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Freda Lingstrom

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The development of television for children in the United Kingdom owes much to the foresight of Freda Lingstrom, the BBCs first Head of Children’s Television programmes (between 1951 and 1956), who realised in the 1950s that children were fascinated by television and that it was, therefore, the BBCs duty to make programmes which could enrich their lives and be comprehensible even to the very young.

Freda Violet Lingstrom was born in Chelsea, London, the daughter of George Lingstrom, a copperplate engraver, and Alice Clarey Anniss. Her paternal grandparents were Swedish.

Freda attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts and became an artist, setting up her own design business. She also wrote two novels, and a book about the culture and history of Norway. Her skills as a designer, illustrator and author led to her joining the editorial staff of a children’s magazine, Junior, where she worked from 1945 until 1949.

Hired by the BBC in 1947, she became Assistant Head of BBC Schools Broadcasting, in which role she created the lunchtime radio programme Listen with Mother.

She was appointed director of BBC Children’s Television in 1951, and the following year the TV slot for pre-school children was named Watch with Mother.

Lingstrom set up a company called Westerham Arts (named after the village in Kent where she lived) with her close friend and housemate Maria Bird, and the duo created Andy PandyThe Flowerpot MenThe Woodentops and Rag, Tag and Bobtail.

Lingstrom was adamant that certain things must be avoided in children’s television, including love interest, hangings, garrotting, lynching and any kind of fighting which a child could do themselves. She also insisted they could not show anything macabre, and no ghost stories.

Lingstrom said nothing was to be “frightening, cruel or vulgar”. Above all, it was not to be American. She would screen Westerns only “over her dead body”, she declared, and this animus was also directed at American cartoons.

In fact, Lingstrom felt strongly that children should be protected from television dross of any kind. She disapproved of children’s programmes that seemed cacophonous, showy or formulaic. She detested Enid Blyton for the predictable adventures of her Famous Five and wouldn’t give her creations air time.

Children’s television prospered under Freda Lingstrom’s tough, unyielding reign. She fought her corner with admirable fortitude, revealing particular displeasure when she felt that adult subjects were encroaching on her children’s programming time. Her male colleagues at the BBC knuckled under her rule, surprisingly, but made fun of her behind her back, calling her “the old cough drop”.

Lingstrom was awarded the OBE in 1955.

The launch of ITV in September 1955 saw BBC ratings decline rapidly through 1956 and that Summer, Lingstrom was succeeded as Head of Children’s by Owen Reed.

She continued to write children’s books based on her television series and Westerham produced another string puppet series – Bizzy Lizzy – for Watch With Mother in 1967.

The series was produced in black and white just as colour television was being launched so was not repeated as much as its predecessors.

Westerham produced thirteen new Andy Pandy episodes in colour in 1970, which were shown repeatedly for the rest of the decade.

Freda Lingstrom died in 1989. Her estate oversees the considerable interests of her many children’s television characters.