Dear Anna Home

By cutting Jackanory, the BBC's head of children's programmes has ended a 30-year commitment to reading aloud
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You have just closed a chapter of our heritage, putting Jackanory back on the shelf for ever. To paraphrase the conclusion of the children's rhyme from which the programme took its name: "And now its story is done." Several generations grew up on a diet of Jackanory, listening - as raptly as if we were sitting at their feet - to yarns read out by celebrities, giving us the best introduction possible to the work of Roald Dahl, Dick King Smith or Rudyard Kipling. On one occasion the Prince of Wales turned up on screen to read out his own children's book, The Old Man of Lochnagar. But that was in the days when members of the Royal Family saw television as something other than a medium in which to conduct personal feuds.

There was indeed, almost from its outset, something old-fashioned and other-worldly about Jackanory. It came from an age when it was thought a good idea to encourage children to take their noses away from the TV screen and into a book. Or even if they did not, at least to present them with something that allowed their imaginations to do a bit of work. Today, when six-year-olds are assumed to spend their days dealing crack-cocaine in the playground and are generally reckoned to have the attention span of a mayfly, such principles are deemed ludicrously dated.

A place in the schedules, you tell us, can no longer be found for traditional book-based story-telling: the diminishing audiences it attracts simply cannot justify its continuation in a competitive market. After all, children are voting with their remote controls and flicking over in vast numbers to the shouty youth in the primary coloured jumpsuit tipping buckets of gunge over kids' heads on some asinine quiz show on ITV, or to the kick and rush of Korean robot cartoons playing wall-to-wall on satellite.

And here you have my sympathy. It is not easy killing off institutions, and doubtless you will be buried under an avalanche of grumbly newspaper articles blaming you personally for the decline in national standards: next time a seven-year-old leaves the imprint of his trainer on the face of a pensioner, your decision to end Jackanory will probably be cited as a cause. But it is not your fault that the BBC - still the source of some splendid children's programmes - is obliged by its masters, above all else, to be competitive. Of your programmes only the teenage soap Byker Grove regularly matches the smash and crash of ITV. Something had to be done, you were told, to make your output more competitive. And it was Jackanory that was done.

So now children will have to look elsewhere to enjoy the unique pleasure of being read to. Perhaps on radio, an even better medium, maybe - except that Radio 5 does not do that sort of thing now it has been turned into a news and sports channel. Down to the public library, then. Well, no, the story-telling service has been cut: the costs could not be justified. I suppose you will have to rely on mum and dad. Sorry, we're too busy working; after all, it's a competitive world out there. In the end, that is what closed the book on Jackanory. Not you, Anna Home, but the deathless urge to compete that characterises our age.

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