Media: Watch out kids, it's death by animation: Cartoons and soaps, says the BBC's Anna Home, are replacing fairy-tales and drama on children's TV. Celia Dodd reports on a sad decline

IN THE recently rehashed debate about violence, television and the young, children's programmes came off surprisingly lightly. The corruptors of the nation's youth were seen to be adult programmes - which children love. This is a powerful argument for the continuation of a service specifically for children. Most parents would prefer their children to see programmes that can be safely watched without mother, produced by companies that put responsibility to their audience first and ratings second.

Children are not so sure. Ask nine- year-olds what they like to watch and the answer is more likely to be Harry Enfield than the ever-worthy Blue Peter. Even so, Blue Peter regularly attracts five million viewers; so, too, do period dramas such as The Return of the Psammead, the sequel to E Nesbit's classic Five Children and It.

But children's television is an endangered species, according to a new book by Anna Home, head of children's programmes at the BBC. She paints a bleak future of wall-to-wall cartoons and junior soaps as the sole survivors in an increasingly pressured broadcasting environment. Children's programming in Britain has never been hugely profitable; in the future it may have to be.

The battle for daytime audiences could lead to adult programmes eating into after-school children's hours; pressure to cut costs is likely to mean more cartoons and game shows and less drama or storytelling. And new channels can easily woo children away from ITV and BBC with nothing but imported cartoons.

Some people, including the Broadcasting Standards Council, warn that the rot has already crept in. The BSC's recent report on children's television points out that cartoons and 'other predominantly entertaining formats' - vacuous game shows with hyperactive hosts - have doubled on BBC and ITV since 1981, to make up more than half their output in 1991. This is at the expense of storytelling, pre-school and factual programmes.

But Ms Home, a champion of children's right to pure entertainment, remains unrepentant: 'There has been an increase in animation, but there has also been an increase in airtime. I have no problem with cartoons at all, provided that they're good, and that they're part of a mixed diet.

'My concern is when you have nothing but cartoons, which is what happens in America, where the networks do not believe that children will watch anything else.'

Despite her fears for the future, Ms Home only grudgingly accepts the usefulness of independent monitoring of children's programmes as recommended by the BSC report; she is quite happy with her own internal system. Nevertheless she is worried about the low standard of much of the animation coming out of the US and Japan, and the poor prospects for improvement. It is a concern shared by other European broadcasters, and has led to the co-production of an epic cartoon series, The Animals of Farthing Wood, funded by 19 countries.

So far Ms Home has been able to manipulate animation to her advantage: 'You can use cartoons in your schedule to prop up the more serious programmes. The reason children watch Newsround is that we put cartoons and drama around it. But if children have a choice of five or six channels, all pumping out cartoons at the same time, it's going to be harder and harder to persuade them to watch more demanding programmes.'

Canny scheduling is one way round that problem, as are programmes with sufficient playground cred to attract children away from a diet of pap: 'You need something that creates a buzz. That's why Neighbours is so successful - last night's episode is part of the daily gossip at school.'

But how does Ms Home, a middle- aged woman with no children, know what will create a buzz in the playground? She believes it has less to do with instinct than experience and contact with children. Since she started in children's television, working on the BBC's Play School in the Sixties, production teams have visited children at home and in school.

The two-way relationship with the audience is unique to children's television; while adult viewers only write to complain, children make positive suggestions about what they want. Weekly audience analysis is backed up by surveys for particular programmes, such as Hangar 17, a kind of Crackerjack for the Nineties, which has taken three series to get right.

Ms Home admits she does not enjoy everything her department puts out - no adult would - but insists she knows what children will like. She often gets it right: two long-running programmes that broke the mould in their time, Jackanory and Grange Hill, were her brainchildren.

But her enduring passion is drama, and particularly adapting for a new generation the classic novels she devoured as a child - Five Children and It, The Borrowers, and soon The Little White Horse. Her commitment to drama as a vital element of the schedule is fierce; budgets permitting, she would make more.

'Children's emotional needs and concerns are different to adults', and drama is one of the best ways of satisfying those needs,' she writes. 'But it would be only too easy under economic pressure for children's drama to degenerate into a few long-running, successful contemporary series and lose the richness that has traditionally been in the mix. It is important that children should get some element of historical perspective within their drama.'

For the time being, Ms Home can sit back and watch how her newly appointed opposite number at ITV, Dawn Airey (controller of daytime programmes as well as those specifically for children), deals with the more immediate pressures facing her, secure in the knowledge that her own department will not be directly affected until 1996 at least.

But she recognises that her advantage is a double-edged sword: 'The commercial pressures on ITV's daytime are going to be bigger than they've ever been, and I think they're going to have quite a struggle to keep themselves going with the kind of mix that they have now. And if ITV were to start showing more cartoons we would have real problems.'

'Into the Box of Delights: a History of Children's Television' is published by BBC Books at pounds 15.99.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Ad Sales - UK Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global mul...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London