CBeebies Bedtime Stories has become quite the popular TV event, with the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy and Bridgerton’s very-own Regé-Jean Page taking to the studio each night to read some of our favourite childhood tales.
Simple, but effective, the show manages to tick both boxes – giving children a cute and educational story before bed time, and offering parents a little catch-up with some of their favourite TV stars, who each bring something a little different to the show.
In a clip from Tom Hiddleston’s CBeebies Bedtime Stories, the Loki star signed off his reading of Supertato by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet by saying: “Wow, that little pea caused a lot of mayhem! But luckily, Supertato was there to save the day! And now it’s time for you to go to sleep. Perhaps you’ll dream of mischievous villains, or brave superheroes tonight. Good night little peas.”
Meanwhile, Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds ended his reading of 1960s picture book, Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, with the statement: “Sometimes even the wildest creatures need to settle down with the people they love and go to sleep. Goodnight, Wild Things.”
So, what exactly goes into making CBeebies Bedtime Stories? And how much input do the stars actually have – does Reynolds just go around calling everyone “Wild Things” or was this a part of the script?
RadioTimes.com spoke to executive producer John Harkins, who took us behind the scenes of CBeebies Bedtime Stories and what goes into getting the recipe right.
Here’s what he told us.
Celebrity readers are often chosen by fans
With an A-list line-up of readers, you might wonder who gets to decide on the celebrity storytellers. Well viewers will be happy to hear they have a lot more say than they may have thought, with many suggestions for readers coming directly from the audience.
Harkins explains: “We have a great social media team that works for us and CBeebies, and they often put it to the audience, like, ‘Who would you like to see read Bedtime Stories?’ The list that comes back is quite illuminating and we like to listen to our audience. They have recommended some readers we will be approaching in the coming weeks…”
Readers are selected based on times and events in the year
Harkins says they like to pick celebrities who are working on events at that point in the year.
“We’re just trying to get a really broad spread of different people or different faces to read different stories or have a theme that represents or reflects the time of year or certain events that are happening. So we try to really go for the broadest range of readers in the broadest range of stories,” he says.
“With the Olympics, we spotted an Olympic runner a while back and we planned that way back, but we tend to keep an open mind and just keep looking for people really.”
The celebrities become a CBeebies version of themselves
We might see some of the biggest names reading on CBeebies Bedtime Stories, but Harkins tells us each celebrity turns into a different version of themselves when they step inside the BBC studios.
He says: “The formula for Bedtime Stories is the unexpected, yet well-known people reading amazing stories that are beautifully illustrated. So, sometimes I wonder what this person will be like reading a bedtime story, and almost every time we’re surprised by what they do. You’ve got people like Tom Hardy, who’s this sort of Hollywood blockbuster, A-list actor, but once he’s in the CBeebies world he becomes CBeebies Tom Hardy, so it’s great to see those people in our world, too!”
There’s only 15 to 20 new readers a year
Although CBeebies Bedtime Stories airs every single day, there are actually only a handful of new readers each year.
“At Bedtime Stories, we have a very small, perfectly formed team – we have two producers, a researcher and the executive producer, and we produce around about 15 to 20 new stories every year. Although it’s on 365 days a year at 6:50pm, we tend to produce about 20 new ones [or] new readers each year. Each reader will do a couple of stories for us,” Harkins reveals.
Readers add their own “spark” to stories
Some of the stories might be traditional fairytales, but that doesn’t mean the celebrities can’t switch it up a little bit and add their own little spark to the stories – and they sure do, with Tom Hiddleston joking during his read of Supertato: “I should be so Loki” in reference to his Marvel character.
However, the producers do write an intro and outro for each story.
“Every story, our producers tend to write a little intro and an outro to the story that reflects the theme of the book and the theme of the story. The story itself has been written and illustrated by the author and the illustrator,” Harkins explains.
“But sometimes, the readers will bring their own little nuances or little special little moments, and that’s what makes Bedtime Stories a real treat when our readers add that extra little spark. Again, it’s a really nice surprise. We tend to write the intros and outros for for the readers, but as soon as they give a little extra little sparkle, that’s when it’s magic.”
It doesn’t take that long to film
Harkins reveals that most stories are read in “real time” and they very rarely have to re-shoot stories.
“They just read it in real time,” he says. “Their time is really precious, so we don’t get huge amounts of time to spend with any of our brilliant readers. They’re all amazingly professional, which just makes things a lot simpler, but sometimes they just read from the book and occasionally they know those stories so well, they don’t even need to look at it.”
After this, an edit takes place where the producers add sound effects.
Harkins continues: “It’s a very powerful and really simple format, so actually it doesn’t need a lot of production. It’s just very simplistic, yet effective, It’s a well-known person reading the beautiful story and that’s all you need.”
The future is bright for Bedtime Stories
John hopes to keep going with the children’s series, and the key is getting the right readers to tell the right stories.
“I think what we try to do with Bedtime Stories is always look for new readers or new scenes,” he says. “Yes we’ve got Tom Hardy and we’ve had some really big names, but also we’ve had some really important and effective readers to tell stories that we love to talk about, too.
“So Floella Benjamin and Gregory Porter did an amazing piece where he actually sang a story, and we had Will Young read. So it’s also a really special moment for us when we can really tell some different stories to different people, and look for new ways of being able to deliver that.”