Wednesday, 12 March 2014

What's wrong with children's television?

In the second in an occasional series in which I put the world to rights (you can find part one - what's wrong with education? - here) I'm going to turn my attention to a form of entertainment in which I'm something of a reluctant expert - children's telly.

Let me begin by repeating what I've often said before, namely that most of it is astonishingly good. Any medium that can teach a two-year-old the concept of symbiosis or inspire such creative feats as the construction (out of a shoe box) of a racing garage deserves full credit and I'm full of admiration for the creative energy and educational content of the vast range of children's output.

But there is one problem. One problem common to all channels, a problem that cuts across all styles and types of programme and a problem that consistently undermines the visual and educational content of otherwise excellent endeavours.

That problem is this - the narrator. Or the voice-over artist or character or sometimes even the script itself. Whether it's the unfeasible accents of Greendale or the panto-Yorkshire vowels of Mr Bloom, the absurd third-person fluting of the flying Cheebies in Waybaloo or the faux-boy voices of Mike the Knight or Tree Foo Tom (both, I suspect, voiced by a woman) the most annoying thing on children's TV isn't what you see or even necessarily what is being said, it isn't the often excellent music or the frequently stunning graphics. No. It is what you hear.

As I'm not in the habit of watching attentively for the entire duration of most children's programmes it's the sound - in isolation - that I'm most familiar with. I've written before of the confusion this can cause when popular voice artists moonlight and end up doing several different characters (sometimes in the same show). Many of them are excellent, but it is increasingly obvious (to me, anyway) that the soundtrack is the Achilles heel of many a show.

I thought things might improve when Michael 'man of a thousand voices' (all of them his own) Angelis was relieved of all but the narrating duties on Thomas the Tank Engine. I thought things might get better when that colossus of the children's TV voice over, Mr Bernard Cribbins (just listen to him narrate the Wombles!) returned to the screen.

But no. We might have less of Mr Michael 'me rabbits' Angelis but we have a lot more silly faux-northern nonsense, whether it's the absurdly flat cap (no one up here sound like that, trust me) Fat Controller or the ridiculously regional Rosie.

But there is a solution. There is hope. And it is this. All future programmes must by order of the authorities be narrated by either Stephen Fry, Simon Callow (have you heard his audio recording of Roald Dahl's 'The Witches'?) or the aforementioned Bernard Cribbins. Frankly, once you've heard that Holy Trinity of Television (and they've all got the pedigree) nothing else comes close, except perhaps the delightful Derek Jacobi. 

And unless you're the supremely-talented  Rob Rackstraw (Spud, Kwazii, etc) all voice artists should have a 'less is more' clause written into their contracts. And in no circumstances should they attempt to do a regional accent unless it is one they have personal experience of. Especially if they're employed in any capacity in Greendale. Or in Mr Bloom's nursery.

So there you have it. The problem, and my solution. I offer it up to TV programme makers free if charge and without restriction. 

After all, it's got to be better than my alternative solution...



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