Lowry children's exhibition is nod to the past

Children watch Andy Pandy in 1950 A mute Andy Pandy captivates his audience of 1950s children

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Very few childhood memories remain as vivid as the characters that inhabited our infant imaginations. Many of them came from television - from a nodding Andy Pandy and a pink-striped cat named Bagpuss to modern inventions such as Bob the Builder and a very blue Igglepiggle.

An exhibition at the Lowry in Salford will explore the history of children's broadcasting at the BBC from 1922 onwards, an experience that will be heavy on nostalgia but will also touch on the future.

It's the idea of Robert Seatter, the BBC's history manager, who is doubling up as the curator of the exhibition called Here's One We Made Earlier. 'I have long wanted to do something on the history of children's broadcasting,' Seatter tells Ariel, 'mainly because it's that first emotive moment when you encounter broadcasting and it remains seminal and luminous and special.'

He explains that the idea for children's broadcasting originated with John Reith, who believed it 'kept them off the streets'. Whether that's true is a matter of opinion, but few can dispute the pulling power of children's radio and television and the characters it inspired.

£6250 Humpty

Humpty, the 20-inch, egg-shaped character from Play School, recently sold at an auction held by Bonhams for £6,250. This was well over the auction house's estimate of £1,200.

Humpty Humpty fetched over £6000 at auction

It's iconic characters like him that will appear as part of the exhibition, which is being organised by genre. Each of the zones will have a catchphrase title such as Was it Bill or Ben?, Are You Sitting Comfortably? or It's Friday and it's Five to Five. A future zone will be dedicated to children's broadcasting in the multimedia age.

The purpose of the exhibition is to explore how these programmes have helped shape a British child's imagination. 'It's very much for a family audience,' says Seatter, who collaborated with BBC Children's to mount it. 'It's tapping into a national memory … so kids get an experience and come away with more of an understanding of children's broadcasting and how this has had an impact on who we are.'

He adds that there is nothing academic or intellectual about it. Part of the exhibition includes television reviews written by local schoolchildren, who were shown programmes from the past. It's his hope that the exhibits will spark conversation and, of course, memories for both grown-ups and children.

The exhibition is being tied to a poll - run by the Radio Times in conjunction with the BFI - to find the nation's favourite children's character or puppet.

A shortlist of 50 characters has been drawn up - and participants are invited to vote for their favourite by decade (starting in the 1950s) and also for an overall winner. The results will be revealed in July, shortly before the Lowry exhibition opens.

Noggin the Nog

Seatter, who grew up in the 1950s, would cast his vote for Noggin the Nog, the little Viking character invented by Bagpuss and Clangers creator Oliver Postgate in the 1950s. Noggin the Nog was himself inspired by Lewis chessmen at the British Museum.

'[Oliver Postgate] always had the most extraordinary, eccentric mind and he was looking at these chessmen in the British Museum and he thought he would make a little story about them,' explains the history manager.

Noggin the Nog A still from Noggin the Nog, 1959

While the television programme - filmed in 1959 in black and white - would look basic to a child now, it captivated a young Seatter.

He still remembers how the programme (made by Smallfilms) would start with Oliver Postgate's magical words, a sequence he repeats in a hushed voice: 'In the land of the black rocks, coming out of the sea, this is the story of Noggin the Nog.'

Not all memory is absolutely fail-proof, however. Seatter admits to also loving Andy Pandy and being convinced that the puppet spoke directly to him as a child. But he never speaks, only nods. 'That really surprised me,' he says, 'because it's a distinctive memory.'

  • Here's One We Made Earlier runs from July 19 to October 12 at the Lowry in Salford.
  • Vote for your favourite BBC children's character or puppet by going to the Radio Times. The poll closes at 9am on June 30.

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