CBeebies – a guide for the uninitiated

The time has come to talk about CBeebies. We’ve been through a lot together, CBeebies and I. It has seen me through early starts, bedtime routines, sickness and a loft conversion, when for two long months there was only one inhabitable room in the house. Thankfully it was the one with the TV in it. CBeebies was there for me when I was pregnant and too tired to entertain my toddler; when I needed him to stay in one place for 15 minutes so I could settle the baby or have a quick shower; when he wouldn’t nap but needed some downtime; when needed some downtime – the list goes on.

I think I may have seen almost every show at least once. Most of them are great: they’re fun, educational and pleasantly short. My son learned to count with the Numtums, started recognising letters courtesy of the Alphablocks and learned to draw zig-zag lines from watching Get Squiggling.

If you are a fairly new parent and your child is still a bit too young for kids’ TV (seriously? Are they ever too young? Are they ever young enough for us to be watching the news or Buffy the Vampire Slayer while they’re in the room? That is perhaps a different discussion) then I present to you:

A comprehensive beginner’s guide to CBeebies

Good for transfixing tiny people

This says it all.

This says it all.

Baby Jake
You really need to be two years old or high to appreciate this trip fest. This slightly scary looking cut out animated baby goes on magical adventures (read: drug-induced flights of fancy) with various bizarre animal companions, the most disturbing being Nibbles the Rabbit, who claps his ears together and laughs like a cross between Goofy and a drag queen. However, my eleven month old daughter beams when it comes on and is frozen to the spot until it is over. Perhaps besides drugs, it was made with subliminal messages coded into single frames that are transmitting some kind of ninja killer robot skills to my daughter. We will find out exactly what as soon as I accidentally speak the trigger word, I’m sure.

Good for bedtime

In The Night Garden
This program is designed to appeal to babies and toddlers and, basically, send them to sleep. It does this by going on for half an hour (!) and nothing much happening in that time. The basic plot of each episode is: everyone says their names a lot. They run around the garden till bedtime. Derek Jacobi tells the whole story again, this time with illustrations. Igglepiggle is the last to go to bed.

Abney and Teal
The makers of In the Night Garden thought they’d have another pass at bedtime TV and make it shorter with more of a plot. Although still quite random, Abney and Teal appeals to me as it is a fantasy about who might live on a little island in a lake in a park. As a child I used to row to just such an island in the nearby canal and have picnics there. I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet turnip-shaped Neep (who does like to say his name a lot, In the NIght Garden-style) or bubble-blowing walrus Bop. But my favourite character has to be Toby Dog with his accordion, who has a special song for every occasion – except it is always exactly the same song.

Good for a laugh (for the adults)

Nuzzle and Scratch
I have been watching this one since the Boy was very small. I think he still doesn’t get it, but really I watch it for me. I think the show’s essential awesomeness is summed up by this line, which recurs in every episode, just with a different costume each time: “Ah well, two alpacas dressed as town criers, off to buy sponge fingers… What could possibly go wrong?”

Peppa Pig
Okay, you got me. I snuck Peppa in even though she is not on CBeebies (you can catch her on Channel 5’s Milkshake every morning several times), but she is just such good value I couldn’t leave her out. These five minute stories about bossy, hyper-confident Peppa are fun for kids, but there is so much to amuse adults as well. In one of my favourite episodes, Peppa and George cheer delightedly when they have to stop for roadworks once again on a car journey, as it means they can watch Mr Bull and his big machines at work. The voice over says: “Peppa and George love it when Mr Bull digs up the road.” The image zooms out to reveal a long line of cars, variously beeping their horns, waiting behind them in a massive tail back. Voice over continues: “Everyone loves it when Mr Bull digs up the road.”

Good for learning stuff

NUMTUMS_G2

Numtum 1 is on the decks

Numtums
I have said plenty about the Numberjacks on this blog, so I thought today I’d highlight its younger brother, the Numtums. This one is for beginners: the Numtums are cute little furry creatures with numbers on their tummies (aha!). Each five minute episode features one number and looks at it from various angles: how the number is written, various arrangements of that number of objects, how you count up to it and where it fits in to the number line. All this passes by purely visually without much comment. This program started my son’s number obsession and at 20 months he would want to watch it over and over, especially number EIIIIIIGHT!!!

Good for when they’re a bit older

Charlie and Lola
I love Charlie and Lola. My son has only just started to understand it, as it is very story driven, as well as being visually inventive and beautiful. Each episode begins with Charlie telling us: “I have this little sister Lola. She is small and very funny…” Lola goes on to demonstrate in each episode exactly how small and adorably funny she can be. She interprets the world in her own marvellous way, reinvents language and is generally delightfully imaginative. Charlie, meanwhile, seems to do most of the childcare. Just adding in “Mum says” to your parenting might fool social services, Charlie, but it doesn’t fool us. We know you two are alone in that house together. What happened, Charlie? Did your parents just leave one day and never come back? Anyway, when you feel able to talk about it drop us a line.

Good for winding you up and making you shout at the TV

Everything’s Rosie

Grrrrr. I’m getting annoyed already and I haven’t even started writing this bit yet. Everything’s Rosie used to be a staple of our CBeebies watching in the early morning. At first I quite enjoyed it. It was colourful and joyful, there were people but also talking animals and trees, it was fine, it was mellow. So Rosie had ribbons instead of hair – I could forgive that, maybe it wasn’t her choice. But slowly, it started to make me feel claustrophobic and even a bit sad. Then it made me angry. The characters live in a playground amid green rolling hills. They have picnics with smoothies and sandwiches and muffins. They invent a postal service and put on shows and play hospital. Slowly, the questions crowded in:

Where does the food come from? Is there a supermarket?
Why isn’t there already a postal service? Do they ever get mail?
The three children are very young – why are they not in school?

Then the questions got bigger:

Where are their parents? They live completely on their own.
Where is the wider world? There are no shops, hospitals, bus stops, libraries, schools.
Where are all the other people?? No one comes in or goes out of this playground.

My annoyance peaked when Holly (who can’t be older than about 6) is sitting crying in one episode, dressed in a nurse’s uniform. When Rosie asks what is wrong, she says: “I can never be a real nurse!”

“NO, you can’t!” I shouted at the TV, to my toddler’s great surprise, “Because there is NO SCHOOL and NO UNIVERSITY and there are NO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD TO NURSE!”

When I’d calmed down a bit I decided I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything’s Rosie was coming off the viewing schedule. We switched over to some pre-recorded Peppa Pig instead. Five minutes with Daddy Pig made me feel much better.

“Daddy, what do you do?”
“That’s a little hard to explain, Peppa. I take large numbers, transmute them, and calculate their load-bearing tangents.”

themondayclub

33 responses

  1. Brilliant! CBeebies was a big part of our lives for a very long time. I used to sit thinking random thoughts about Balamory when I was sleep- deprived with no2 son and trying to entertain no1. Peppa Pig is probably the best thing on telly, but sadly my daughter thinks she’s too old for it now (I’m not!).
    Most of these shows are new to me, we probably haven’t watched CBeebies for three years now, but I kind of miss it!

    • The programs just get under your skin, don’t they? You start off being intensely irritated by them, but as a friend of mine once said, after a while you find yourself wondering: “What *is* the story in Balamory today?”

  2. A fantastic review of a life-saver of a channel. I had a friend who did PR for one of the progs and I felt much better when she said they all had to have some sort of educational content. My guilt was relieved. (Now, after 3 kids, it’s never off!)

    There have been a few progs that make me want to sledgehammer the tv (night garden being prime candidate) but loads of good ones…bring back boogie beebies!

    My all time fav kids prog is Peppa’s cousin, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. As an adult I laugh out loud most episodes. Nanny Plum’s sarcasm being the key provider! I also like Lazy Town…but mainly for Sportacus’ thighs…..

    • There does seem to be something to learn in every program, which is good. Do any of us manage to avoid the crushing guilt that comes with letting our kids watch (any) TV? But it seems to teach the Boy things and fuel his imagination rather than starve it at the moment so I’m shelving the guilt for when we get to Pokemon or computer games or something.

  3. Why have you not been offered a job reviewing TV programmes for children? This is brilliant!
    I do think the writers at the Beeb sit in a cupboard smoking something special before they write some of the programmes they produce, though! 😉

    • There’s still time! I didn’t even get into Postman Pat and the very vague concept the writers seem to have of what a vicar does for a living.

  4. Fantastic post Judith. I had never thought about Everything’s Rosie in that way! My daughter is coming to the end of her CBeebies time now, preferring instead to watch Pokemon with her brother. Oh how I can’t wait to read your take on Pokemon….you think Baby Jake is trippy! xx

  5. He he this is genius! CBeebies is a God-send for all parents, my children were avid watchers from the moment they could be propped up on a beanbag! Peppa Pig will always be a favourit here too. Not sure about that trippy baby – looks creepy!

  6. As one of the uninitiated I think I should print a copy of this guide and keep it handy for future reference. I put the bedtime hour on for the first time the other day but Baby T seemed much more interested in a nature documentary which had close ups of red squirrels. (As was I). We don’t tend to have the TV on in the daytime but it’s usually on in the evening and like you, I wonder what’s okay for a baby and what’s not. Too bad cbeebies etc don’t cater for night owl babies! I say that, until he demonstrates a clear preference for children’s TV, I think we’ll be sticking with our usual viewing habits, albeit minus any violence or distressing scenes (not that they’re a staple in our viewing diet, they just seem to be quite prevalent!).

    • What do you watch in the evening then? You can’t expect me to believe you and Daddy-O watch nothing but nature documentaries. Although the red squirrel is rather cute and worth gazing at for hours. There is an all night children’s channel on freeview called TinyPop. That’s a whole nother blogpost. *shudder*

  7. This is brilliant! Our staples are In the Night Garden (I often need a drink after that…;-) and baby Jake (agree, who needs drugs when you can watch that)! Timmy time is good – maybe because peanut is obsessed with sheep at the mo. Fab post! will check out the other shows and Peppa. x

  8. An excellent guide! Pleased to find someone else who has Everything’s Rosie ‘on their list’ too. Mainly it’s because I want to dropkick Raggles out of the garden and to tell big bear off for persistently wiping his bum on Oakly, but the questions it inspires are just as irritating!

    • Same here! We went through a phase of watching it at 6am when the Boy was up but my brain was not. Now I use channel 5 for that as I find their offer at that time of day less objectionable on an empty stomach.

  9. I am ashamed to say that I love baby jake, Old Jack’s Boat, Balamory and 64 64 64 64 zoo lane.

    A few days ago Baby-Gusto was off merrily playing and Husband-Gusto and I were catatonic watching ‘Grandpa in my pocket’. Until I commented ‘ You know, baby-G is not here. We could turn over’.

  10. Oh, Postman Pat drives us crazy. Husband-G always gets quite incandescent at his incompetence and how the helicopter has to be deployed so he can Do His Job.
    ‘That’;s why the bloody cost of stamps has gone up’. H-G says every morning.

  11. Well done on being Mumsnet blog of the day! This was interesting to me because my boys now 9 and 8 haven’t watched Cbeebies for several years (even CBBC is deemed uncool now). So many of these shows are new to me. Whereas I had to live through Big Cook Little Cook……I am still scarred by it

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    • Mr Bloom is just too hot to handle – I’d get an army of lovers and haters swamping me with their opinions.🙂 Just like Katie…

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