Thinking inside the box for children

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There’s more to children’s TV than Blue Peter, as GEOFFREY SHRYHANE discovers at a superb exhibition at the Lowry.

All the programmes children have loved for almost a century have come to life again ...shows ranging from those oldies like Listen with Mother on the radio to the popular TV favourites such as Teletubbies.

Up Close: The Here's One We Made Earlier exhibition at the Lowry

Up Close: The Here's One We Made Earlier exhibition at the Lowry

“Here’s One We Made Earlier” celebrates BBC children’s programmes past and present in the biggest ever exhibition in the 12 year history of the Lowry.

The changing world of BBC Children’s radio and television past, present and future of children’s broadcasting – and has already delighted thousands.

The exhibition explores the complete story of more than nine decades of BBC children’s TV, moving from the first days of broadcasting in 1922 with the launch of the iconic Children’s Hour, right up to the present multi-media world.

The interactive show has pulled together iconic items, footage, puppets and props from the BBC archives as well as from public and private collections across the country.

The exhibition has been co-curated with local children and as well as revisiting favourite broadcast moments from across the generations, visitors are also able to peep behind the scenes, having a go at 
being presenters themselves and trying a range of hand-on activities.

Director of BBC Children’s TV, Joe Godwin said:”It has been great to launch an exhibition of this kind in partnership with our close neighbours, the Lowry.

“There’s everything here...from Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy to Crackerjack, Newsround and Blue Peter.

“As well, it’s really exciting 
to be able to showcase current programmes, as well as looking back at many of the favourites from the last 92 years.

This is a show for all the family – it will bring back memories for grandmas, mums and days and children.”

“Here’s One We Made Earlier” begins with the birth of children’s TV in the days when a crackling radio was the centre of most homes.

It zips through all ages bringing back memories of Jackanory, Going Live and the Teletubbies eras before looking into the ever more interactive future.

But the item that curator Michael Simpson is proudest of securing is made up of a grocery carton, a cereal packet, newspapers, kitchen foil, PVA glue, a soap powder packet, an oblong cheese box, a paper bowl, a washing-up liquid bottle, a drinking straw, some pipe cleaners and a smattering of sawdust.

All these were needed to make the iconic model of Tracy Island that Blue Peter presenter Anthea Turner made on the show back in 1992.

It was designed on the show after real models of Thunderbirds’ home sold out in the shops.

The item was so tremendously popular that 100,000 children wrote to the BBC asking for the specific instructions.

The model made on the programme takes pride of place in the exhibition. But there were a few initial worries when it couldn’t be found. It was finally located at the back of a BBC cupboard.

The show also contains a typed letter sent to a young boy with the name of Ewan Vinnicombe congratulating on him coming runner-up in a Blue Peter competition.

Young Ewan was so taken with his Blue Peter badge that a few decades later he joined the programme and is now its editor.

The Lowry exhibition is aimed at children, parents and grand-parents alike and is organised thematically rather than chronologically, picking out key a key programme from the archives and another from either the present or recent shows.

The preschool room includes a reproduction of the three Play School windows as well as chest-high Teletubbies.

Alas, their original costumes are too worn to go on show.

A Grange Hill uniform takes pride of place in the drama section, alongside a set of more modern Twilight-esque Wolf Blood.

The exhibition says loyal to the Lord Reith ideal of educating through entertainment, with classic slips from the BBC’s grittiest programmes prompting young visitors to answer difficult questions such as whether Grange Hill’s 
Zammo can get over his heroin addiction.

Newsround, the long-running junior news programme, is also celebrated, with visitors reminded that the show has a track record for breaking big stories.

In 1986 the show was the first BBC outlet to tell viewers of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

Another room is dedicated to the BBC’s much loved puppets. Gordon the Gopher, who used to hang out in the broom cupboard, is resplendent in a punk leather jacket, miniature electric guitar and red shoes.

Sooty, who began life on the BBC before defecting to ITV, is also present, along with Muffin the Mule, who first appeared on screen a year after the war ended.

In fact the cheerful donkey was the first children’s TV star. Some say he kick-started TV merchandising, when kiddies clamoured to own their own Muffin.

The real set of Strange Hill High, a new CBBC puppet show, filmed in near-by Altrincham, is also on display, including holes in the classroom floors through which the puppeteers’ hands can work.

This super exhibition continues until October 12.