Play School | Play Away

1964 | United Kingdom

"Here is a house, here is a door, windows -one, two, three four. Ready to knock? Turn the lock. It's Play School." 

These were the first words spoken on the first show ever seen on the opening day of BBC2 television in 1964. Play School was a mixture of songs and stories which entertained and educated the under five's for 24 years, whilst making household names of many of its presenters including Johnny Ball, Floella Benjamin, Toni Arthur, Derrick Griffiths and the unforgettable Brian Cant. 

But perhaps even more famous than the long list of presenters were the Play School toys, Little Ted and Big Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Hamble (who was replaced in the 1980's by black doll Poppy). There were also real animals, the most famous of which was Katoo the cockatoo. 

The programme opened with a look at the calendar with the day, month and date clearly spelled out and each day had a particular theme. Monday was Useful Box Day, Tuesday was Dressing Up Day, Wednesday was Pets Day, Thursday was Ideas Day and Friday was Science Day. During the show viewers were posed the question of which window to look through, arched, square or round, before seeing a short film about an outside activity. 

In 1981 there was a Saturday afternoon version aimed at the more sophisticated seven-year-olds. Play Away, which ran for thirteen years, followed a similar format although the games and songs were less infantile. Cant, Arthur, Griffiths and Benjamin each appeared in the show but they were joined by a whole host of new presenters, most famously Tony Robinson who went on to star as Baldrick in the Blackadderseries, Anita Dobson who found later fame in Eastenders and future Hollywood Oscar winner Jeremy Irons.

Published on January 19th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.