11 greatest children’s TV shows of all time

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We all fondly remember the TV shows of our childhood. But which were the greatest of all time? Ahead of a major new exhibition at Portsmouth City Museum plotting the history of children’s television (opening on October 17), here are 11 to get the conversation started.

1. Blue Peter

The longest-running children’s TV show in the world, which began in 1958 and is still going strong on the CBBC channel with presenters Barney Harwood, Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya.

Generations of kids have looked forward to getting home and watching the Blue Peter team and their animal friends.

Many of a certain vintage will remember John Noakes and Shep, but today there is a trainee guide dog named Iggy and Shelly the tortoise.

A legendary part of the show is the coveted Blue Peter badge, awarded to those who appear on the show or achieve something notable.

2. Tiswas

‘Today Is Saturday Watch And Smile’ was a Saturday morning children’s series which ran on ITV from 1974 to 1982.

Hosted by Chris Tarrant and later Sally James, it also featured the young Lenny Henry and occasionally Jim Davidson together with Bob Carolgees and his puppet, Spit the Dog. John Gorman, former member of 1960s cult band The Scaffold, was also a presenter.

The show was a stitch-together of competitions, film clips and pop promos, just about held together by sketches and links from the cast. The show also regularly featured spoofs of BBC children’s programming.

A feature of Tiswas was The Cage wherein initially the child audience, and later their parents, were confined and periodically doused in water.

Then there was the Phantom Flan Flinger, who would throw flans around the studio.

3. Bagpuss

A series of 13 episodes about a large, saggy pink-and-white striped cat named Bagpuss was first broadcast in 1974. It has been frequently repeated and in 1999 it topped a BBC poll for the UK’s favourite children’s TV programme.

A little girl named Emily owned a shop and displayed lost and broken things in the window so their owners could come and collect them. The shop did not sell anything.

She would leave the object in front of her favourite stuffed toy, Bagpuss.

When Emily left, Bagpuss would wake up and various toys would come to life.

4. Thunderbirds

This science-fiction series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson was produced between 1964 and 1966 using a form of electronic marionette puppetry combined with scale model special effects sequences.

Set in the mid-2060s, Thunderbirds is a follow-up to the earlier productions Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray. It follows the exploits of International Rescue (IR), a life-saving organisation equipped with technologically-advanced land, sea, air and space rescue craft; these are headed by a fleet of five vehicles named the Thunderbirds and launched from IR’s secret base in the Pacific Ocean. The main characters are ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, the founder of IR, and his five adult sons, who pilot the Thunderbird machines.

5. SM TV Live

SMTV Live (an abbreviation of Saturday Morning Television Live) was a Saturday morning programme, broadcast on ITV from 1998-2003.

On the surface, the programme did not seem to stray away from the format of other Saturday morning output, featuring an audience of children, competitions and cartoons, though it constantly won in ratings battles with the BBC’s Live & Kicking and became ITV’s most successful children’s programme since Tiswas.

The major success of SMTV Live has been attributed in equal parts to Ant & Dec’s original presenting partnership with Cat Deeley, its use of thinly-veiled comedic innuendo aimed at older viewers and its broadcast of the Japanese cartoon series Pokémon.

At the height of its popularity, SMTV Live regularly attracted 2.5 million viewers.

6. Peppa Pig

This pre-school animated TV series began on Channel 5 in 2004 and is still going strong, being shown around the world and even spawning the Peppa Pig World theme park at Paultons Park near Romsey.

The show revolves around Peppa, a female pig, and her family and friends. Each of her friends is a different species of mammal. Peppa’s friends are the same age as she is and Peppa’s younger brother George’s friends are the same age as him.

Episodes tend to feature everyday activities such as attending playgroup, going swimming, visiting their grandparents, cousins, going to the playground or riding their bikes.

The characters wear clothes, live in houses, and drive cars, but still display some characteristics of the animals on which they are based.

7. Rainbow

This series ran on ITV from 1972-1992 and was intended to develop language and number skills for pre-school children.

It was originally conceived as a British equivalent of long-running American educational puppet series Sesame Street.

After more than 1,000 episodes, the series came to an abrupt end when Thames Television lost its ITV franchise at the end of 1992. Since then, it has gained cult status and continues to get frequent mentions on radio and television.

Each episode of Rainbow revolved around a particular activity or situation that would arise in the Rainbow House, where the main characters lived. Usually, it would involve some kind of squabble or dispute between the puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle, and Geoffrey’s attempts to calm them down and keep the peace.

8. Horrible Histories

This sketch comedy series is part of the children’s history franchise of the same name based on the books written by Terry Deary. The show was produced for CBBC and ran from 2009-2013 with additional one-off seasonal and Olympic specials.

The TV show used the graphic style and much of the content of the Horrible Histories books, with its irreverent but accurate focus on dark or gruesome parts of history. It was intended to make history interesting to children by using short, factually-based but humorously-told anecdotes.

9. Danger Mouse

This animated TV series for Thames Television featured the eponymous Danger Mouse, who worked as a secret agent. The show was a parody of British spy fiction, particularly the Danger Man series and James Bond. The show originally ran in the UK 1981-1992.

A reboot of the series, under the same name, premiered last month on CBBC.

In 1984 Danger Mouse was the first British cartoon to appear on Nickelodeon and become one of the earliest British cartoons to be in syndication in America, as the series appealed to both pre-teens and adults with its quick-witted English humour.

The original Danger Mouse returned to terrestrial television after the BBC bought episodes of the series to broadcast in its daytime schedules with its first broadcast in 2007.

10. Play School

This series produced by the BBC ran from 1964-1988. It accidentally became the first programme to be shown on the fledgling BBC2 after a power cut halted the opening night’s programming (and later it became the first children’s programme to be shown in colour by that channel).

There were several opening sequences for Play School during its run, the first being ‘Here’s a house, here’s a door. Windows: 1 2 3 4, ready to knock? Turn the lock - It’s Play School.’ This changed in the early 1970s to ‘A house, with a door, 1 2 3 4, ready to play, what’s the day? It’s...’ In this version blinds opened on the windows as the numbers were spoken.

Presenters included Brian Cant, who remained with the show for 21 years.

11. Rentaghost

Rentaghost was a comedy show, broadcast by the BBC between 1976 and 1984. The show’s plot centred on the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called Rentaghost, which rented out the ghosts for various tasks.

The company, located in South Ealing, London,is run by Fred Mumford, a recently deceased loser who feels he can find work for ghosts whose lives were as failed as his. His first (and only) recruits are Timothy Claypole, a mischievous jester with a comical lack of knowledge about modern technology; and Hubert Davenport, a delicate Victorian-era gentleman who is morally shocked by the modern world. The ghosts work from an office, which they rent from Harold Meaker, who discovers the truth about them in the third episode.