Cherished Childhood TV Memories of Brian Cant…
Reviewing 5 of my TV favourites from a much-loved Children 70’s name… yet he’s a man for all ages.
One of the good things about having a retro loving, slightly younger English man as your best friend and Darlin’ Husband is that he 8 times out of 10 will remember the same British childhood TV. Where as he might not remember the same Blue Peter (1958-) presenters as you, there are a few of the more famous names of the 1970s that he will recall. So we both felt part of our childhood had been taken away when he told me that Brian Cant had passed away.
Brian Cant was part of my childhood from when I was really, really wee (not last week). I saw him as a presenter for two kids shows, Play School and Play Away. One of which has a lasting influence on me, the other a cause for a personal endless
sad debate which so far only Darlin’ Husband has agreed on (unless he’s just wanting a quiet life).
Cant also narrated three shows, which have also been the cause of debate, fallings out and confusion since then by the kids who watched them. So on with my wee tribute to this big name of the 1960s and beyond for us 1970s British kids.
Play School (1964-88)
Brian Cant – Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree, dunebasher1971
I was surprised – and happy – to learn that this show lasted 24 years, with Cant at the helm for 21 of these. I can still visualise and remember the introduction to this programme. This show which Cant presented alongside famous names of that time started with “A house with a door, windows, 1 2 3 4, ready to play, what’s the day? It’s…”.
This show was a kind of Blue Peter crossed with Jackanory (1965-96) for the little pre school uns. Other notable presenters included Emma Thompson’s parents Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law, Derek Griffiths, Floella Benjamin and Toni Arthur. Along with the story read by big names – that are admittedly only recognised now – such as Cilla Black, Val Doonican. Rolf Harris and Roy Kinnear.
The show taught you songs with actions notably Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Underneath the Chestnut Tree and other ones. That you might remember from your youth – or when your mum and dad sang it to you – and probably taught you the actions.
There was also the famous windows, round, square and arched, and looking through one of these – via the show – you could see a wee kiddy orientated documentary on what happens in a milk bottle factory and other more exciting things. And you got a wee story too. The other main stars were the toys… Hamble, Humpty, Jemina, Big and
Wee Little Ted.
However, it was Play School that my mother sat me in front of as a post-7-year-old (as maybe much later). Tired and weary of teaching me how to tie my shoelaces, I assume she hoped the TV could help where she had failed to get this activity into my wee head. Meanwhile, my head was possibly more concerned with more important worldly matters such as who shot J.R. in Dallas (1978-91) or what the next Blue Peter dog would be called (age pending).
Play Away (1971-84)
28 October 1974 BBC1 – Play Away trailer, The TV Museum
This dear reader was – up until the invention of the internet – a constant source of debate for me. For years I was convinced that EastEnders (1985-) Anita Dobson was a presenter. So settling that debate
in my head now, and she did in 1981.
As Brian and us seventies kids moved on in age we watched this, it was a bit like Play School but without the toys, more presenters and more songs. Also starred many an actor and actress see Jeremy Irons, Tony Robinson and Nerys Hughes. Cant was one of the main presenters alongside Floella Benjamin and Cant was also reunited with other Play School alumni and Johnny Ball.
Trumpton (1967-), Camberwick Green (1966-) and Chigley (1969-)
Trumpton opening titles, sambomcl
Brownie points if you can tell the differences between these. I’m sure there is some magic formula to remember them that Brian Cant had been keeping secret for years. Cant narrated all 3 adding to the confusion and debate on which was which. These series centred on the inhabitants of these places but made with similar puppets and using stop motion techniques.
As far as I know, there were no crossover episodes, but as they were all the same ilk there could have been and I wouldn’t have noticed. These series were made in succession but possibly shown in a more random way in my childhood.
One had a music box that revealed who the story was about. Luckily with Wikipedia on hand, I can reveal this show was Camberwick Green. And with this music box introduction and Cant’s narration was lovingly parodied in Life on Mars (2006-8) with Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler. It featured characters including Windy Miller, probably an unfortunate nickname for many a seventies kids with this surname and a military school named Pippin Fort.
Trumpton however started with a shot of a clock telling the time (and therefore possibly another way my desperate mother hoped I’d learn to tell the time). And this as part of this trilogy, the one with the fire station (10 points for remembering that) with a bonus 10 points remembering the firemen’s names as “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub.”
Last but not least was Chigley, the series which ended with a dance for the occupants of the show. And which may have been the cause for many a childhood confusional case. Wikipedia tells me now, this series was famous for having “guest stars” from the other two shows. And reuse of their songs. So congratulations if you were able to differentiate all 3, which I’m sure only Brian Cant could.
Finally, on reading Cant’s credits from an adult viewing perspective I was surprised to learn that he like some other famous childhood presenters had starred in Doctor Who (1963-). Other names including Blue Peter‘s Peter Purves and The Liver Birds’ Nerys Hughes (again).
I wasn’t surprised to learn Cant was in Casualty (1986-), the long running medical A and E series where it is more like spot the potential accident then the star victim from way back when.. which did surprise me as it’s still going. And probably still with Charlie – yawn – as a charge nurse.
However, the biggest surprise has to go to Cant being cast in a movie, called A Feast at Midnight (1994) which stars amongst others Robert Hardy, Edward Fox, Michael Gove (the politician) and… Christopher Lee. This sounds like a film well worth getting your teeth into, for the Cant and his contemporaries alone…