There’s a certain existential tragedy in the fact that the full title of the BBC’s two-decade-spanning children’s TV series Why Don’t You? was Why Don’t You Just Switch off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?.
How many children actually heeded the show’s advice imploring them to learn magic tricks to impress their friends, craft arty items out of pasta shapes or form synchronised lawn-mowing clubs with their peers is open to question. But the fact that this morning stalwart of the summer holidays ran from 1973 to 1995 suggests that it was not as many as the programme-makers hoped.
The futility in trying to deflect children’s attention away from the TV set towards more wholesome activities was inversely matched only by the pleasure of those kids indulging in the guilt of staying glued to the screen. It’s also why summertime telly has long been a staple of the schedule and continues to be so.
In those golden days, from the moment you awoke (but without leaving your bed), some judicious channel-hopping made it possible to spend all day watching child-friendly TV content, from Wacaday (the summer-holidays version of Wide Awake Club) through The Monkees via BBC Seaside Special to Robinson Crusoe.
Of course, the subsequent growth of multichannel TV, with entire channels dedicated to kids TV programming, means that now you don’t even have to lift one chubby finger to hit the remote.
For the advertising market, the issue of advertising to children has become more complex. Whereas kids’ programmes were once littered with ads for sugary drinks and fatty snacks, since 2007, food and drink brands high in fat, salt or sugar have not been permitted to advertise during children’s shows. Licensed characters and the use of celebrities popular with children in HFSS advertising were also banned.
A consequence of this was a shift of dedicated kids TV from broadcasters’ main channels to peripheral ones in the depths of the EPG. CITV, once a standalone strand on ITV, now exists as a digital channel, available from 6am to 9pm. It relies largely on acquisitions rather than original content.
The Advertising Standards Authority continues to monitor children’s exposure to HFSS ads – as well as those of the other restricted categories alcohol and gambling; its 2019 report showed that it has continued to decline, so no further regulation is planned. Given that children’s TV has survived what some at the time thought would be a fatal blow, it looks likely that it will remain a welcome distraction (for kids, if not exasperated parents) during the long summer holidays.
It’s unlikely that Wacaday – with its zany, loud-shirted host hitting children over the heads with his giant pink "mallet" – would be commissioned these days. More’s the pity. When Roland Rat was poached by the BBC, TV-am asked Timmy Mallett to spin-off his weekly Wide Awake Club format into the holiday weekday morning slot. Mallett was later joined by Michaela Strachan as co-host. Mallett’s career hasn’t maintained its dizzying heights since – he now offers personalised video messages via his website for £99.
The Banana Splits
The show, which made its debut in 1968, starred the musical foursome Bingo, Snorky, Drooper and Fleagle. Its blend of live action and animation was revolutionary at the time. In part an homage to that other kids favourite – The Monkees – it was broadcast in the UK on morning TV in the summer holidays. A comic-horror movie adaptation is due to be released this month, taking the group to darker territory.
The Monkees was a precursor to the manufactured pop bands that dominated the 1990s, although its premise was slightly different in that it was at heart a TV sitcom. The idea was said to have been inspired by The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night and it featured a cast of four actors trying to make their name as a band. Micky Dolenz, one of the show’s stars, described The Monkees as initially being "a TV show about an imaginary band... that wanted to be The Beatles that was never successful". However, the popularity of the TV show meant that The Monkees as a band went on to become one of the world’s biggest-selling groups. It was filmed over two series in the late 1960s but was not picked up by the BBC until the 1970s after which it was repeatedly used by the broadcaster to bolster its summer holiday schedules.
The pilot for this ITV series starred Connie Booth, best known for her role as chambermaid Polly in the classic John Cleese sitcom Fawlty Towers. Indeed, she was alerted to the Wizadora job by Cleese. Originally intended as an English-language learning tool for non-English speakers by Oxford University Press, the show was taken up by ITV in 1993 and comprised seven series.
BBC Seaside Special
This light entertainment show was a vehicle for a host of 1970s stars, including Little and Large, Keith Harris, The Goodies and Showaddywaddy among others. The weekly show was broadcast from various Pontins holiday camps around the UK under cover of the Gerry Cottle Big Top. In 1977, it even included a beauty competition. It’s little wonder, then, that in the 1980s, by which time tastes had changed, attempts to reintroduce the format failed.
Why Don’t You?
Pauline Quirke, Ant McPartlin and Andy Crane all found fame as guest presenters on Why Don’t You?, which was hosted by "gangs" of kids who aimed to inspire other children to participate in wholesome activities. The series travelled around the UK with gangs spanning the regions, which made it distinct from most of its London-based rivals. The show ran for 22 years and 42 series. A reworked version of its title track was used by the agency Driven in a spot for the retailer Go Outdoors this year.
The Chuckle Brothers – Barry and Paul Elliott – first appeared on TV in 1967 as contestants on ITV’s Opportunity Knocks. That programme – and its rival New Faces – spawned many celebrities, although the brothers chose to focus their work on the pre-school market. In 1987 they launched ChuckleVision, which ran for 21 series and 292 episodes over the following 22 years. Its longevity led to the pair becoming an important part of the childhood of two generations. Barry died in 2018 but the BBC’s decision to put the entire final series on iPlayer means that young people can continue to seek out the pair’s slapstick humour.
Monster Munch, Walkers, Nesquik and KFC were all sponsors of this Saturday-morning show, presented by Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly and Cat Deeley. Although its mixture of competitions and cartoons meant it was ostensibly aimed at children, there was often innuendo that attracted an older audience. It ran for five years until 2003.
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
At a time when broadcasters found kids content hard to come by, they had to look overseas. That explains how this bizarre Franco-German adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s book found itself on the BBC in the 1960s and 1970s and will be etched on the memories of some of Campaign’s older readers. After its 1965 debut, it remained on BBC summer holiday schedules until the early 1980s, when it was incorporated into Mark Curry’s Get Set for Summer.