Summertime kids’ TV – is it better or worse than in the 80s?

David Brown misses the days of The Red Hand Gang and Silas. Do you?

It’s that time again: PE kits are back for their annual wash, school reports have been issued (does anyone understand those grading levels?) and class reps are panic buying flowers for the teacher. Now all that stretches before us is the gaping maw of the summer holidays, the pressures of which have become enormous. 


Back when I was young (cue Dvorak’s New World Symphony), all I expected was the odd choc-ice and a couple of nights at the Glan Gwna Holiday Park in north Wales. The rest of the time was spent slumped in front of the TV watching The Red Hand Gang. 

Nowadays, it’s all ceramics-painting and National Trust visits – “Oh, you must go to Ightham Mote,” someone on the school run said to me. “The children spend more time there than they do in their back garden. They don’t even ask for television in the holidays.” 

Even I, who didn’t shift from the settee from the start of The Monkees to the end of Why Don’t You?, feels hidebound to buy into this philosophy. Screen-time in our house has become rationed while school’s out: my eldest, for instance, gets an episode of Horrible Histories if he does recorder practice for 45 minutes and attempts something creative like building a teepee in his bedroom. 

But maybe I’d be more lenient if holiday telly was more distinctive. During July and August, all CBBC seems to do is series-stack its greatest hits like a DVD box set, which just gives kids more of what they get the rest of the year round. 

Where are the equivalents of the weird and wonderful creations that baffled 1980s school-age children during humid mornings? Things like Silas, a German drama in which a filthy urchin escaped from the circus on a black steed in order to seek a life of adventure? Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Canadian/German co-production that seemed to be about 250 episodes long? 

This last series inspired me to run away from home barefoot while wearing a pair of denim dungarees and my dad’s straw hat that I’d distressed with a pair of scissors. I got half way round the block before realizing there was no money in my chest pocket and that I hadn’t set the video to record Battle of the Planets. 

These were programmes that wouldn’t be shown during the school term, but saved specially for the summer months. What incentive is there to book time in front of the TV when there’s no variation in CBBC scheduling? It’s no wonder that parents across the land are being forced into ruining their dining tables with glitter glue and their lawns with supersoaker guns when offbeat foreign dramas with badly dubbed dialogue are missing from our screens. 


Summertime kids’ TV has only become shameful because it’s so samey. If The Flashing Blade were on next week then it would be a very different story indeed.