Let's hear it for the kids!
Michael Hogan assesses the winners of the kids' Bafta awards and explains why we shouldn't bemoan programmes made for children.
“Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?” So went the theme song of cult 70s and 80s children’s show Why Don’t You?. A noble notion but one that’s trickier than ever to enforce. Why? Because we’re currently living through a golden age of children's television.
The British Academy Children’s Awards were held yesterday at London’s Park Lane Hilton to celebrate the best in children’s film, television, games and online media. The Harry Potter franchise might have finished now but the bespectacled boy wizard still stole the headlines by scooping the Feature Film and Kids’ Vote gongs.
However, the event was also a welcome reminder of the diverse, visually creative and brilliantly entertaining programming being screened on the CBBC, CBeebies, Five’s Milkshake, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Stuff that often puts unimaginative and formulaic grown-up programming to shame.
Two awards were won by The Amazing World of Gumball, a groundbreaking series which cleverly employs several different styles of animation, often simultaneously. Deadly 60, also a double winner, reinvents David Attenborough-style wildlife programming for youngsters. Celebrity-studded sketch show Yo Gabba Gabba! mixes day-glo puppetry with DJs and music in effortlessly cool style.
Children’s TV is impressively cosmopolitan too. African folk story series Tinga Tinga Tales is co-produced in Kenya, while Rastamouse is the first home-grown animation to star Caribbean characters. Political correctness gone mad? Not really, just a chance to learn about other cultures in a colourful, witty way. Even David Cameron has leapt on the ingenious if maniacal Lazy Town, in which a moustachioed Icelander exhorts viewers to exercise, as an emblem of the government’s anti-obsesity policy.
Teletubbies, that notorious 90s slice of high production values psychedelia, has spawned a mini-genre of giggly, sunny and slightly trippy fantasy that kids find hypnotic and soothing: the likes of Waybuloo and In the Night Garden are like a modern-day Magic Roundabout.
Many children's shows are also surprisingly funny. The pre-school favourites from animation studio Astley Baker Davies – yesterday’s double award-winner Peppa Pig and its sister show, Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom – are like scaled-down Pixar films, in that they contain jokes for us grown-ups too. The Beeb’s Charlie & Lola is similarly smart and knowing. The hilarious Horrible Histories, the first children’s show to win a British Comedy Award, is so adored by parents that it’s now crossing over to primetime.
If you want to be a duffer about it, protesting that things were better in your day, you might be pleased to hear that Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and The Mister Men are all still going strong, albeit spruced up for the 21st century. Newsround, currently marking its 40th anniversary, was honoured with a special prize yesterday, proudly collected by dear old John Craven.
Rather than harrumphing that our little ones will get square eyes, we should acknowledge that children are rarely more engaged than when watching their favourite programmes. The educational potential here is huge. The best children’s TV – the stuff hailed at yesterday’s mini-Baftas – informs as well as entertains. As for those who think it’s all too noisy, brash and bright… well, its not aimed at us, is it?