BBC1: 1pm – 6pm

By Jack Kibble-White

First published April 2000

“Good afternoon and welcome to the BBC News at One” Anna Ford begins quite portentously. Once again the line-up has been shuffled and the Welfare Benefits crackdown story assumes lead status. It is initially difficult to understand its elevation in importance, unless the Government spin machine has been at work to ensure a higher profile for their latest initiative as the day has progressed. The tone of the One O’clock News is less knowing then the 6am broadcast, and there is little or no overt editorialising. Just about all the filmed reports are new, even when the story is much the same. Ford’s interviewing technique may ensure that difficult questions are asked yet – throughout the several interviews she conducts over the course of the half-hour – she displays no appetite to probe issues in any depth. This is a news broadcast designed to be watched whilst you are engaged in some other activity, and therefore, Anna does not wish to complicate matters. Philip Avery’s weather broadcast is as innocuous as it has been all morning.

Adopting the same general presentation as its parent programme, Reporting Scotland struggles today with its top story (Blair’s speech at the Scottish Parliament) as interviewee David Porter is drowned out by a background noise of school children. Traditional BBC reporter clichés abound (e.g. Talking of Glasgow’s “grey dawn breaking” in best Buerke style), still this is a relatively brisk, inoffensive jaunt through Scottish news, with a predictably Glasgow bias.

Neighbours starts off with a reprise of a lame cliff-hanger. The patois and contrivance betray this series has changed very little since I last tuned in. Though easy to mock and lampoon, you must concede that Neighbours is a televisual phenomenon – for a return on your investment, it is hard to beat. Ozzie soap rules still apply (men on the pull consistently get put down by strong willed ladies, and respect is demanded from everyone) and as a vintage Neighbours watcher it is easy to spot recycled plot lines and characters. Today’s episode is mainly played for laughs as two of the guys attempt to score some chick action by telling tall tales. From kick-off it is evident they are heading for a fall. A local cricket match is held, complete with female cricketer and inevitable sporting montage as she hits run after run (to quite agreeable hoe-down background music, which ultimately descends in to risible Oz rock). The Ramsay Street team lose at the final ball, but there is no build up to this moment and the episode is allowed to conclude as innocuously as it began.

Quincy is shoehorned into the Kick The Habit season. Typical dramatic contrivances abound as the good doctor finds himself appearing on a chat show with a major promoter of an evil crash diet. Why is it TV dramas cannot “do” realistic looking TV programmes? Predictably, Quincy loses his cool on the chat show (in fine style it has to be said), and the episode begins to play out a rather interesting argument regarding the integrity of the individual versus the integrity of his work, quickly followed by a debate on the First Amendment (as Quincy discovers he cannot outlaw a dieting book that he believes to be dangerous). Quincy finds himself in court attempting to prove that his latest slab victim died as a result of the “All Pro” diet, but losing that particular bout he is challenged to reappear on said chat show to retract his criticisms of crash dieting. However, when one of the diet-ees appears on the show and collapses, Quincy’s battle is won for him. A rather convenient and underwhelming conclusion. Still, this has been the most pleasant surprise of the day so far.

In Orain agus Rannan the lack of subtitles makes it very difficult to understand what is going on, but the first of these short Gaelic children’s programmes seems to have something to do with watches and time. Conspicuously the backdrop for this programme is rugged, rural and Scottish (complete with fishing boat). Unpleasantly hatted presenters also seems to be something particularly peculiar to Gaelic programming. Coinneach is an animated adventure of a young boy dreaming of going to the circus. Adequately animated, it would probably stand translation to any language as there appears to be nothing intrinsically Gaelic about the titular toddler. Predictably, this is a cartoon with a message: Coinneach employs his imagination to create a pretend circus in his own home, and thus we leave him, a contented soul.

Dotaman is one of the mainstays of BBC Gaelic broadcasting, Play School in another language. Once again a crazy hatted presenter embarrasses themselves enthusing over a picnic hamper. While the studio resembles the mighty ‘School with its stark blue simplicity, the ubiquitous fishing boat still manages to make an appearance. A quick song followed by a story ensure that the Cant/Benjamin/Griffiths/Ball mould is never once broken. Animated froggy adventures in An Doingealan bring to a conclusion today’s Gaelic broadcast.

Michael and Emlyn (some kind of bizarre puppet) kick off Children’s BBC proceedings at high speed before the Tweenies appear and dive straight in with a Hi-NRG number. It is difficult to work out exactly what the Tweenies are meant to be, where they live or what’s going on. In this particular episode they are enjoying the wind, when old Tweenie Max gives them a Riverdance version of Michael Finnigan. The arbitrary filmed insert of children doing something (in this case flying kites) follows, and the programme ends with Max reading a story to the other Tweenies. Infants’ TV has changed very little since Pipkins. Except Inigo’s programme never ended with a URL.

With a theme tune that is surely a rip off of Animaniacs, Pocket Dragon Adventures appears to exploit the cute Godzooky type characters that were always beloved of your sister. Some of the jokes here are relatively mature requiring the viewer to have some familiarity with the Western genre as well as an understanding of what insomniac means. The workmanlike computer-driven animation is set in an Arthurian backdrop, and revolves around a pair of glasses being worn by Specs (one of the pocket dragons) that causes him to suffer from delusions. None of the Pocket Dragons possess an interesting enough personality to make them stand out in this unremarkable cartoon series. Scrappy Doo and the New Shmoo will not feel too threatened by this bunch (worse luck).

Michael and Emlyn squash the end credits to illegibility and a yellow banner at the foot of the screen emblazons their e-mail address and fax number. Interestingly, this pair pass little or no comment on the programmes they are introducing. Hububb stars Les, some kind of cycle courier. Over the top sound effects accompany Les and Mikey’s increasingly bizarre conversation which before we know it leads in to some kind of James Bond spoof, with Les daydreaming he is a diamond thief. This is zany and crazy but fails to be funny at any point. It does – however – revisit a common children’s TV theme – that of the power of imagination. So ultimately worthy I suppose.

Rotten Ralph is an ugly claymation of a programme this is about a horrible cat and is therefore probably popular with the kids. The fact that he’s a wise cracking kind of feline (like a manic Garfield) who finds his family’s activities boring makes him positively heroic from a child’s point of view. Like much of the output of CBBC thus far, there is something very insubstantial – yet garish – about this offering, and at times Ralph is also a little reminiscent of Charlie (from the ’70s Public Information Films). The usually annoying squashing of the end credits is a merciful relief.

But what’s this? For no reason Live & Kicking‘s Steve Wilson has occupied the CBBC studios instead of Michael (who didn’t even get a chance to say “Goodbye”) and cues Home Farm Twins. In contrast to the above, this looks a lot more wholesome. John Dower lushly directs Jeremy Front’s adaptation of Jenny Oldfield’s book which today concerns an abandoned pony discovered by David Moore and his twin daughters on a camping expedition. Bright colours still abound, but here at last is something approaching naturalism. The twins themselves are rather irritating, particularly with their over enthusiastic back of the car singing, and silly old dad has predictable difficulty erecting a tent. Still this is inoffensive stuff, with luscious shots of woodland complete with penetrating shafts of sunlight. Sadly, it ends before it ever really gets going.

Short Change forms part of the Kick The Habit initiative and is the first of today’s “pretend grown-up” programmes. Presenters Otis (I thought that was the Aardvark) and Kirsten O’Brien populate the Short Change office making it clear that this is basically junior-Watchdog. The first item concerns two kids who were thrown out of a shopping centre for wearing school uniform. The manager’s apology is awkward and badly framed. From here on in its déjà vu all the way. Rhodri Owen’s investigation of Pokémon trading cards is a timeless item – just replace Pokémon with any craze over the last twenty-five years and the content of the report remains the same. A report on under age smoking also re-heats an age-old issue (complete with kids being sent in to shops to try and buy cigarettes). Then it’s fan clubs, and by now memories of Saturday Superstore‘s consumer features are paramount in the mind. Are the viewers being short-changed? I suppose not; most of the issues covered remain relevant, and it is doubtful whether many of the intended target audience recall the crusading zeal of Jackie Gunn.

Newsround has gone all MTV News since I last checked it out and looks as if grown up reporters have been completely abandoned. Though the content of the first report on Mozambique retains the earnest style resplendent of the BBC, alarmingly a significant chunk of the programme is occupied with reader’s e-mails. Not news surely? Though stripped of all economic and political stories, much of the programme successfully adheres to today’s BBC news agenda.

Grange Hill is the latest edition of today’s oldest programme. For those of you who don’t know, Grange Hill looks quite plush these days – yet a lot of the concerns remain the same. So we have a “Tegs” character (abandoned by his parents) and yet another teacher-pupil relationship on the boil. However, the most characteristic thing about Grange Hill 2000, is just how much it short-changes its viewers (quick call Kirsten). Writer Judy Forshaw attempts to write TV that the kids won’t be embarrassed to watch. Yet, structurally Grange Hill is all over the shop. I would defy anybody to be able to track how much time passes over the course of the episode, as scene after scene plays out with little reference to time or space. The makers of Grange Hill have obviously guessed that kid’s have difficulty keeping up with “adult drama”, therefore, such confusion in their own programmes will obviously be accepted as an indicator that what they are watching is “grown up”.

This is particularly apparent in the conclusion to this episode, involving the discovery of some bones on a camping trip. Our heroes’ immediate reaction is to contact the police, but this decision is not preceded by any kind of discussion as to exactly what they’ve found, or even a cursory attempt to confirm that their discovery is indeed what they assume it to be. Then it gets worse. The splitting of the group (with the majority heading off to contact the authorities) allows two of the characters the privacy to establish a bond, obviously essential to the furtherance of this year’s main story. Yet upon the return of the others there is no mention as to whether or not they actually contacted anyone, or what the next step should be. The development of the plot line has been completed, and therefore the contrivance, which split the group in the first place, appears able to be completely discarded. One suspects that writers are briefed as to the required movement in the series plot but are advised that these can be achieved in any manner.

So CBBC concludes for the day with a trailer for Live & Kicking, and some more boring letters and e-mails from viewers. Curiously (as once pointed out on an edition of Points of View) the 5.35pm episode of Neighbours is still billed as lasting five minutes longer then the earlier edition.

<6am – 6pm