‘Not In Front of the Children: Hidden Histories in Kids’ TV’ by Greg Healey

❉ Greg Healey takes a look at how some children’s TV favourites from the fifties and sixties reflected the times they were made in.

“Healey has really done a great deal of research… There’s a huge wealth of information contained within the book looking at all manner of social reforms from the rise of the motorway, the closing of much of the railway system by Dr Beeching, slum clearance and the introduction of high rise living and the changing role of the establishment in everyday life”

Television was still a new medium when ITV started broadcasting in 1955. The arrival of commercial broadcasters changed the face of UK TV and it brought with it a whole host of new programming for adults and kids a like.  Greg Healey uses this as the starting point for his look at the hidden histories of Children’s programming, taking a look at some of the most popular programmes that arrived between then and the arrival of UK wide colour transmissions in 1970.

This was a period of change across the UK, with the old Empire gradually breaking up and the UK struggling to define its place in the world. Meanwhile there was all manner of social reforms that changed the way we lived, travelled, were educated and the way we grew up. Healey looks at these issues through the prism of five favourite children’s TV programmes and how those shows were influenced by the times in which they were made.

Healey has really done a great deal of research into the social history of these times. There’s a huge wealth of information contained within the book looking at all manner of social reforms from the rise of the motorway, the closing of much of the railway system by Dr Beeching, slum clearance and the introduction of high rise living and the changing role of the establishment in everyday life. In many ways it feels like Healey is very much more interested in telling these stories than looking at the TV shows he’d chosen to use. This isn’t a huge criticism because he writes lucidly on what could be some potentially dry subjects. Sometimes it feels as if he’s off on a tangent, with some chapters covering similar subjects showing how history is a series of interconnected events, where one thing influences another.

What I found a little disappointing was that he limited his TV choices to four shows from this rich period of TV history. While these are great choices and really reflect the subjects Healey wants to talk about, I felt that this limited the book somewhat. While Ivor the Engine, Mary, Mungo and Midge, Mr Benn and Scooby Doo can tell us a lot about the times they were made in, there are many more with interesting things to say about this time too. Look at Chigley and contrast it with the other Trumptonshire series; that really does reflect many of the ways life in the UK were evolving at the time. With some more of these shows drawn in this could have been a really comprehensive look at the role of children’s TV in these times and made this an even more interesting read.

In many ways it feels like Healey really wanted to write a book on social history rather than about Children’s TV. As BBC Four showed a few years back with their Children’s TV On Trial series there are great stories to be told about this strand of TV programming reflecting the times they were made in. This book is a worthwhile read, especially if you have any interest in the social history of the UK in the mid- twentieth century.


Not In Front Of The Children: Hidden Histories In Kids’ TV’ is published by New Haven Publishing Ltd.

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1 Comment

  1. Be interesting to see how late ’60s Scooby-Doo in any way reflected British social history.

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