1 9 6 4 – 1 9 8 8 (UK)
Approx 4000 x 20 minute episodes
Here is a house, here is a door,
Windows – one, two, three four.
Ready to knock? Turn the lock. It’s Play School.
In 1964 there had never been a TV show before where adults spoke to an audience of children. Play School was first shown on the second day of transmission of BBC2 – Tuesday April 21st 1964, at 11:00am.
Due to a power problem on the official night of the BBC2 launch, however, Playschool actually became the first proper programme broadcast on the new channel.
A mixture of songs and stories which entertained and educated the under five’s for 24 years, it made household names of many of its presenters including Johnny Ball, Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths and the unforgettable Brian Cant (pictured below with Chloe Ashcroft).
The presenters came from mixed backgrounds (teaching, acting) and inhibitions, embarrassment had to be left at the studio door, along with just about everything learnt at drama school.
After you’ve been pretending to be a frog in front of a camera crew, you definitely aren’t going to have any inhibitions.
“Hello! I’m painting by blowing. It’s so good because it doesn’t get your fingers dirty. Remember to blow down your straw, not suck. Otherwise, you get a mouthful of paint.”
But perhaps even more famous than the long list of presenters were the Play School toys, Big Ted and Little Ted, A misshapen floppy egg called Humpty, Jemima and ugly old Hambel (replaced in the 80s by a black doll called Poppy).
Each day had a particular theme. Monday was Useful Box Day, Tuesday was Dressing Up Day, Wednesday was Pets Day, Thursday was Ideas Day and Friday was Science Day.
And every afternoon you’d get a camera shot of the clock and a pause before Brian Cant or whoever would tell you what the time was (so you could guess first), the camera would then draw back to reveal a turntable with a little model on it which would introduce the story.
The other staple segment was the visit through one of the windows to see a short film of men digging a road, or a family of ducks in a village pond or a trip around a factory to show how footballs are made.
The round window certainly got more of a workout than the arched window or the square window but they were all accompanied by that pleasing big swoosh of harp music.
The original Big Ted was stolen and none of the cast of Play School liked Hambel (and called her the “tart with a heart”).
In the Canadian Play School, which is called Polka Dot Door, there are two Humpty Dumpty’s (Humpty and Dumpty) and only ONE Teddy! It’s like an alternate universe – And they don’t have three windows, just one Polka dot door.
An Australian version of Play School has run continuously since 1966, making it the second longest-running children’s programme in the world. Throughout its long run, the show has introduced many of the country’s most notable performers, including Lorraine Bayly, Ruth Cracknell, Noni Hazlehurst (pictured below), and John Waters.