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.
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.