellington/Professor Inkling in Octonauts, also turns his hand to being several of Thomas the Tank Engine's friends as well as moonlighting as Nelson and Victor in 64 Zoo Lane. Oh, and if you're watching Tommy Zoom, he's Polluto too.

But the best, or the worst (or most confusing, to my ears) is one Rob Rackstraw, who seems to be both Kwazii in the aforementioned underwater adventures and, on dry land, the voice of Spud/Roley/Travis/Scoop in Bob the Builder as well as appearing as several of the Mr Men. And he's written episodes of Avenger Penguins too!

Yeeow!



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