Some time ago, ex-folk singer Toni Arthur was at the Edinburgh festival ( where she'd directed a show ) when a stranger dashed over and, fighting to keep the emotion out of his voice, said: "I love you!". It was Phill Jupitus. I know exactly how he felt. Like loads of kids who grew up in the '70's, I too was bewitched by the husky-voiced Ms.Arthur. She was sexy, funny and a great singer to boot. She and her then-husband Dave appeared in 'Play Away' - a spin-off from the B.B.C. children's show 'Play School' - which graced Saturday afternoons from 1971-84.
Whereas 'School' only featured two presenters ( as well as toys such as Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Hamble and the unforgettable Humpty ) and was semi-educational in content, 'Away' had the appearance of a child's birthday party that had been gatecrashed by students weaned on Music Hall humour. Brian Cant, Derek Griffiths, Johnny Ball, Carol Chell, Anne-Marie Hackett and others left no corny gag untouched over the course of the series ( many were prefaced with 'I say, I say, I say...' and were punctuated by the honking of motor horns ). Songs featured too, of course. Jonathan Cohen usually sat at the piano.
Several presenters went on to bigger things, including Anita Dobson, Julie Covington, Tony Robinson, and Jeremy Irons. I used to catch the show ( it often followed the B.B.C.-2 afternoon film ) while nervously waiting for Jon Pertwee's 'Dr.Who' to get underway on B.B.C.-1. One could not help but be charmed by its naivety, and what a shame someone cancelled it for being 'old hat' when 'Blue Peter' is still running. With modern-day presenters being barely out of their teens, it makes me glad children's television in those days was largely free of ageism.
I recently called at my sister's home and found my seven year old niece watching C.B.B.C. What I saw and heard made my blood run cold. An animated man was playing a tune by simultaneously breaking wind at both ends. This may strike some as hysterical, but I found it unfunny and pathetic, and my niece seemed to think so too. How sad that children's television has descended to this moronic level. There's enough of that kind of rubbish in the so-called 'adult' comedy shows. I share Floella Benjamin's ( now a Lib Dem peer! ) concerns. The genre is trying too hard to compete with computer games. Children are being bombarded with images at a rate that is quite worrying. 'Play Away' made me think the world was a nice place, and in its own silly way injected sunshine into the lives of a lot of children. As she rightly says: "don't give them what they want, give them what they need.".
The 'Play Away' title sequence featured an animated plane ( flown by a Biggles-lookalike ) whose vapour trails spelt out the show's name. Oh yes, that theme song went like this: "it doesn't matter if its raining or its fine, as long as you find the time to P-L-A-Y Play Away, Play Away etc.". I watched a complete episode thanks to the B.B.C.'s Archive Trial in 2007 ( now why don't they bring that back? ) and found it had lost none of its appeal.
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