Why did they have such power, these Watch With Mother golden oldies? Was it just because they were all we had? And wouldn't those sweet, smudgy black-and-whites seem laughable, or just plain boring, to our own hi-tech children, fed on a diet of increasingly shiny, fast-zapping images? Curious, I decided to try a week's worth of Watch With Mother (now out on video) on an unrepresentative sample of under-fives, my own children and assorted friends.
They lapped it up. If they noticed the lack of colour, no one said so. Rag, Tag and Bobtail came up trumps with a nail-biting thriller about baby rabbits getting muddy. They danced around with Andy Pandy. And Bill and Ben, one child confided, were magic, and no one else knew about them.
What has changed? Most of all, the speed of presentation: Picture Book got through five items in its 16 minutes, compared to 9 in Sesame Street. This is what is training our children to have the attention span of the average hummingbird - and even Sesame Street looks half-asleep next to flash-card, zoo TV like The Big Breakfast.
But perhaps the most noticeable thing was that we were all so relaxed. Television is much better now in many ways, but much current children's TV hypes them up almost to hysteria with its relentless visual excitement. For all its straitlaces, Watch With Mother did let young children enjoy themselves more simply. It's easy to point to the success of hectic programmes with high production values, but that may be to look at things the wrong way round: the power of TV allows programme-makers to shape children's tastes and create the appetites they strive to satisfy. Perhaps all they are satisfying are the internal demands of a competitive industry.
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