ITV launches a school soap opera for infants

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The Independent Online
ITV IS to improve its appeal to children after trenchant criticism from both the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council.

Granada Television launched a high-quality weekly drama series, three seven eleven, aimed at infant and junior school children, yesterday. Set in a newly-built primary school, it has the feel of a junior Grange Hill, one of the BBC's most established and successful children's programmes.

Edward Pugh, the executive producer and head of Granada children's television, used to direct Grange Hill. 'No drama series has ever touched the subject of life in a primary school,' he said.

With vivid storylines and sharply observed children's behaviour - one boy places a model tarantula in the school register, while a disturbed girl daubs HAT (for hate) in red paint on the wall of the new nursery - it has been written by Bernard Ashley, the children's author and a London primary school headmaster in Charlton, with his son Chris Ashley, also a teacher.

Mr Ashley said that he used his experiences in the plots and in the book that accompanies the programmes. But the series also contained some wish fulfilment: the school is brand new, well- equipped and has a modern, tough but sympathetic headmistress, who naturally assumes that girls play football.

On the first day the children write descriptions of themselves on computers. Mr Ashley won the Royal Television Society's award for best children's drama last year for his BBC series Dodgem.

Marcus Plantin, network programme director for ITV, said yesterday: 'All this talk about ITV children's programmes becoming wall-to-wall animation is wrong. ITV children's programmes are damned good. There will not be moving away from the wide range of programmes we produce; we have a community of children's TV makers who excell at the job.'

He said he expected to appoint a children's programme commissioning editor to his central, all- powerful team later this month. This should end the long period of uncertainty and delay in new commissions for 1994. Granada hopes that three seven eleven will become a regular fixture.

ITV is also giving its afternoon children's television between 3.50pm and 5.10pm a new look. This has been devised by Central Television, whose Lewis Rudd, head of children's television, is one of ITV's experts on what children watch.

It is exchanging the tradition of having each programme introduced by a presenter accompanied by a puppet, for fast-moving animations and promotions. This injection of zippiness is designed to reduce channel-hopping. 'Children can be ruthless,' Mr Plantin observed.

About 2.6 million children watch ITV's children's programmes daily: during 1992 ITV claimed a 47.7 per cent share of the 3- to 15-year-old audience, compared with 39.4 per cent for BBC and 12.9 per cent for BBC 2, Channel 4 and satellite. three seven eleven starts on Wednesday, 17 February at 4.10pm.