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The 100 Greatest Kids’ TV Shows

Monday, August 27, 2001 by

Whilst the I Love … series rattles on on BBC2, pushing its remit to the limit, Channel 4 offer up what’s becoming regular and welcome bank holiday fare with another from the Top 100 canon.

The Top 100 Kids’ TV Shows self-consciously took on the role of that ubiquitous baby boomer (at whom all telly appears to be targeted at the moment) looking back on the children’s TV of their youth. And in trying to capture the essence of how our notional ‘boomer discusses the subject, the programme opted for that tiresome brand of ironic revisionist posturing (in short: “what were they on?”) Thus if you were going to enjoy the next three and a half hours, then you were going to have to accept that the shouty Jamie Theakston was supposed to represent our point of view here. With comments such as “the night is young, even if we’re not anymore”, Theakston was siding with us – but with that bitter pill swallowed it all got a lot better.

Although the bias here was strongly towards programmes from the ’70s and ’80s, it’s instructive to look at how other shows from outwith this catchment area fared. Notably, programmes from the black and white era got a reasonable innings, although none were present in the top 50, unless you count Tom & Jerry (the highest ranking from the Watch With Mother stable being Bill & Ben at number 55). Meanwhile, from the scant selection of programmes that are still running now, SM:TV Live managed a very credible number 27, roundly trouncing its most obvious antecedent, TISWAS. And this prompted one of the most worthwhile moments of the programme as Chris Tarrant gave generous praise to Ant and Dec.

As a footnote it was interesting to have the TISWAS/Swap Shop wars resolved, with the Shop just inching ahead of the ‘WAS by a couple of places.

The section on the seminal Screen Test was a delight, going a long way to rehabilitate the notorious “Young Film-Maker Of The Year” award. Michael Rodd and Brian Trueman were welcome presences, both still appearing suave and capable on camera. On a similar tip, all of the sequences featuring the oeuvre of Cosgrove Hall were great, as were those concerned with the various Postgate programmes, chiefly because the programme-makers themselves were interviewed.

Meanwhile Mark Lawson boasted that even as a child he could see Andy Pandy’s strings (erm, wasn’t the character supposed to be a puppet?) and Jill Phythian retro politicked Bagpuss (a societal allegory) and Double or Drop (a metaphor for Thatcherism). Elsewhere Andrew Collins was wonderfully evocative in summing up the cold, sparse beauty of Noggin the Nog whilst an enthused Ian Lee came over as a genuine enthusiast of Knightmare. And really that was the commodity most lacking from the programme – real enthusiasm.

So, let’s wearily look at some more of the shortcomings of the house-style adopted by The Top 100 Kids’ TV Shows and in particular the tiresome, clich├ęd drug references that snagged throughout. My eyes rolled when a mere three notches into the countdown, Emma Kennedy was already referring to Crystal Tipps and Alistair as being “on acid”. HR Pufnstuf was dished out the same treatment, whilst Theakston later quipped, “That stuff I got off Mr Benn’s shopkeeper is really starting to kick in.” This sort of suspicious and lazy interpretation of genuine off-the-wall imagination is demoralising, although at least in the case of The Magic Roundabout the d-word was only brought up so that Phyllidia Law could roundly deny any such associations. The inferences about the sexual orientation of Robin Hood and his Merry Men and Mr Benn (“If anyone’s coming out of the closet it’s Mr Benn”) were equally tired.

However, before we insert the obligatory reference to the programme voted number one, we should make a quick tip of the hat towards the surprisingly good show put up by the TV-am entrants. Both Wacaday and Roland Rat made good innings here and seemed fondly remembered, rightly proving that this poorly remembered TV company did have some worth.

But – OK – let’s see what can be made of The Simpsons at number one. With episodes dealing with sexual ennui in marriage, the US taxation laws and mid-life crisis, The Simpsons is in no way a kids’ programme. Although it’s wholly arbitrary what makes the number one slot here, it is slightly deflating that the 200,000-odd who voted elected an adult’s programme as the best of the bunch – and that kind of reflects poorly on everything else in the line-up.

Ah well, with that disappointment put to one side, we should ponder upon The Top 100 Kids’ TV Shows as a programme it self. And all in all it wasn’t half bad, with some genuine affection just evident at the core of the thing. Despite a lazy commentary and some equally lazy punditry, the well-rounded, superbly conceived and realised programming celebrated within shone through supremely.

I still can’t get over it, though. Those people who voted for The Simpsons – what were they on?

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