Anyone who spends a lot of time with under six-year-olds in will have encountered one of the great innovations of British TV, one of the jewels in the BBC’s publically funded crown. I’m talking about CBeebies.
If you haven’t got kids, or if you’re not in the UK, then what follows may not make much sense. Indeed, it may seem like the hallucinatory ramblings of a madman. Stick with it though – CBeebies is something special.
I think the moment I learned to love Twitter was when Simon Pegg came out fighting in support of Justin Fletcher after snarky comments were made in a gossip magazine. There was an outpouring of support and follow-up tweets that brought a lump to the throat, because Justin Fletcher is one of the heroes of children’s broadcasting. It’s obvious from his shows – he has an amazing rapport with children, especially those with special needs; he’s the voice of Timmy the Sheep; he promotes Makaton sign language; and he’s the man behind Mr. Tumble. Frankly, in a world dominated by ‘celebrities’ who seem to have emerged by doing nothing more than coming third in a reality TV show, Justin Fletcher is a national treasure and he deserves his CBE.
But although he’s undoubtedly one of its lynchpins, Justin isn’t the only reason for the success of CBeebies. It only occurred to me yesterday, but the channel has some similarities with comic book shared universes – sure, everyone has their own shows, but now they’ve started showing up in each other’s. It gives the image of them being an eccentric extended family – you can believe that the four main continuity announcers (Sid, Cerrie, Andy and Alex) all live in a house together; Katy from I Can Cook gets organic produce from Mr. Bloom’s nursery; Mr. Maker helps decorate Justin’s House while Nina and the Neurons build a green energy installation next door to power the tower block from Show Me, Show Me. Somehow it works – on a recent episode of Justin’s House, the very implication that Mr. Bloom would be appearing was enough to send the children in the audience into open-mouthed fits of joy.
(And this is before I cover my theory about the Tumble family – due to some terrible clowning related accident, Mr. Tumble was left to be raised by Grandad Tumble; they’re funded by Lord Tumble, and Aunt Polly keep a matronly eye on them all. They all wish that Cliff Tumble would visit more. I haven’t quite figured out why they all look like the aforementioned Justin Fletcher, or where Baby Tumble came from.)
(Wait, I’ve been informed that I’m misremembering the episode and that Baby Tumble turned out to be a kitten. Mystery solved!)
It’s not just the human presenters that make the channel – the puppet vegetables in Mr. Bloom’s Nursery have more personality and charisma than many of those employed by mainstream channels, and the stop motion cast of Timmy Time baa-ing, barking and quaking ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ is a thing of beauty. That said, my absolute favourite CBeebies show is Big and Small, the anarchic tale of two friends who happen to have Dudley accents (thanks to Lenny Henry); not only is the show hysterical, but the musical numbers are awesome, especially when they riff on artists such as Kate Bush and Bob Dylan. I swear, Big and Small is worth ten minutes of anyone’s time, and my impression of Small is epic.
So that’s my tribute to CBeebies, and effectively my argument for the importance of the BBC being allowed to cater to niche audiences. If you don’t have kids, this channel may well be lost on you, but regardless, it’s vital that it’s there. I used to say I’d pay my licence fee just for Doctor Who – well, add CBeebies to that list as well. I hope it continues to bring joy and smiles to five year olds for years to come.
Viva La Tumble!