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PLAY DAYS; We discover how Play School became BBC2's first programme.

THE launch of the new BBC2 television station was supposed to be a grand affair. The opening night, in 1964, was publicised with the help of two kangaroo cartoon characters called Hullabaloo and Custard, but the launch itself was jinxed by a major power cut.

The only programme which was seen, very late at night, was a news broadcast from Alexandra Palace, in London. Viewers had to wait until the following morning when children's show Play School began to see the new BBC2 station up and running.

The pre-school tots' show was created by Joy Whitby and began on April 21. It went on to run for 24 years and proved a favourite with generation after generation of youngsters.

Each of the first 30-minute episodes began with a voice saying: "Here's a house. Here's a door. Windows - one, two, three, four. Ready to knock? Turn the lock. It's Play School."

The enthusiastic presenters over the years included Brian Cant, Floella Benjamin, Johnny Ball, Derek Griffiths, Julie Stevens, Virginia Stride, Gordon Rollings and Phyllida Law - the mother of acting sisters Emma and Sophie Thompson.

The original toy line-up also included rag doll Jemima, teddy bears Big Ted and Little Ted, Humpty and the slightly scarylooking doll, Hamble. One of the Humpty soft toys from Play School fetched PS6,000 when sold at auction in 2014.

The shows were originally broadcast each weekday on BBC2 at 11am, and miniadventures lay behind the round, arched and square windows.

There were songs and music and even pets like goldfish and mice featured. One cockatoo, named Katoo, even tried to take a chunk out of Johnny Ball's finger during one show.

The Play School format was so successful it was sold overseas and the Australian version is still running.

Future Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons also made his television debut in spin-off sister show, Play Away, in the 1970s. It also featured Anita Dobson and Tony Robinson, as well as Play School regulars like Brian Cant and Derek Griffiths.

Presenters Gordon Rollings and Phyllida Law, in 1964


Play School presenter Virginia Stride with Humpty, one of the show's famous stuffed toys

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 31, 2019
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