Soon after the BBC television service resumed in 1946, the inspiring Freda
Lingstrom was put in charge of children's programming. She wanted children's
television to be a "service in miniature", offering the full range of programme
genres. Cartoons, pop and prattle may now dominate the children's
schedules, but the BBC has (in theory) maintained her intention - except
for a complete absence of religious programmes for young
In a simpler age, radio's Children's Hour was
not so frightened. Every Wednesday, the hour closed with five minutes of
prayer, usually led by the Revd John Williams of the BBC's religious staff. In
the 1980s, the BBC's religious and children's departments again combined, to
produce a Sunday-morning television series for children called
Knock Knock. Later, there was Umbrella.
Each was a medley of stories and songs, and was multifaith in concept. Such
short-lived ventures and the occasional news item on Newsround apart, both the
BBC and ITV have consigned religion for the young to their schools'
This makes a Sunday-morning documentary strand on the
channel Five all the more noteworthy. Made with the help of Christian Aid,
Rooted has just completed its third series. In each programme, a child
makes a journey to discover his or her family's religious and cultural roots.
Its success has been in making faith seem an important part of family life,
as well as explaining beliefs and traditions. This could have been done within
the context of educational broadcasting, but the effect of a classroom viewing
of a pre-recorded tape is very different from the impact of a programme that
slips unobtrusively into the living room.
The secularist (and many a television executive might accept that label)
can argue that after-school religion would be a kind of propaganda, or at least
the religious equivalent of aiming party-political broadcasts at children. Yet
Oliver Postgate (who brought Bagpuss and The Clangers to our
screens) once asked where you would start if you wished to destroy our culture.
His answer was with children's TV. Give children only what they already
know, he argued (in an essay on the internet), and "their hearts and
minds would receive no nourishment; they would come to know nothing of the
richness of human life, love and knowledge."
I would extend his argument. If they do not see, in the medium that has
most impact in their lives, faith as being "natural", even commonplace, they
will increasingly come to regard it as eccentric.
David Self was for many years a media columnist on The Listener