Don’t tell Sue MacGregor (I think she’d give me a school-marmish talking to), but I often find something else to tune to between 11.15am and midday on a Sunday if Desert Island Discs isn’t on Radio 4. Sometimes the Reunion can be a lovely, moving programme (the Kindertransport, for example, or Dunblane which was unbearably poignant), but all too often its participants are either insufferably smug or dull.
Neither of these descriptions could be applied to this week’s guests – key members of the Play School team, programme creator Joy Whitby, musical genius Jonathan Cohen (I still have my beloved Play School and Play Away albums awaiting transfer to MP3 status), and presenters Toni Arthur, Floella Benjamin and Brian (childhood hero to many) Cant.
There were all sorts of fascinating facts to enjoy (for example, Play School was the first programme to show on brand new BBC2 thanks to a West London power cut on the launch night) but the real power of the programme was in relaying those voices from childhood.
The absolute joy of hearing Brian Cant was tempered by the terrible truth that at 77, age has taken its toll on that incredibly famous voice. I’m not sure I would have recognised him by sound alone, and that saddened me. (I hope it is still many years away, but there should be a national day of mourning when this lovely man goes through the proverbial arched window for the last time.)
Even Sue MacGregor seemed a little warmer than usual, joking with Joy Whitby (who was explaining that she had wanted a mix of presenters, “some of foreign import, and certainly half men, half women”) “Not necessarily in the same person?”.
If you want to know how Brian, Floella, Jonathan and Toni got their jobs, where the toys came from, the whole ethos of the programme, how Jonathan Cohen made up the music on pets’ day, and hear Brian’s eagle poo anecdote then make sure you listen again before it disappears into the BBC archives.
But do so with tissues to hand. If you can listen to Floella saying how people tell her that they knew that she loved them, because they lived in a children’s home and nobody was there to give them love, but the way she spoke to them through the camera made them feel wanted and loved and appreciated, without tearing up you’re a tougher soul than me. And if that doesn’t get you, Jonathan Cohen playing the programme out with the Play School theme will.
Posted by Jo the Hat