Years ago, soon-to-be-ex-Archbishop Rowan Williams made some snide comment about women who “plonked their children in front of the TV” (presumably so we could get on with some serious wimmin’s activities like thinking about shoes and chocolate). This comment probably annoyed me more than it should have. I mean, at least this was Rowan Williams saying something with a slight edge to it, as opposed to the usual fence-sitting bollocks he comes out with. But the fact is, I didn’t like what he was implying, and I particularly didn’t like his use of the verb “to plonk”. It implied that this was something we mothers did casually and briskly, and also that we then wandered off to bigger and better things. If only that were the case. The truth is, we don’t all live in houses the size of Lambeth Palace, and once a child is “plonked” before the telly, it’s not just the child who gets immersed in Cbeebies. It’s all of us, and believe me, it can get nasty.
In the spirit of this, I would like to present my personal Cbeebies Hate List. It’s constantly being updated (so you’re on borrowed time, Tree-Fu Tom), but this is where things currently stand.
- Balamory, aka the island from the original version of the Wickerman (my personal theory is that PC Plum was meant to replace Edward Woodward’s character as the new virgin-fool-whatever sacrifice person, but the islanders realised he was just too inane – way beyond your average “fool” – for it to have any impact on the gods, so he’s just stayed there, hanging around and occasionally doing the “different coloured houses” dance while Josie Jump and Archie the Inventor hatch alternative plots to save the next harvest). I have to say, even the opening credits of Balamory fill me with outrage. I mean, what’s this about rhyming “today” and “nursery” in the theme song (no, pronouncing it “nurseray” won’t cut it)? Having said that, my partner, for reasons best known to him, did manage to mishear one line of said song as “Edie McCredie’s a fucking machine”. And that still makes us giggle, although we’re not sure why.
- Come Outside. In which Auntie Mabel lives alone with her dog and no one else for miles around, and hence seeks spurious reasons to “come outside”. Such as the need to find out more about peas, wool, recycling and sewage. Interestingly, for the recycling episode, she flew to the recycling centre in her private jet. I mean, we’d all be more environmentally aware if we had private jets to take us to the bottle bank. To be honest, I think Auntie Mabel is just lonely and probably regrets turning down Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. Now it’s just her and Pippin, although she’s always losing him, thereby providing him with the opportunity to get into scrapes. Altogether depressing viewing, rather like an extended charity infomercial for Help the Aged.
- Show me, Show me. A bit like Playschool from days of yore, only the presenters, Chris and Pui, are dead inside. You can see it in their eyes. They hate what they’re doing and what they’ve become. At least with Playschool you have outtakes of Fred Harris kicking Hamble and Humpty around, calling them “amateurs”. That man had spirit. Can you imagine Chris doing the same to Toddler Tom and Miss Mouse? No, you can’t, because for that he’d need some remaining spark. It’s all gone. Ten worms wriggling, waving goodbye…
- Third and Bird. In which most of the birds are fine, apart from Muffin, who is a whiney, pathetic, self-centred, utterly pointless ball of pink fluff who can die, die, die for all I care. I have NO IDEA why Samuel and Rudy put up with her. They’re bigger, they could surely take her out, given a push. Stepping outside the internal narrative, I once tuned in to BBC Breakfast and for the entertainment slot just before 9am they were interviewing the man who does the whistling for the Third and Bird characters. I’m sure it’s a very hard job, but well … I’ll just say I was surprised.
- Justin’s House. I first heard about Justin’s House last year, when Justin announced it to the crowds at the Wychwood Festival where he was performing for kids. We were in that crowd. See, we really believed in him. We loved Something Special, chortled away at Gigglebiz, felt that here was someone who was truly down with the kids. It wasn’t just a job to Justin. Man, he really lived it. Yet Justin’s House marks the beginning of the end. The whole feel of it is eighties, a bit like The Pink Windmill, but without anyone as cool as Grotbags. It most certainly is not “the place [I] want to play in”. Justin, I’m disappointed in you. But hey, come to me in your rakish Lord Tumble guise and all will be forgiven.
- Lazy Town. I am just baffled by it. Well and truly baffled. Eldest likes it. He wants to be like Sportacus when he grows up and work as an “exerciser”. I haven’t yet had the heart to tell him that chocolate pancakes do not count as “sports candy”.
- Mr Bloom’s Nursery. Actually, I don’t really mind this, but I resent the media expectation that I, as a mum, must fancy Mr Bloom. Look, I don’t. I really don’t. It’s just that bit right at the start when he addresses Joan the fennel with a pervy “‘ello my dear, ‘aven’t you grown” – I’ll admit that that bit gets me every time. But that’s all I’ll admit to.
- Waybuloo. In which children supposedly “learn more about emotions and friendships as the playful Piplings welcome us to the tranquil, happy land of Nara”. So Sturm und Drang it ain’t. Indeed, said emotions tend to be along the lines of “De Li sad. De Li not know where other Piplings are. De Li find other Piplings. De Li happy again”. A veritable rollercoaster ride. Interestingly, the BBC did experiment with getting the man who does the voiceover to Come Dine with Me to do a voiceover forWaybuloo. But alas the kids didn’t like it, so it was back to letting the Piplings talk about themselves in the third person, using rubbish grammar and displaying even more rubbish self-knowledge.
- Zingzillas. A show which seems to be based entirely around making use of some ropey old gorilla costumes lying around the BBC studios (I also suspect a similar drive towards reuse is linked to David Tennant taking on the role of Twig in Tree-Fu Tom. “So, David, you may have wangled your way out of being Dr Who, but now we’re sending you to Treetopolis. Forever”).
- Baby Jake. Jake is the tenth child in a family who live in a windmill. The parents never looked stressed and their somewhat narrow home never looks messy. This may however be down to the fact that their alphabetically-named brood each, conveniently, only have one distinguishing characteristic each. These include stuff like eating peas, writing on knees, having a psychotic delusion about being a tree etc. etc. Which, at first glance, might sound challenging, but think about it. If that’s all one particular child does – eat peas – then caring for him or her is probably a piece of piss. So don’t get all smug on me, Baby Jake’s mummy (who is a very minor character in the programme overall, which is mainly about Jake’s own adventures, but still. The whole set-up really gets to me).
Of course, it’s mean of me to single out Cbeebies when there are other channels full of offensive rubbish for kids. Channel 5 has Thomas the Tank Engine, for instance. Don’t get me started on that (yet). But it’s Cbeebies that we generally watch (once the kids are safely “plonked”).
But then, it’s not all bad. Cbeebies does have Andy the continuity announcer, who has now been given his own series, Andy’s Wild Adventures. I like Andy. My friends like Andy. Hell, even my partner likes Andy (his description: “you can tell he’d embarrass you by dancing badly at a wedding, but make up for it with really great sex afterwards”). Yes, Andy is just tops. He may even be responsible for keeping a bit of spice in the relationships of the perma-exhausted parent. That’s just the kind of thing Rowan Williams wouldn’t understand. The plonker.