CBBC Circle 

24 May 2004 tbs.pm/2003

Jonathan Bufton on branding BBC output for children

On 9 September 1985, Phillip Schofield made the first broadcast under the banner of Children’s BBC by being filmed in the continuity booth by a camera bolted to the wall.

He broadcast links in-between the programmes for less than two hours and then the strand was not seen again until the same time on the following day. On 11 February 2002, then now-CBBC launched two digital channels, and was broadcasting on BBC One and Two for around six hours. That day also marked the start of a different style of presentation and a new era for the strand that had started so humbly.

For a number of years Children’s BBC had been growing bigger and bigger. In 1994 the original “broom cupboard” setting was abandoned for presentation Studio A. Whilst many people of a certain age mourn its passing, it was in some ways inevitable.

It’s hard to imagine that set-up still being used today, so the BBC were in some ways planning ahead by quitting the format while they were still ahead. Around the same time a CBBC “Breakfast Show” was piloted by repeating a few programmes from the previous afternoon at around 7am the following morning on BBC-2. Although these initially had to fit around signed Breakfast News and The Record, these were both eventually moved to other channels and the timeslot became a fully fledged strand, on a par with the afternoon output.

In 1997 Children’s BBC moved to the new “Studio 9” at the end of the Blue Peter garden, once again a larger area to play with. Just a few months later the strand became simply CBBC on screen, although it had been referred to as such irregularly since the days of Phillip Schofield and continued to be referred to as Children’s BBC by presenters and announcers for a couple of years after that. Indeed, the email address only changed from childrens@bbc.co.uk to cbbc@bbc.co.uk in September 2001.

This change also coincided with the separation of the programmes for children under the age of six from shows for older kids, in preparation for the two new channels which would operate under this principle from the following February.

Although the two strands used the same name and presenters, the presentational styles were very different, and the idents re-edited to aim for different audiences. At this point there were still only four CBBC presenters – Michael Underwood, Liam Dolan, Angellica Bell and Adrian Dickson.

Clearly with the increase in output from the launch of the channels, the amount of presenters would vastly increase, although in the event the launch marked a fundamental shift in the style of CBBC presentational style.

The original team of four largely moved away from the main CBBC strand – Michael to CITV, Liam to GMTV, Angellica to XChange on the CBBC channel and Adrian to concentrate on the new CBBC Top 40 show (although the latter two eventually moved back to presenting links as well).

In their place was a new team, including familiar faces such as Ortis Deley (back from the brink after Live and Kicking failed to perform well the previous year), Fearne Cotton (familiar to viewers of CITV) and also Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood.

They had both presented the strand back in the Children’s BBC days but had returned the previous year as a double act in their own show Bring It On, and this clearly led to them being offered a return to the fold, previously unheard of on CBBC. Also some new faces appeared – initially only on the CBBC channel – such as Sophie McDonnell, Jake Humphrey and Barney Harwood.

However, the launch team aside, there was no longer such a tag of exclusivity attached to being a member of the CBBC presentation team. After a couple of months of operation other faces from the CBBC world started to be brought in to do the increasingly arduous presentation stints on all channels.

It was not unusual to see presenters such as Reggie Yates from the Sunday morning show Smile presenting CBBC, and then not do another set of links for quite a while. Similarly most presenters previously unique to the CBBC links would now be involved in actual programmes.

Whilst this is nothing new, the scale of connections between the CBBC presentation slots and the programmes is now like nothing ever attempted by the strand before. It is, in a way, like BBC-1 announcers replacing Alan Dedicoat on the National Lottery draws.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? As the CBBC brand extends itself, a unified appearance between the programmes and presentation is perhaps necessary. Whilst it is perhaps the end of an era for CBBC itself, as there can no longer be a bona fide list of presenters as they may come and go like the wind, it is almost certainly necessary for such an expansive brand to be accepted by eight to thirteen year olds.

It is worth mentioning that the CBeebies strand and channel does not yet have this principle, although seeing as the continuity for both the channel and the strand is recorded in advance there isn’t such a pressing need for presenters to be available every day.

But the CBBC position of mixing programmes and presentation continues, with the latest addition being perhaps the most unexpected yet. Andrew Hayden-Smith, who plays Ben Carter in Byker Grove, has recently been presenting the prestigious afternoon slot on BBC-1.

Ironically, before Phillip Schofield was signed up to present Children’s BBC, one idea that was being considered was using actors from Grange Hill to link the programmes. It appears, in seventeen years, we have come full circle.

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