October 2021

From Swap Shop To Saturday Mash Up: 45 Years Of BBC Saturday Children’s TV

From Swap Shop To Saturday Mash Up: 45 Years Of BBC Saturday Children’s TV

By Andy Waters

As the BBC celebrates 45 years of Saturday morning children's television, we look back at how it all started and the evolving phenomenon that helped shape so many young lives!

Before there was television, there was the silver screen and Saturdays saw cinemas packed with kids watching the latest Western or the adventures of Flash Gordon. Then, in 1976, something completely new and revolutionary hit the TV screens of Britain that gave kids every reason to stay home on the sofa on Saturday mornings – but in a good way.

On October 2nd, 1976, The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop hit the nation's screens with a three-hour marathon of pop videos, phone-ins, games, puppets and celebrity appearances interspersed with popular kids' shows. Brilliantly hosted by Noel Edmonds, Keith Chegwin and John Craven – often unscripted and completely spontaneous – it was the first of a series of magazine style shows that kept kids glued to the BBC through the '70s and '80s.

Swap Shop (as it was known) led the way with its ground-breaking use of the phone-in format and it's immensely popular Swaporama. This saw Keith Chegwin and an Outside Broadcast unit visit locations around the country where children – sometimes in their thousands – could come and swap their toys and belongings with each other. Interestingly, the location of Swaporama was usually dictated by wherever an Outside Broadcast unit was needed to cover a Saturday afternoon sports event!

In 1982, Noel Edmonds left children's television and Swap Shop was replaced on BBC1 by Saturday Superstore. This followed a very similar format and even kept some of the same presenters and the famous phone-in phone number (01-811-8055). A new regular feature was a children's talent show called Search for a Superstar that spawned one-hit wonder 'Claire and Friends' with their Top-20 hit "It's 'Orrible Being in Love (When You're 8½)".

Five years later in 1987, Paul Schofield and Sarah Greene teamed up to present a new Saturday morning show – Going Live! This introduced the now ubiquitous gunge tank for a segment called Double Dare, as well as an 'agony uncle' answering a range of sometimes very serious questions under the title Growing Pains. A big set-piece press conference interviewed politicians and celebrities of the day, while the Video Vote saw viewers call in to vote for their favourite music videos that were then shown in order of popularity. It was quite a mix!

In 1993 came Live and Kicking! that again, kept many of its predecessor's features such as phone-ins, games, comedy, competitions and the showing of cartoons. At its peak under the presentership of Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakstone, Live and Kicking! attracted 2.5 million viewers and won a BAFTA for Best Entertainment Show in 1999.

Live and Kicking! was replaced by The Saturday Show in 2001. Billed as a radical departure from the Saturday morning format, it featured quirky sets and regular karaoke. Innovatively, from 2002 the presenters' performances consciously matured as the program progressed through the morning to cater for younger to older audiences. It ended with a Christmas Special – shown in September! Meanwhile, with Dick and Dom in 'da Bungalow, the BBC was focusing squarely at pre-teens in an unpredictable melee of slapstick, gunge and gameplay, without guest stars.

With these big format children's shows increasingly challenged by weekend activities, computer games, and parental pressure to 'do something more constructive', the BBC moved its Saturday morning children's television to BBC2. TMi ran from 2006-2010 with various formats including a pioneering but short-lived reality feel theme – but gunge remained a feature!

And then, after nearly a decade, the winning formula of magazine style live Saturday morning kids TV made a successful return to our screens with Saturday Mash-Up! broadcasting live every Saturday morning from dock10. Bringing back the giddy mayhem of the classic shows, Saturday Mash-Up! is two hours of silly games, sillier sketches, celebrity interviews, viewer phone-ins and cartoons - just like the good 'ol days!