Channel 4 is open and one programme at least is for Everybody Here
It is produced by Telekation International an independent British company set up by a group of ex-BBC award-winning programme makers.
Mike Rosen who has been involved with Everybody Here from the start talked to us about it.
I was approached by Susanna Capon from TKI because they wanted to put up an idea for a children’s programme to Channel 4. She called it a programme for children with special needs. I started by asking, “What is the gap left by children’s programmes that already exist?” The biggest gap I could see going round schools whether in Hackney where I live or anywhere else was that very few programmes actually deal with the children’s lives as they experience them. There are Greek kids, Turkish kids, kids of Caribbean origin, Pakistani origin and all the rest of it. When do you actually see Greek kids talking to Greek kids on TV? When does TV ever show kids eating rice and peas? When does it ever show Vietnamese kids playing Vietnamese games? It never does. That is part of their experience but television never reflects it. It is as if the world of television was a fantasy place, somewhere else, never actually part of their lives. So we sat down and tried to conceive a programme that could actually reflect these things, reflect children’s lives in the way they actually live and perceive them.
The first important thing we decided was that it would be a mistake to have presenters. A presenter reflects the identity of a programme, interprets things from a particular viewpoint. We wanted to get away from that. We didn’t want anyone getting between the kids and what they saw. So the programme goes straight from one item to the next. Kids are used to watching the commercials; it doesn’t bother them. It’s adults who are used to having things ‘framed’ by the Parkinsons of this world.
For much the same reason we decided to dispense with a studio. Everything has been filmed on location, in streets, schools, playgrounds, homes: where the children really are. The unit worked in Belfast, Coventry, Newcastle and London.
Michael Rosen has also been working with Bodley Head on a book version of Everybody Here. It is full of stories, games, rhymes, songs, jokes, crafts, and above all photographs in full colour of people at school, at work, at home, at play. In schools it could be the starting point for a huge range of activities. The ideas are there for the taking.
The programme is very fast-moving – about ten items in 25 minutes. To help the children get to know the programme there are some items that recur in each one. There’s always a story – traditional tales from different cultures or specially written stories by people like Roger McGough, Alex Pascall and Tunde Ikoli. There’s always an item about food; there’s always something we call “The Crazy Thing” where kids play a crazy game like forking peas or blowing the longest raspberry, and they like that. And we have games where instead of beating hell out of each other like they do in British Bulldog or something kids have to co-operate with each other to make them work. We’ve got quite a few of those. In “Cooking Machine” two rows of kids hold out their arms, meet each other in the middle and pass a kid along the line. One I like is “Head to Head”. You get in pairs and the leader calls out “Finger to eyelash.” I put my finger on your eyelash and you put your finger on mine. Then it’s “bum to bum” or “elbow to elbow” or “nose to nose”. And there’s a character called Dr Smartypants, “the man who knows everything there is to know” and keeps having disasters. (That’s Mike Rosen in disguise. Ed)
A lot of the material is drawn from immigrant cultures: West Indian, African, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Jewish and so on. We have songs, rhymes, jokes, dance, crafts and, of course, food. The programmes are also multi-lingual. For instance we’ve got a poem in Bengali about Petticoat Lane. You hear it first in Bengali and then in English with images of Petticoat Lane throughout. We know many British kids are bi-lingual. “In school” is the English bit of their lives. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath all sorts of things are going on. It’s like working-class kids, some teachers think working-class kids have nothing at home and that all the important things happen at school. It’s not so.
The person who made it all come to life is Leslie Pitt, the director. I knew him from my Play School days. He has a total belief in children. He believes they can do something and they do it. I would write out some kind of preliminary first draft of a programme; then we’d go through it together seeing how we could do it. It was Les’s idea to get the kids to do pictures to illustrate some of the stories. He did all the filming.
I hope kids will enjoy watching something new, and that for many kids there will be the excitement of self-recognition. But beyond that there’s something else. Kids are more openly curious than adults about what people do. Adult views and prejudices about other people are fairly fixed. With kids you can say, “Look, the world is very diverse and interesting. Didn’t you know that?”
Everybody Here isn’t going to abolish racism. Nothing on telly will ever do that. But with a bit of luck it will create a chance in classrooms and homes for people to ask questions about other cultures, maybe despise other cultures a bit less. It might even affect attitudes to different abilities and ways of living that all people have – not just white to black. All this is implicit in the programme. We are just showing the face of British kids as they really are – in some ways the same, in other ways interestingly different. We are showing that Britain is made up of many different kinds of communities and that is something to celebrate and enjoy.
Everybody Here will return to Channel! 4 for a second ten week series in the Spring. Another children’s programme, compiled by David Wood, will follow it on Channel 4 this winter.
Everybody Here, Michael Rosen, Bodley Head, 0 370 30944 8, £3.95
In View Soon
Johnny Ball’s Think of a Number which has just come to an end on BBC 1 will be followed by two more ‘Think’ series. Think This Way will be shown on five consecutive evenings from December 6-10. Think Again, a six part series, starts on Friday January 7th at 4.40.
All on BBC 1 and good news for Puffin’s Johnny Ball’s Think Box.
For Christmas. A 100 minute adaptation of Leon Garfield’s The Ghost Downstairs (BBC 1, ‘during Christmas week, around 7 pm’) and an hour long dramatization of a Black Country ghost story, Ghost in the Water, new from Puffin. (December 29th, early evening)
Coral Island, Thames TV’s serial (ten half hour episodes) of R M Ballantyne’s ‘classic’ shipwreck story is now promised for early January. The Thames/Magnet tie-in has been available for some time, caught out by changes in programme scheduling. Both this edition and the one from Puffin are abridged ‘for the children of today’.
Also in January, Tove Jansson’s enduringly diverting Moomins will appear in 50 five minute animated films to be shown nightly for 10 weeks (Central). Puffin have a lot of re-issues ready for the rush.
For older readers, Channel 4 will be showing a series of six plays adapted from the short stories in Nadine Gordimer’s Six Feet of the Country. These powerful stories about the human consequences of apartheid could well be of interest to fifth and sixth years. (Starts November 4th)
George Layton will be reading selected stories from his own The Fib (Fontana Lions) on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour on December 23, 24, 27 and 28th.
The Dark Crystal
Published on November 18th is the children’s picture book of the ‘major fantasy film’ The Dark Crystal. (An adult novel and a book about the film come out at the same time!) The film, created by Jim Hanson (of the Muppets), Gary Kurtz (of Star Wars) and Brian Froud (The British illustrator, who did the designs) is being released in mid-February. More about all this in the January Books for Keeps.
Going Out – Jan Needle 0 00 672135 4, £1.00
Channel! 4 are going to show Phil Redmond’s Going Out previously broadcast by Southern TV about a year ago. It will now be shown on Mondays at 9.30 pm, starting on November 8th for six weeks. Going Out, based on the TV series, will be published by Fontana Lions in December.