You grew up in the 1970s – how do you remember children’s television?
ALEXANDER ARMSTRONG Some of it was stonky and some was just odd. Take Roobarb: it was chaotic and jaggedy. The animation, the music – the whole thing was a slap in the face in every sense. But I was a big fan of Danger Mouse. If you could have interviewed me then and said to young Alexander Armstrong, “One day your job will be to do the voices for Danger Mouse,” I think my response would have been “Wow!” For that boy, this is a dream come true.
RICHARD OSMAN I was very into snooker when I was young, so my dream come true was to pot the black that Steve Davis missed at the final of the 1985 World Snooker Championship. And it happened, they set it up for me and I got it! But Danger Mouse was also good, because you could watch it with your family; there was something for the grown-ups as well. The best children’s television has that quality. Sitting in front of the television with your mum and dad can be a really happy thing. You’ll remember seeing them laugh for ever. That’s why Dad’s Army was so good when I was a kid.
Like Dad’s Army, the best British comedy shows are said to be about social class – is that true of children’s television?
AA I think that in many ways Danger Mouse is a classless figure. He’s a mouse. That’s a social class of its own really. Though I suppose his sidekick Penfold is a hamster – that’s a difference.
And you two are from quite different social backgrounds as well…
AA You’re going to say that I was a natural BBC watcher as a child and Richard was an ITV watcher. Aren’t you?
We had imagined your childhood viewing arrangements would be slightly more palatial than Richard’s.
AA Yes, I had a butler who came slowly across the room to where I was sitting and said, “Your channel changer, young master.” And we watched Blue Peter. In fact, Blue Peter was what we set the rhythm of the week by. We had Peter Purves, of course, but ours was the generation where Lesley Judd came in for Valerie Singleton. And we got a bit of John Noakes before he went. We can say that we’ve had Noakes in our lives.
Armstrong voices Danger Mouse, Osman Professor Strontium P Jellyfishowitz in the new show
And which was your incarnation of Doctor Who?
RO We were the Tom Baker period. Then from him it went into Peter Davison. I think I stayed for that jump but Baker was a great Doctor.
AA Actually, early Saturday-evening television was great. That’s when you had American live-action series.
RO I liked the way they navigated from the afternoon into the light-entertainment shows in the evening via something like The Dukes of Hazzard.
AA Yes, Daisy Duke in sawn-off jeans. I think that was my favourite children’s television programme.
It wasn’t strictly children’s television…
AA Yes it was. It was just on a Saturday night.
Sorry, you can’t have The Dukes of Hazzard as your favourite children’s TV programme.
AA OK, if I have to change I will have Willo the Wisp with Kenneth Williams.
RO The British were great at those short animated shows for children, sometimes quite strange. I’m going to pick Ivor the Engine.
You’ve both got children. Do you think kids today are missing out?
RO No, children’s television today is much better. In fact, it’s never been better. Television is good for you. I watched lots and lots of television as a child.
AA And look at him now…
Yet recent research by Cambridge University suggests television is bad for children’s intellectual development.
RO Yes I saw that. [It claimed that] for every hour children watch television there is a reduction in their chance of getting good GCSEs. But that’s all right; if you watch Pointless it will make up for any damage caused.
…even by hours of watching children’s TV?
AA Yes, Pointless has a reverse effect. It will actually make children cleverer if they watch it. I can definitely say to young people now that if you watch Pointless you are more likely to pass your science and geography GCSEs. We have a sense of mission about what we do.
RO It really is public service broadcasting.
AA That said we’re often surprised by the grown-ups who come on the show not knowing stuff.
What, they have poor general knowledge?
AA No, they don’t know their own areas of expertise.
RO American literature is the worst. People who say American literature and then can’t name an American author or book. But at least they’re nice. I would say that 95 per cent of people in television are nice – very nice even.
AA Let’s not talk about the other five per cent.
Danger Mouse begins on the CBBC channel tonight (Monday 28th September) at 6.00pm