1 9 5 2 – 1 9 5 6 (USA)
1100+ x 30 minute episodes
I’m your school bell, Ding dong ding
Boys and girls all hear me ring
Designed for pre-schoolers, NBC’s Ding Dong School was one of US television’s first educational programmes for young children.
The show was hosted by Dr Frances Rappaport Horwich (pictured above), a plump, grandmotherly-looking woman, who was affectionately known as ‘Miss Frances’ to her young fans and brought an elegant calm to the airwaves.
In the early 1950s, vociferous critics began to lay the blame for an increase in crime and violence and a deterioration in language skills at television’s door. Dr Horwich headed the watchdog Children’s Program Review Committee convened by NBC in an attempt to keep the network’s house in order. Her erudition was beyond reproach.
Prior to the series, Dr Horwich had been Head of the Education Department at Roosevelt College (later Roosevelt University) in Chicago and had teaching credits from 11 universities.
Ding Dong School initially aired on station WMAQ in Chicago where its success brought it to the NBC network.
Miss Frances sat on a hassock and sang the show’s theme song before beginning the instructional segments. She encouraged children to paint, draw, count, and even plant food with the help of Raggedy Andy dolls, puppets Lucky the rabbit and Jocko the monkey, and live goldfish Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
All materials were wheeled back and forth in front of Dr Horwich on a cart for each segment. After completing each exercise, she asked, “Wasn’t that fun?” or “What did you think of that?” and paused as if having a conversation with the kids at home. At the end of the show, Horwich also told the parents what the children learned that day.
Ding Dong School reaped a bounty of awards as it was the only type of home teaching tool seen daily for much of its run. The show was an immediate hit with its target audience and won a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award.
On 8 March 1954, the show began broadcasting in colour, but after four years, and amidst changing mores, sponsors – primarily Scott Paper Towels and General Mills – began slipping away, and NBC cancelled the show in 1956, replacing it with The Price is Right.
Dr Horwich owned the rights to the series, and she took Ding Dong School into syndication in New York and Los Angeles in 1959, but, unfortunately, it failed to attract the attention of young viewers and only lasted for 130 shows.
The well-loved Miss Frances – who never talked down to her young viewers and always spoke with a gentle, calm voice – retired from television. She died of congestive heart failure on 22 July 2001 at the age of 94.
The title Ding Dong School was chosen by the three-year-old daughter of the show’s producer, Reinald Werrenrath, after she watched the pilot of the show and noticed that Miss Frances rang a handheld school bell at the beginning of the show.
Dr Frances Horwich