Associated Rediffusion's 15-minute midday children's slot for children of five and under, devised by Eric Spear as a rival to BBC's Watch With Mother, began the day after Independent Television's opening night in London on Thursday 22nd September 1955. At 12.15pm on the Friday the very first programme under the Small Time banner was broadcast. This was called Johnny and Flonny, a glove puppet series with Paul Hansard.
The following week on the Monday saw The Big Black Crayon with Rolf Harris and Jean Ford and on the Wednesday was Toybox with Susan Spear. There were no Small Time programmes on Tuesdays or Thursdays until November when The Little House That Stood On The Hill joined the 12.15-12.30pm line-up and on Thursday Snoozy The Sea-Lion made up the complete original Monday to Friday set. Eventually the show was moved to a weekday teatime slot and during its run many of television's most fondly remembered children's series and characters were introduced under the Small Time umbrella. Among these were The Adventures of Twizzle, Ivor the Engine, The Pingwings, Sara and Hoppity, Torchy, Pussy Cat Willum and Basil Brush.
Two other stars of Small Time were a glove puppet owl and a glove puppet dog. Ollie Beak and Fred Barker became something of a double act on children's television, even though they could strike terror into the heart of any male TV presenter that worked with them. Wally Whyton was still having nighmares about them years later when he recalled the unscripted ad-libs that Fred (voiced by Ivan Owen, the man who went on to create the distinctive Terry-Thomas-like voice of Basil Brush) would suddenly come out with. "In those days there were not always enough commercials during the children's programmes." He later recalled. "Then Muriel and myself had to fill in. Sometimes this could add an extra eight minutes onto a show like Five O'Clock Club. "One New Years day when there were no adverts Ollie Beak came on holding a balloon and announced, 'I've been to the Chelsea Owls' Ball.' To which Muriel, quite innocently replied, 'I didn't know owls had balls.' I don't know how we managed to carry on with straight faces."
Once established, Small Time became the customary early evening audience grabber for ATV's young viewers and it wasn't long before it was followed by shows like Lucky Dip, Tuesday Rendezvous, and the aforementioned Five O'Clock Club which was aimed at slightly older kids. At it's height Small Time was just as popular as Watch With Mother and introduced children's characters that were every bit as enduring as Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, The Woodentops, et al.
Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.