When you have to get up early with the kids to let your wife have a long lie of a Sunday morning, there’s a danger in having your brain turned to mush by children’s TV, with its bland combination of politically-correct American cartoons (with implausible English accent dubbing) and cataclysmically dull/irritating “craft” shows. The American ones, like “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” are awful morality tales voiced by women in their mid-to-late thirties trying to sound like 10-year-olds. As for “Big Cook, Little Cook” – where do I start? Setting aside the fact that the cafe where it’s set probably has the worst service in the world (the staff never even ask the customer what they want – they take a whole programme to serve up some awful children’s party food without considering that at this time in the morning, all that’s probably required is a fried egg roll and a cappuccino), the fairy stories the cast read have been neutered beyond recognition. In Little Cook’s version of Little Miss Moffet, for example, the spider doesn’t scare her – they become the best of friends, for crying out loud!
That’s the defining characteristic of children’s TV these days, it seems, or at least, of TV shows aimed at toddlers: any real conflict, any real villain, has been removed or sanitised so that instead of having a good old fairy tale where the hero battles against the odds (and a baddie) to win the day, he instead comes to understand the grievances of his opponent, who then becomes his friend. Bo-ring!
Carolyn disagrees with me on this. Life is difficult enough for children in later life, she says; they don’t need to be challenged or scared by programmes at an early age. Piffle and twaddle, say I. She doesn’t remember “Noggin the Nog” by Oliver Postgate, with its evil baddie, Nogbad the Bad (that’ll come in handy one day when you’re in a pub quiz, mark my words). My earliest, though vague, memory of watching TV was a black and white scene from “Doctor Who”, where a scientist hid behind a console while a monster (later identified as an Ice Warrior) scoured the room looking for him. Did the Ice Warrior intend to befriend the scientist, discuss environmental issues with him? No, it wanted to kill him in an excruciatingly painful way by frying his brain with his Martian weapon. Cool, thought I as I cowered gleefully behind the sofa (and yes, it’s more than a cliché, we actually did that in the ’60s and ’70s).
Kids need to see conflict, and they need to see good overcoming evil. They don’t need to have lessons in morality from badly-animated characters with voices that sound more like their mums than their younger sisters (“That’s why you should always ask how other people are feeling, isn’t it Clifford? … God, I feel like a fag… have we finished recording yet…?”)