One of my earliest recollections of children’s TV was ‘Watch with Mother’ a fifteen minute lunch-time spot aimed at pre-school children. Unlike today with twenty-four hour television this would be the first time each day that the television set would be turned on.
There are two conflicting dates for the first broadcasting of Andy Pandy so after tossing a coin I have decided it might have been 20th June 1950, four years before I was born.
By the time I was watching the programme in about 1956/57 the weekly schedule had settled down into:
Monday: Picture Book
Tuesday: Andy Pandy
Wednesday: Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men
Thursday: Rag, Tag & Bobtail
Friday: The Woodentops
To be honest Picture Book on a Monday was never my favourite because, to be quite frank (and I hope I don’t offend anyone here) it was a bit girlie.
It was presented by Patricia Driscoll (who also played Maid Marion in the Adventures of Robin Hood) and whose soft patronising vocal tones asked questions like “Do you think you could do this? – I am sure you could if you tried” encouraged us at early attempts at crafts such as origami and model making. The pages of the book were turned to reveal various items, for example, a way of making paper lanterns. Another page introduced Bizzy Lizzy, a wispy-haired little girl with a magic wishing flower on her dress. She was allowed four wishes by touching the flower but she had to be careful not to be greedy because if she wished a fifth time all her wishes flew away.
The Jolly Jack Tars, a group of puppets, were regulars and sailed to places like Bottle Island, sometimes in search of the Talking Horse. There was the Captain, Mr. Mate, Jonathan the deck hand and Ticky the monkey.
A favourite game was played when the presenter would cover a tray of objects with a cloth, and then remove one and the young viewers had to guess which one had gone!
Andy Pandy was a bit of a laugh. It always started with the song ‘Andy Pandy is coming to play la, la la, la la, la’, somewhere in between Looby Loo had her own song, ‘Here we go Looby Loo, Here we go Looby Li’ and finished, after the three of them had climbed back and squeezed into the toy basket, with ‘Time to go home , time to go home, Andy is waving goodbye.’
Filmed in ancient black and white the pictures were always a bit grainy and got worse the more times they were shown. Years later I bought a video of ‘Watch with Mother’ for my daughter and I asked her what she thought of Andy Pandy. Mistaking the flickering lines for precipitation she said she thought he was silly and when I asked why she said because he was playing out in the garden in the rain!
Bill & Ben the flowerpot men were shown on Wednesday. They lived in two large flowerpots at the bottom of a garden next to the potting shed and either side of Little Weeeeeeeeeed, who had a big smiley face, something between a sunflower and a giant daisy.
When the man who looked after the garden went for his lunch the fun and games began. As a result some minor mishap would always occur. To make sure we children had been watching carefully the narrator asked us to guess ‘was it Bill or was it Ben?’ The culprit owned up, just before the gardeners footsteps could be heard coming back along the path, and the flowerpot men quickly climbed back into their pots to end the programme.
Bill and Ben had their own language, years before the Teletubbies were ever thought of, “Flobbalob, Flobbadob” which was criticized by some child development experts as being unhelpful for children while learning how to speak.
Rag, Tag & Bobtail were a hedgehog, a mouse and a rabbit and I am going to own up to this – they were my favourites. They were sort of a prequel to tales of the riverbank and I don’t why I liked them because I can remember nothing about the programmes at all. There was no theme tune, no special effects and no silly language, just a trio of hedgerow animals having a dull, dreary woodland life.
The Woodentops had the Friday slot and just brazenly demonstrated 1950s family values. While Daddy Woodentop was busy doing ‘men’s work’ on the farm and in the garden, Mummy Woodentop was busy in the kitchen with assistance from the politically incorrectly named Mrs Scrubbit. The Woodentop children were twins Jenny and Willy and baby Woodentop who resided permanently in the arms of Mummy Woodentop.
The family was complete with Sam who helped Daddy Woodentop in the fields, Buttercup the Cow and a rascal of a hound called Spotty ‘the biggest spotty dog you ever did see’, famed for his strange bark and mechanical movements. Interestingly the male characters all had bare chests but the females had discreet clothing with tops to retain their modesty.
Later, as I grew up, I remember a little joke that Sam was helping Daddy Woodentop out more than he knew and was having an affair with Mummy Woodentop and this deception was discovered because Daddy Woodentop recognised the splinters in his hands!