1 9 7 0 – 2 0 0 7 (UK)
358 x 15/10 minute episodes
Debuting in March 1970, this occasional educational schools series from the BBC aimed at primary school children aged between 5 and 7 was a spin-off from Look and Read, which was already providing the same format for older children.
The 1970 series comprised 16 standalone 15-minute episodes. When the series returned in 1972, the new episodes formed part of a 20-part adventure called Sam on Boffs’ Island about a vague young man called Sam Samson (an early TV role for future Black Adder star Tony Robinson) who worked in a pet shop and daydreamed himself onto an island inhabited by little men called Boffs, where words and letters were an important part of life.
The Boffs put the letters spoken by their flock of Say-Birds into a Shopping Machine, which then produced food and everything else they needed, beginning with the letter that was entered. The Say-Birds eventually escaped from captivity on Boffs’ Island and flew to nearby Gurglers’ Island. The Gurglers were friendly creatures but were mistrusted by the Boffs. In the second half of the story, the Boffs and Gurglers tried to get along together on Boffs’ Island, but things didn’t work out, and eventually, even Sam was attacked by the distrustful Boffs.
Subsequent years returned to the standalone story format.
Later episodes had a magazine format with presenter Henry Woolf reading a children’s storybook, accompanied by a little animated man called Charlie (voiced by Charles O’Rourke). There were also activities, including songs, games and writing practice with a large disembodied pencil (called Magic Pencil) showing how to draw a letter.
In 1982 Vicky Ireland became the first female presenter of Words and Pictures, though the format of the series continued largely unchanged.
The show saw many changes during the 1990s. By 1990, episodes were presented by Stuart Bradley and a cat puppet called Nutmeg (who would type words on a word processor). Subsequent presenters were Sophie Aldred and Michael Hobbs.
The most frequently told story was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, covered in different episodes in 1977, 1987 and 1996. The traditional story The Tale of the Turnip (or The Enormous Turnip) was also told in three different episodes, in 1978, 1983 and 1990.
Praised by teachers and fondly remembered by children, Words and Pictures was used by 88% of all infant schools in the UK by the 1980s, with a regular audience of around 2 million schoolchildren.
The final series of 44 episodes – Fun with Phonics – was broadcast between December 2006 and March 2007 and presented by Pui Fan Lee and Will Vanderpuye. They were assisted by Whirlyword (a Wurlitzer organ that could produce all the letters needed to spell a word but needed viewers’ help to form the letters into a word) and Pollyphonic (a parrot with a flying machine that produced letters and could break words into their constituent phonic sounds).