“Mr Tumble! Oi, Mr Tumble! Over here….”
The words echoed through the grey skies of Alton Towers this bank holiday weekend as Justin Fletcher – the man behind the iconic CBeebies’ clown Mr Tumble – was spotted by a group of parents as he met children and signed autographs at the opening of the theme park’s latest attraction: CBeebies Land.
Yes. That’s right. For pre-schoolers across Britain who cannot get enough of Charlie and Lola, Mr Bloom, Postman Pat, Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and of course Mr Tumble himself, heaven is a little oasis off the M1 near Uttoxeter.
Whether it’s Mr Tumble’s Sensory Garden, a Treetop adventure with the CBeebies Bugs, an In the Night Garden boat ride or the chance to watch a show with Nina of Nina and the Neurons fame or the singing apes the Zingzillas, the good folk of CBeebies and the Alton Towers resort have been working for four years to get this wonderful place going.
The leading light of CBeebies is the channel’s controller Kay Benbow, a powerhouse of a woman who in over four years in charge has not struck a duff note. Like her predecessors, she makes public service, educative programming fun and enjoyable. And CBeebies Land reflects this.
To some extent, CBeebies Land (which is free to anyone who has a ticket for the main Alton Towers resort) offers the festival vibe to under sixes. In the huge tent that dominates the at its hub, they can watch shows and engage with them. So Nina from Nina and the Neurons speaks from a pre-record while real life scientists let the children engage with experiments – making anyone who visits become the “Experimenters” from the show. Round about the place there are skittles and building blocks offering a kind of chillout area. See, I said there was a festival vibe to it….
But the children will probably remember the rides best, most impressive of which was probably the In the Night Garden boat experience. Here you travel through a mocked up night garden listening to the music and hearing from realistic statue recreations of the Messrs Upsy Daisy, Iggle Piggle and others. It certainly held my two children spellbound.
A Postman Pat ride was also talked about excitedly (see below), taking place on a recreation of Pat’s van that delivers mail in a beautifully re-created Greendale (which, as you all know, is the village from the show). Pat himself and his black-and-white cat Jess are also on hand to meet and greet outside this attraction.
Charlie and Lola’s home is also re-created in brilliant detail, meaning that children feel like they are going to the actual place featured in the book and CBeebies cartoon. There they can dress a mocked up Lola and Charlie using props attached on a magnetic board or venture further into a softplay area to muck about with plastic green balls.
More energy can be expended in Justin’s House, which recreates the look and anarchic feel from the show of the same name. Only, here there is interactive fun and mayhem with soft balls which can be fired at will from wall-mounted splat guns or catapulted into the air from vacuum powered milk churns.
My only anxiety is that some of the attractions seem quite fragile and one wonders how well they will hold up to constant use by energetic toddlers. Even after day one, some of the interactive gardening tools on show at Mr Bloom’s Allotment showed signs of wear and tear and one or two of the Justin’s House toys broke down. So this will clearly need regular and careful maintenance.
But that is only a minor gripe because this is clearly well thought out in every sense. Most obviously it means that Alton Towers, where many of the rollercoasters are only available to children over 1.2m (that’s taller than most 12 years olds) now have something of their own. It’s a good business decision but will also offer cheer to youngsters who may have felt that some of the park wasn’t for them. But the real point is that here the commercial imperative has been married very successfully to the public service brilliance of CBeebies. And the result is a triumph.
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Radio Times was hosted by Alton Towers