Sooty and Sweep (1955–1992; 2011–present)
Beloved Sooty originally graced our televisions for a massive 37 years, complete with friends Sweep and Soo. Sooty was a yellow bear with black ears and nose, created by Harry Corbett in 1948. He remained silent, only able to communicate with his puppeteer when whispering in his ear.
Sooty only acquired his good friend Sweep in 1957 and met Soo in 1964, when Sooty finally found love in the panda puppet. Sweep could communicate with squeaks and Soo was the only one able to speak. Sooty had a magic wand which had an accompanying catchphrase of “Izzy whizzy, let’s get busy!,”and Corbett would always end each show with “Bye bye everybody, bye bye,” in a tender farewell to the young viewers. The show was renewed in 2011 on CITV and continues to this day. Guinness World Records decrees in Britain’s longest-running children’s TV show.
The Magic Roundabout (1964–1971)
The Magic Roundabout originated in France where it was known as Le Manège enchant. When the BBC took the show on, it gave the characters different personalities and names. The main characters were Dougal (Pollux in France), a dog with floppy ears; Zebedee (Zebulon), a jack-in-the-box; a snail named Brian (Ambroise); Ermintrude (Azalée) the cow; and the rabbit Dylan (Flappy). The two human figures were Florence (Margote), a young girl and the old man who operated the roundabout, Mr Rusty (le Père Pivoine).
The stop-motion animation show ran for 441 5-minute episodes over 12 years it. It was such a hit that when the show was moved from the evening slot to an earlier children’s show time, the BBC received hundreds of complaints from adults!
Basil Brush (1968–1980; 2002–2007)
“Ha, ha, ha! Boom, boom!” You either loved or hated the fox puppet comical catchphrase, which made him an iconic British character. Given a posh accent and a suit to wear, he was a fox that thought highly of himself and took pride in his bushy tail.
The original puppet was voiced and controlled by Ivan Owen from 1962 until 2000, when Owen passed away. Unlike with Sooty, Owen was never seen, making Basil a public figure rather than a puppet. The cheeky fox got his own programme in 1968 after upstaging the magician David Nixon on his own show.
It was performed in front of an audience and featured comedy sketches, guest musicians, and “story time.” Celebrities vied to appear on the show, among them singers Demis Rouses and Cilla Black, who even partook in a comic duet with the fox. The show returned in 2002 as a BBC children’s programme, this time containing snippets of cartoon reel and Basil’s nephew and cousin, who helped him keep up the havoc.
Clangers (1969–1974; 2015–present)
This children’s programme was a stop-motion animation show featuring tiny creatures that lived in space. The pink figures resemble a mix of mice, anteaters, and pigs, making them unusual but sweet-looking. The Clangers survive on blue string pudding and green soup that was given to them by the Soup Dragon. They speak only in whistles so the show needed narration.
As space exploration was topical at the time of the show’s inception, the producers decided it would be set in outer-space. “Clanger” originated from the sound made by the metal plates that covered the creatures’ burrows when they were opened; these protected them from meteors.
Clangers was reborn ion CBeebies in 2015 with Michael Palin narrating. Still a stop-motion show, it won a BAFTA for the Best Pre-School Animation.
Featuring the loveable characters of Zippy, Bungle and George, Rainbow was a show dedicated to helping children develop their number skills and literacy. It was originally conceived as a British equivalent of America’s Sesame Street.
The characters lived in the Rainbow House where they would solve problems and do activities. The show contained songs, animations and stories that were read from the Rainbow Book by the main presenter, Geoffrey Hayes.
Hayes acted as a father figure to the household, which consisted of a brown bear named Bungle, who complained a lot about the other members: George, a giant pink hippopotamus, who was very shy, and Zippy, a loud and obnoxious character with a zip for a mouth that was zipped up when he was being irritating. The show won the award for Best Children’s Programme in 1975.
Postman Pat (1981–2013)
“Postman Pat and his black and white cat… .” Kids born in the mid-to-late 1970s all had a place in their hearts for the beloved postman and Jess the cat. Pat delivered the post in the fictional village of Greendale. Aimed at younger children, this stop-motion animation delved into Pat’s life with his wife Sara and his son Julian. Pat often helped distressed villagers solve their problems.
The series became so popular that spin-off books, music and shows (Guess with Jess) proliferated. The 2014 CGI film version starred Jim Broadbent, David Tennant, and Rupert Grint.
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (1984–present)
Everyone knows Thomas the Tank Engine. Whether you watched him in his original series or the more recent episodes, you’ll recognise the theme tune as soon as it kicks in. The loveable blue steam engine with the number one painted on his side had other locomotive friends of varying colours and sizes, such as Percy and Toby.
Thomas originated in the Rev. W. Awry’s The Railway Series story books in 1946, and the first edition of the show appeared in 1953. The first show was broadcast live with Hornby Dublo scale models driven on authentic sets, but didn’t end well. Henry the train derailed live on camera and a crew member’s hand came into shot to correct the train, thus resulting in the show’s cancellation. It wasn’t until 1984 that the show was revived with the voice of Ringo Starr.
Thomas has generated spin-off shows, DVDs, and merchandise, and was even given an award. He was placed on the Independent on Sunday’s “Happy List” — the only fictional character to be there — alongside a therapy dog and real people who have also helped make the UK a happier place.
Chuckle Vision (1987–2009)
The show featuring the dim-witted Chuckle Brothers entertained children after they came home from school. The pair were played by Barry and Paul Elliott, real-life brothers whose older sibling Jimmy — known as No Slacking — also appeared. Jimmy assigned Barry and Paul jobs and tried to keep them on the right path.
Usually sent off to undertake a task, the brothers would forever be getting into trouble, with Paul thinking he was the dominant sibling and Barry usually unfairly taking the blame. The brothers would travel in their Chuckmobile and were known for a variety of catchphrases. The duo would often quarrel with ‘”It isn’t!” “It is!” “Is it?” or Paul telling Barry off with “Silly you”, and Barry’s response “‘Course it is, silly me.” The show was such a success it ran for 21 series with 292 episodes over 22 years.
Rosie and Jim (1990–2000)
“Rosie and Jim, chugging along on the old Ragdoll…” Set on a narrowboat called the Ragdoll, which was from Birmingham, Rosie and Jim lived with the boat’s owner. Having magically come to life when no one was looking, the pair of ragdolls would often get themselves into trouble when they went off on adventures, following the boat’s owner.
The female rag doll Rosie carried a bag and wore a yellow dress while the male Jim was redheaded, with a brown jacket and scarf and carried a notebook where he drew things he saw on their adventures. The show also had Duck who sat atop the boat and would flap his wings and quack when there were no humans around to let Rosie and Jim know it was safe to move.
Art Attack (1990–2007)
Remember the Head from Art Attack? He was certainly a terrifying fellow as a young child, maybe even so now! The clay figure featured on one of CITV’s longest running shows, presented by Neil Buchanan. The programme consisted of Neil creating artwork for the young viewers, demonstrating how (supposedly) easy it was to create masterpieces from arts and crafts, clothes, food and bits and bobs.
The show would contain a Big Art Attack whereby Neil would craft a work of art on a grand scale, such as in the video below where he forms a giant rocking horse out of sawdust on a red sheet in his back garden. Neil continuously wore a red jumper with the Art Attack logo emblazoned on the front that everyone longed to own, making it a classic image for young children.
Our little friend Brum, the tiny car replica of a 1920s Austin 7 convertible, would go on big adventures around Birmingham and get himself in sticky situations. The delightful car was situated in a museum with other vintage cars, but when the museum owner’s back was turned, away Brum would drive, unbeknownst to the owner. The cheeky automobile would always make it back in time for closing up, so the museum owner would never suspect a thing!
Brum — a clever pun that you may not have realised when little, being the colloquial name for Birmingham — couldn’t speak but instead expressed himself in mechanical ways. The tiny car would open and close his doors and bonnet, “bob” his suspension and flash his “eyes” (headlights). The actors in the show were also mute, helping the viewers’ understanding of the show with miming and a narrator. The lack of speech made it easier for the show to be broadcast in different countries with many different languages, making Brum an international superstar.
Come Outside (1993–1997)
“Look up, look down, look all around!” Come Outside was the best — it was educational, comical, and it had a fluffy pup. Pippin was everyone’s favourite dog. The intelligent canine was pet to Auntie Mabel who would teach young viewers about the world, usually showing you how something was made, e.g. how stripes get put into toothpaste in the video below.
The dynamic duo would travel round in their “Spotty Plane” but our younger selves were oblivious to the fact that, sadly, Auntie Mabel didn’t actually fly the plane but that it was, of course, flown by pilots instead. The images we see of Mabel and Pippin flying the plane were filmed on the ground, acting out flying (childhood ruined!). The pilots would dress up as Auntie Mabel, complete with a red wig, and whilst flying they would operate a puppet version of Pippin to give the illusion they were both in the cockpit. Although the show finished in 1997 it was repeated on CBeebies until 2012, still teaching children that “there’s so much to see, so come outside!”
Tots TV (1993–1998)
Remember your three ragdoll friends Tilly, Tom and Tiny? “I’m a Tot, Je suis une Tot…” They taught us numeracy, spelling. and even basic French. The trio, which lived together in a “secret” house, would go on magical adventures, complete with a magic bag. The “sac magique” would produce anything the tots needed at their command to help with the task at hand.
The female doll, Tilly, was French and had red hair, lived with Tom, the bespectacled blue haired boy and Tiny, the smallest and the youngest, sporting green hair. They lived with Furryboo, a furry animal that would say boo all the time and help out the tots, unbeknownst to the dolls that they were living with him. They also had a donkey friend who would visit them as they always fed him carrots. Whilst the original series was stopped in 1998, CBeebies picked it up in 2004 and is still shown today.
Teletubbies, 1997 – 2001, 2015 – present
The phenomenon that was Teletubbies hit our screens with their brightly coloured television-filled tummies in 1997. The four mythical toddler creatures lived in Tellytubbyland in their grassy Tubbytronic Superdome with their anthropomorphic vacuum cleaner, Noo-Noo. The show consisted of two males: Tinky Winky, the purple eldest Teletubby with a triangle antenna who carried a red handbag, and Dipsy, a green one with a straight antenna who had a cow print top hat. There were two females, Laa-Laa, the yellow, curly antenna’d toddler who had an orange bouncy ball and Po, the youngest red Teletubby who had a circular antenna and travelled round on a scooter. It was revealed by the producers that Dipsy’s darker skinned face signified his race as a black Teletubby and Po as Cantonese.
The Teletubbies would interact with the Voice Trumpets, Noo-Noo and the Sun, who had the face of a baby. The show followed the Teletubbies playing with each other or other characters, watching footage in their TV tummies of real children and interacting with an event that would pop up each episode. The show even won a BAFTA in 1998 and a Children’s BAFTA in 2002. The single they released: Eh-Oh! made it to UK number one in 1997 and sold over a million copies.
Tweenies, 1999 – 2002
‘It’s time to come and play with the Tweenies!’ The Tweenies showed children how to learn through playtime via stories, songs or creative activities. The show was set in a playschool with four Tweenies who attended it daily: Bella, Fizz, Milo and Jake. The two adults were Max and Judy and the two dogs on site were Doodles and Izzles. The programme saw the ‘Tweenie Clock’ being pressed, which had five different lights that allocated a different play time — the middle button was pressed and it would randomly select the next activity. There was News Time, Messy Time, Song Time, Telly Time and Story Time ready to be selected for the Tweenies to play with.
The Tweenies was such a roaring success that it had its own stage show that toured the UK, even performing in Hong Kong, and a Tweenies theme park in Alton Towers from 2003-2005. ‘Tweenie clock, where will it stop?’
By Francesca Hobson