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The Story of When We Watched With Mother

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by Malcolm Batchelor.

This 15-minute slot for pre-school children featured some very popular series broadcast on BBC-1 during the day and grew out of the popular radio programme Listen With Mother. Across the years the pre-school strand has been a true reflection of changing times in the UK and the world in general. As the title suggests Watch With Mother was a chance for a bit of Parent-Child bonding but by the 1980’s and into the 1990’s it was more about keeping the child mind occupied until now with non-stop entertainment for the little ones it can be seen as a defacto child minder.

Through The Years

Watch with Mother was the BBC’s umbrella title of individual programmes shown on television to compliment the popular radio programme Listen With Mother.

From 1946 programmes were under the umbrella title of For The Children which had made famous Muffin The Mule with Annette Mills.

In 1950 it was replaced with a few experimental transmissions of Andy Pandy under the banner For The Very Young.

From the summer of 1950 Tuesdays became a regular day for Andy Pandy and it was shown once a week at 3.45pm until the summer of 1952 when it was shown on Thursdays as well.

In December 1952 on Wednesdays The Flowerpot Men joined this new afternoon slot. By 1953 the new umbrella title of Watch With Mother was born and Rag Tag & Bobtail entered the fray.

Picture Book

Then early in 1955 Picture Book was introduced and by December 1955 with the introduction of The Woodentops Watch With Mother was now showing programmes for pre-school children five days a week.

Monday – Picture Book.

Tuesday – Andy Pandy.

Wednesday – The Flowerpot Men. (Bill and Ben).

Thursday – Rag, Tag & Bobtail.

Friday – The Woodentops.

This line-up of programmes remained the same into the mid-1960’s. The 15-minute time slot however was moved back from 3.45pm to 2.30pm by 1959.

In 1962 the slot was moved three times, 2.00pm, 10.30am and back to 2.30pm again.

By the autumn of 1963 two slots a day had emerged with Watch With Mother now going out at 10.45am in the mornings and at 1.30pm lunchtimes.

As there were only the five programmes available they were shuffled around so that in the 1.30pm slot Rag,Tag & Bobtail was on Monday. The Woodentops on Tuesday.

Picture Book on Wednesday. Andy Pandy on Thursday and The Flowerpot Men were on Friday.

By late 1963 Tales Of The Riverbank was put in as part of the next generation of Watch With Mother programmes. Soon to be followed by The Pogles, Bizzy Lizzy, Camberwick Green, Joe and The Herbs. Then Trumpton, Chigley and Mary, Mungo & Midge bringing colour with them into the late 1960’s.

By 1966 just the 1.30pm lunchtime slot remained and this continued until 1973 when it was moved forward to 1.45pm.

Up until now Watch With Mother had been purely a weekday programme. But from 1972 a 15-minute slot was allocated to 9.00am on Saturdays and a lunchtime early afternoon slot around 1.15pm or 1.55pm on Sundays.

Into the 1970’s with Mr.Benn from 1971 and Fingerbobs from 1972.

During 1972 signs of the Watch With Mother banner in the Radio Times were becoming less and less until in 1973 the umbrella title had completely disappeared.

watch-with-mother-bagpuss

The arrival of the saggy cloth cat.

1974 saw the birth of the all-time classic Bagpuss, followed by Bod and The Mister Men in 1975 and The Flumps in 1977.

By 1978 the Saturday slot had gone and the Sunday slot was put back to 9.00am.

The Monday to Friday slot remained at 1.45pm with 1.30pm during the summer months.

In October 1980 the See-Saw banner appeared in the Radio Times for the first time for the programmes King Rollo and Bric-A-Brac.

Postman Pat made its debut in 1981.

The time slots remained as they were until 1985 when See Saw was dropped on Sundays.

Reverting back to being a Monday to Friday programme again but gaining an extra afternoon slot at 3.55pm or 4.20pm along with the 1.45pm or 1.50pm slot.

Fireman Sam made its debut in 1986.

By 1986 the See-Saw banner was showing signs of diminishing.

In the Autumn of 1987 the See-Saw slot was moved across to BBC-2 and took a 1.20pm or 1.25pm lunchtime slot only.

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From 1989 the See-Saw banner had gone completely and although programmes such as Postman Pat, Mr. Benn, and Pie In The Sky were to continue in this lunchtime slot of 1.00pm (1989), 1.20pm (1990) etc and throughout the 1990’s on BBC-2, the slot was now placed under the Children’s BBC banner and hosted a new range of programmes like Greenclaws, Joshua Jones, The Brollys, Philomena’s Cat etc. mixed in with shorter programmes (5 and 10 minutes) such as The Adventures Of Spot and PC Pinkerton.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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