Produced by Anne Wood for Yorkshire TV, it has a deceptively simple format. Each week six books are presented by Tom Baker as `something you might like to read’. He is enthusiastic but treats his audience as equals rather than coming the superior adult or jolly uncle. Dramatised extracts, stills or illustrations with voice-over readings give just a taste of each book. It’s pure magic.
Magic of a special kind for children it seems. Anne Wood explains: `We filmed The Little Mermaid (on Scarborough beach!) for the last series and we got letters saying “I liked the bit where the mermaid’s tail melted and disappeared” – but we didn’t show that on the film. Who says television blunts children’s imagination?’
The second series brought over 10,000 letters (75% of them from children). Anne Wood again: `They came from all sorts of children, lots from homes without books. They write about the books, of course; but they also send money for books. We had to have a notice saying, “please go to your bookshop.” Then they write, “We tried the bookshop – they’d never heard of it.” The saddest letters are from kids who’ve got the books but can’t read them. I realise this is a problem with this sort of programme. I usually say, “Take it to school and get your teacher to read it aloud.”‘
When Joy Whitby (executive producer at Yorkshire TV and pioneer of children’s TV) put the idea for The Book Tower to the ITV Children’s Committee the response apparently was less than wildly enthusiastic. How could children, just home from school, want to watch something about books! The award, plus 6-7 million viewers, have changed all that. But The Book Tower has not only jolted stereotyped assumptions about what children will watch, it has also, for lots of children, changed the way they look at books.
`We make the programme for kids who like books and we have to be true to our subject matter – books. But we also try to be as entertaining as we can and hope that anyone will want to watch. In fact we’re getting a lot of children on the fringe of books. It’s aimed at 8 to 13-year-olds but is watched by 4 to 18-year-olds (and grandparents). Librarians write to say, “Thank you for moving good books off the shelf.”‘
Thank you indeed to women (why is it always women?) like Joy Whitby, Anne Wood and Anna Home (BBC) for refusing to accept that young viewers are only interested in pop and pap, and for insisting that books arc not something you escape from, but something you can escape into.
Let’s hope the success of The Book Tower gives us more programmes about children’s books on radio (Junior Bookshelf?) and TV.
The Book Tower returns for a new eight-week series in Christmas week. We will have details for you of the books to be featured well in advance.
The Woofits – a greetings card spin-off!
From greetings cards (yes, greetings cards) to ITV to Collins Cubs. Apparently the Woofits have `an enormous following’. Either I haven’t been frequenting the right stationers or Woofit-appeal is confined to the north of England (Yorkshire to be precise) whence they come.
Anyway Michael Parkinson `finds them irresistible’ and has diversified Michael Parkinson Enterprises Ltd into writing for children or, as the press release puts it, `weaving stories around these improbable furry beings’. The Woofits are certainly furry. They are also unfunny, flatly-written and stereotyped. On a greetings card furry is enough – for books give me Paddington or Little Grey Rabbit who are furry plus – and also in Collins Cubs, 40p each.
In View In Brief
The Bagthorpes serial has been postponed to early 1981 (BBC). Flambards is due back for a re-run in the autumn (Yorkshire TV).
1. The start of a 26-part serial of Heidi (BBC). A European production dubbed into English.
2. The Trials of Worzel Gummidge (Southern TV). 13 half-hour episodes.
3. Fair Stood the Wind for France, H. E. Bates, is in the BBC `Love Story’ series.
Coming this autumn, Priestley’s The Good Companions – a serial adapted by Alan Plater (Yorkshire TV).
For the youngest
Bod is back on the screen this month. Bod books by Michael and Joanne Cole, Methuen, 40p.
A successor to last year’s Watch and based on the very popular BBC Schools TV series. Topics included – Robinson Crusoe, farming, ancient Egypt, zoos. Songs, information and ideas, clearly presented – Macdonald Educational, £2.95.
The Latchkey Children
by Eric Allen (OUP) is now an ITV serial from Thames. The story of five children taking on the G.L.C. in a fight to save the tree in their local playground (the Council wants to given them a nice concrete railway engine instead) was first published in 1963. It’s dated superficially – sausage, tomato and beans in the King’s Road for 1/4 (7p) – but it’s still a good read. There’s a paperback version available from Magnet, 80p.
For younger readers who’ve seen the film but can’t read the long novel The Empire Strikes Back, Armada have two picture storybooks featuring the Star Wars characters – The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot, 0 00 691645 7, 85p, and The Maverick Moon, 0 00 691646 5, 85p.