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Serious documentary for children on CBBC

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Damian Kavanagh Damian Kavanagh | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Almost six months ago as I began my job as controller of CBBC I was told about early plans for a new documentary series that would endeavour to provide an insight into the lives of six very different groups of children from across the UK, all with unique stories to tell.

At this time we were starting to talk about the individual subjects we wanted to cover and the series still didn't have a name.

Fast forward six months and we've taken delivery of six very different but remarkable films and the series has now been named My Life.

The first film Tough Kids followed three boys as they try to become the first children to complete the notorious Tough Guy assault course, some adults who attempt it are unsuccessful but the boys have personal reasons for wanting to succeed.

Children Of The Road: Salina, Bionce and Francesca

The Young Mayor Of Newham observes the recent battle to elect a young mayor who has their own youth cabinet and up to £25,000 to make a difference for children living in the borough.

Billboard Kids
follows four kids chosen to front the new poster campaign for facial disfigurement charity Changing Faces.

In Karate Kids we meet three disabled kids whose lives benefit significantly from their work with martial arts master Glenn.

Children Of The Road, looks at what it's like to grow up as a young Irish traveller in one of the largest travellers' camps in the UK.

The final film, My Dad in Prison attempts to find out what it's like having a father in jail for six-year-old Liam.

On a daily basis I'm still amazed by the range of programmes CBBC offers children. We provide a rich mix of programming and cover every genre you will find in the peak time schedules and I believe that serious documentary like My Life must have a home right at the heart of the CBBC schedule.

The reason for this is very simple. I believe in the power of television to open people's minds to new experiences and ideas - and to enable them learn about themselves and their place in the world.

This is particularly relevant in relation to children as they can often live in very confined worlds where their outlook and experience is limited to that of their immediate community, family and school life.

Television has the power to bring them into contact with people and aspects of life that they would not otherwise be conscious of.

This is something I'm acutely aware of as I grew up in Ireland in the 70s and 80s. Ireland then was a very different country to the one that exists today in terms of a diversity of voice and cultures.

In my day-to-day life I only came into contact with other Irish people like myself. It was the television I watched as a child that offered me my window onto the world, it allowed me to travel the globe and to learn about different cultures and to gain exposure to people and ideas I'd never encounter in my own community.

I have no doubt that the television programmes I watched as a child helped shape the person I am today.

Billboard Kids: Harry

Similarly, I believe that a lot of the CBBC audience may not come into contact with the children featured in the My Life films.

I hope that after watching films about facial disfigurement, children with extreme disability, children with parents in prison and those in the travelling community the audience will see that despite apparent differences they have so much in common with them and share the same passions, interests and concerns.

In all six films we worked hard to ensure that they were crafted in a way the CBBC audience would engage with. The stories are character-driven and we took great care to guarantee the children didn't feel marginalised.

Humour features throughout and all of the stories are optimistic in outlook. Each film centres on children who, although facing tough challenges in their daily lives, are full of confidence, hope and insight.

It's as Harry (who has extensive scarring on his face as a result of a house fire) says in the Billboard Kids film: "I just want people to know I'm an ordinary boy."

Damian Kavanagh is controller, CBBC


  • Comment number 1.

    i have really enjoyed watching this series. i was particularly moved by Karate kids and the moment where the bus driver refuses to put down the wheelchair ramp and just drives away, what was most shocking however was the reaction of the boy's mother who just shrugged her shoulders and said "its ok, it happens all the time". the heartlessness of some people is astounding and i would love to know if the bus driver was ever reported to brought to account for his actions.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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