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Published on January 22nd, 2013 | by Andrew Reynolds

Cribbins Adds to Children’s TV Criticism

He has lent his voice to The Wombles, brought to life the works of Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Dickens, and helped a Time Lord rediscover his purpose through sacrifice – and now he’s returning once again to a genre that has been all the poorer for his absence.

But things have changed; the landscape of children’s television has lost some of its most recognisable landmarks, the familiar timeslots have migrated to designated channels and storytelling – the basic tool in which children first experience the wider world around them – has been traded in for gratuitous CGI.

As his new children’s series, Old Jack’s Boat, airs today Bernard Cribbins couldn’t help but reflect on the state of children’s TV.

The 84 year-old told BBC News:

It’s all very fast and noisy now I think. You think of the gentleness of Jackanory, somebody would walk onto the set, sit down and say ‘hello I’m going to tell you about Ratty and Mole and the Wind in the Willows’ and off you went.

Nice and gentle, and the only thing you saw, apart from the guy or lady talking to you, was a few captions and illustrations, which were stills. That was how it used to be. Pure, simple storytelling.

It’s this purity that Old Jack’s Boat harkens back to. Children are invited to sit amongst the bric-a-brac of Jacks boat, The Rainbow, listening to his tall tales as simple animation indulges his fantastical whims, carrying his words from the bottom of the ocean to the edge of the stratosphere.

It’s this balance between spectacle and narrative that Bernard believes sometimes relies on former, to the cost of the latter:

Now there seems to be – sometimes, not always – a tendency to use every single opportunity to put in CGI and animation and a lot of it is, I think, gratuitous when the story is actually doing the work for you…I think we’ve got a very nice balance with Old Jack’s Boat of story and little bits and pieces [of animation] as well.

Someone else who shares his concerns is former Doctor Who show runner and Old Jack’s Boat Co-Writer Russell T Davies.

Last January the outspoken writer called children’s TV an ‘endangered species’ and lamented its migration – citing the lack of recognition for children’s show writers like Teletubbies creator Andrew Davenport, as the reason why dedicated children’s broadcasting has been allowed to disappear from schedules.

Old Jack’s Boat is perhaps the unlikeliest place for a quiet revolution and ultimately the genre that it occupies will carry on regardless of its antiquated values but if makes one child invest their time in storytelling, sparks one imagination and inspires others then perhaps more examples of ‘pure, simple storytelling’ follow it on its lone voyage.

Old Jack’s Boat airs weekdays at 5.40 pm on CBeebies.

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About the Author

Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.




3 Responses to Cribbins Adds to Children’s TV Criticism

  1. Bradondo says:

    I can’t speak for England but in the U.S. children’s programming is a wasteland of loud noise, lousy CGI and cheap, jerky animation. Even programmes aimed at preschoolers seem to be designed to promote early onset ADD. Personally I love Teletubbies (and Booh-Bahs to a lesser extent) but it has less to do with their merit as children’s shows and more to do with how mind-bogglingly trippy and strange they are. When I was a wee tad it was all about Mr. Rogers for me–it was exactly the sort of gentle, direct engagement the loss of which Mr. Mott laments. Kudos to Mott and RTD for attempting to bring this style of entertainment back to television.

  2. Alex says:

    Although you’ll always find a cable channel airing kids programming (though much of it is awful), in North America you’ll find broadcasters more willing to air news or infomercials than a good children’s show. In Canada the CBC still has a daily kid’s programming block on weekday mornings, but they cancelled the Canadian version of Sesame Street – the grand dame of children’s programming – several years ago, replaced it with a talk show, and no one seemed to notice.

  3. BOJAY says:

    Too little is left to the child’s imagination. All those bells and whistles are a distraction from a child’s having to engage his/her mind and actually cognitively think and respond. Opportunities to educate and stimulate are lost to mere entertainment. I remember children’s show’s here in the US like “Sesame Street”, and “The Electric Company” making me want to interact and respond, not just sit back and go “wow”.

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