When ITV decided, back in 1983, to create an ‘umbrella’ and an identity for their afternoon children’s programming, their setup comprised of a hirsute Matthew Kelly doing the presentation links in a futuristic space rocket studio set. This included the installation of spongy buttons and a lever to ‘launch’ each show, which was all very lovely and trailblazing except for the fact it was all pre-recorded and the lever was nothing more than a mere decoration!
You would think then, that when the BBC wanted to create their own afternoon programme links, with a presenter appearing on screen for the first time, they would have prepared an extravaganza… a big studio, lights, music, a famous personality- Noel or even Cheggers…. err no! There was barely any fanfare in ushering in this new ‘BBC Childrens’ era and many viewers were taken by surprise as they switched on the telly after school on the 9th September 1985 to find a young man sitting in a large brown chair with a record player and a beige curtain for company. For the curious, a quick scan of the Radio Times gave no clue, just the usual listings and times of the shows, much the same as the week before and the previous 30 years or so before that.
There were no sponge buttons in view either, but instead a whole control panel of real ones… “is that bloke actually controlling the programmes himself… live??” This brave new format actually divided people, at least for the first few weeks. Disgruntled viewers wrote in to ‘Points of View’ (as they always do) asking who on earth was the chap with the patterned jumpers and a bit of an Aussie twang to his voice. Well, as if you need telling, the man in question was Phillip Schofield, having recently returned to Britain after presenting children’s television programmes in New Zealand.
Phillip was in effect, there to be the weekday afternoon continuity announcer for BBC1, an originally not much more. His job description appeared to be announcing what show was on next, fading himself in and out of vision and making sure his microphone was switched on before talking (it all sounds so straightforward). His new home was the television centre BBC1 continuity suite, the name given to the small room where a person with a stately sounding voice would helpfully tell us the time and the name of the channel behind an rotating globe image.
So no, the new ‘BBC Children’s Presentation’ didn’t have their own cardboard cutout space rocket, in fact, the continuity suite was about as brown, beige and boring looking as could be, at least in those early few weeks. But it had Phillip, and as he entertained us during the links with a likeable enthusiasm, viewers soon started responding by sending letters, photos and lovingly crafted drawings. The walls, the desk and the record player became colourfully covered up and the small continuity suite became an extension of our own living rooms in its familiar, cluttered appearance (more on clutter in yet another blog post). The Corporation itself barely noticed what was going on, proved in point by the fact that poor Phil’s name only reached the print of the Radio Times in 1986 as the presenter of Children’s BBC.
And that was the unique aspect of the Children’s BBC afternoon links… it was considered to be just continuity, the presenters had an important job to do, timing to keep to and responsibility for looking after the tapes of the shows as they were played. It continued in this ‘do-it-yourself’ fashion for the next 9 years….