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Children at the Heart of the BBC's Mission

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Joe Godwin Joe Godwin | 15:17 UK time, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Children's character Andy Pandy

It’s sixty years since the BBC created its children’s department, under its first Head Frieda Lingstrom, the legendary creator of Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben. The BBC had made radio programmes for children since the twenties, and TV programmes since the television service resumed after the war. But 1950 was the moment the BBC realized that the youngest audience were not just shorter than everyone else, but also had their own needs and tastes. The ambition was to create a BBC TV schedule in miniature, with every genre represented, tailored for children. And in that sense nothing much has changed.

I’ve been Director of BBC Children’s for a year now although I’ve worked in children’s programmes for over 20.

BBC Children’s today has a very simple mission: to create unforgettable content to inspire all children across the UK – it’s not really any different from the vision of the founders of the BBC Children’s department 60 years ago – but achieving that vision is made more complicated by radically different economic, competitive and technological landscapes – and audience behaviours.

I believe that high quality television and great web content can help shape the lives of children; providing role models who can help them develop into useful and active citizens, and helping them navigate being a child in 21st century Britain.

For children today this is undoubtedly the best of times on television - with over 30 dedicated children's TV channels in the UK alone. But that explosion of choice can hide the problem with the real degree of choice that children have in their media diets. I do think Disney and Nickelodeon make programmes of the highest quality which children devour in huge numbers but children need factual programmes that equip them to grow up in the UK, and they need challenging dramas that help them explore their emotional development, and see the lives of their communities onscreen.

The children's industry is facing an enormous paradox: an apparent plethora of media choices for kids versus a shrinking economy with limited ability to create indigenous content.

If children have more choice than ever, and choose to ignore the BBC, we have no influence, and I believe our influence is essential and good. To give children the benefit of our content, we have to make it attractive to them. It’s another reason as well to stick with the goal of our founding mothers - to create broad multi-genre schedules for children – full of programmes that help children be themselves, to relax and play, and to learn and explore. And by having mixed schedules from comedy and entertainment through to tough factual programming, we increase our chances of someone who feels they’re not interested in the latter stumbling across it, and discovering that they do like it.

Characters from CBBC'S Horrible Histories

It’s a creative challenge but who would have thought that one of the most popular and talked about shows on any children’s channel in 2010 is about history (Horrible Histories)? Who could have imagined that the most watched drama on any children’s channel is based on British books about a young girl in the care system (Tracy Beaker Returns)? And who would guess that programmes about dealing with bereavement, bullying or protecting yourself online would be getting kids across the UK talking (Newsround specials).

Its an exciting time for BBC Children's - this year, for the first time I can remember, the BBC publicly stated that Children’s was one of it's five core priorities and we have been given more resources than ever before. And, next year, I shall be leading the children’s department on one of its biggest adventures to date, when we move to a new home on the banks of the Manchester ship canal.

Much will change but whatever the platform or the technology, content in the form of stimulating storytelling and inspiring information will remain king, whether the BBC makes it, independent companies make it – or perhaps not so fancifully, whether children themselves make it with us. And, for us, that content will always be distinctive UK content.

Joe Godwin is the Director of BBC Children's

You can read the speech that Joe Godwin gave at Monday's Voice of the Listener & Viewer conference
on the Press Office website.

BBC Head of History, Robert Seatter, blogs about Andy Pandy's 60th birthday.

Read Director of the North, Peter Salmon's blog posts for more about the BBC's move to Salford Quays.

Laura Murray is Editor of About the BBC Blog

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