CBeebies, the BBC’s preschool channel, has now completed its switch from BBC Television Centre, London to Media City, Salford
. There’s probably more interest in the moves of things such as BBC Breakfast
(also to Salford) and Question Time
(to Glasgow) but I think there’s something quite fascinating about the Cbeebies move, because my two year old son has just witnessed a big shift in public service broadcasting policy, played out between Bob the Builder
and Everything’s Rosie.
You see, one of the things that makes CBeebies great is that it doesn’t treat kids as fools – it just treats them as kids. That means that when the entire station moves, and the presenters with it, that is played out for the children at home and they are given a story to explain what is happening.
Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid have moved house
It’s as simple as that really. The CBeebies continuity links have always been played out on a set called “the CBeebies house” (it even has a garden – I’ve always assumed a corner of the Blue Peter Garden). Through the CBeebies links yesterday we saw the continuity team enact moving into their new “house” and unpacking their things. The change in life for the presenters (moving North) hasn’t been hidden, rather it’s been explained plainly to the pre-school audience. Look a bit further, and there’s something else interesting going on.
The differences between the old and new CBeebies houses tell a story of change. What we could see of the London CBeebies house suggested it was very much a post-war semi in a London suburb, complete with a neat if fusty garden. It was every inch the South East. It was very much the 20th Century BBC. The new CBeebies house appears to be a loft apartment in some sort of mill conversion. The feature window at the back of the set alternates images according to time of day but one that I have seen features a post-industrial skyline. This is the house that the 21st century creative economy built – it’s rising on the back of Victorian industry to provide a new adventure playground for metrosexual media types Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid, like a cartoon advert for urban dwelling on the Salford Quays, a pre-school version of Friends. This is media policy for the under-6s: we’ve moved, it’s exciting, we’re on an adventure and things are changing, come with us as we take things forward.
So while CBeebies isn’t of itself political, it wears the politics that have shaped it in plain sight. And it’s bloody marvellous.
At first I found Zingzillas unnerving for no discernible reason, then my other half cracked the key problem: it’s a programme where people have dressed up as monkeys who then dress up as people. That’s unsettling. Beyond that presentational issue, what else is going on?
The show is about music, and it does a pretty good job of introducing kids to a wide range of different musical genres through a simple narrative we find in every episode:
- The Zingzillas live on an unspecified Pacific island. They are trying to write a song for a concert called “the big zing” (stable world)
- One member of the band can’t find a way to contribute to the big zing (disruption)
- A guest band appear on the island and act as a magical donor, providing the Zingzillas with a new way of considering their problems
- The Big Zing happens, and all agree it’s the BEST ZING EVER! (order is restored, but the world is changed)
A crucial part of any Zingzillas plot is the “Coconut Clock” – a MacGuffin which creates tension in the story. Some unknown cosmic system dictates that the Big Zing must occur as soon as the Coconut Clock hits four. The Zingzillas will always perform for this clock, like Pavlov’s Popular Beat Combo, never questioning what would happen if they didn’t zing.
Pacific island? Castaways who meet enchanted visitors who help them to resolve conflicts? A bizarre existentialist problem about a countdown timer of unknown provenance?
If that sounds familiar it’s because I’ve just described seasons 1-2 of Lost.
for babies. Let’s hope they keep zinging every 4 coconuts because I’m not sure if Desmond is going to come and hit the failsafe switch for them anytime soon – he’s too freaked out about the monkeys dressed as people thing. And if you were in any doubt the island moves.
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