It's Fun to Read
It's Fun to Read is an ITV schools TV series from the 1970s, covering Reading for pre-school children.
It's Fun to Read is a simple, animated series designed as a stimulus for young children just learning to read. The series is set in a "very special playground", where two children called Bill and Penelope come to play. Their adventures revolve around a magic box, built by Bill, which can control all of the playground equipment as well as making things appear and disappear.
The series is graded, meaning that it gets harder as it goes along. The very first episode introduces the characters and asks children to recognise the words "Bill" and "Penelope" from the screen as part of a guessing game. As the weeks go by more words and phrases are introduced, along with phonics towards the end of the autumn term. At the start of the spring term (episode 11) Bill adds a "reading screen" to the front of the magic box so that the characters can try to read sentences from the screen, where one word is underlined at a time, at the same time as the audience. While this approach allowed children to develop over the course of the year, there was no concession for pupils' individual rates of progress during the year, in the days before widespread use of video recording by schools, and children who started watching the programmes after the series began in September would be at a disadvantage.
The series is narrated by its author, reading specialist Keith Gardner, who talks directly to the viewing children and asks them questions. As it is intended for young children just starting school and starting to read it is highly repetitive, both in vocabulary and action - the magic box frequently breaks, and the problem is normally solved by somebody, mostly the dog, accidentally nudging it; the narrator often says "oh yes, I thought that might happen."
The animation is extremely simple - the puppet characters generally stand completely still while the narrator describes what they are doing or saying, and sometimes there are simple motions such as hand waving, the swing swinging, or the car driving around. Characters "pop" in and out - i.e. simply appear and disappear - instead of walking around. Nevertheless each 8-minute episode reportedly took two days to film.
The series was made and broadcast in colour, but at the beginning of the 1970s most schools were still viewing on black-and-white sets. Teachers found that the use of colour did greatly enhance the programmes, where colour was available, and some teachers viewing in black-and-white complained about a "lack of picture definition".
All publicity for the series was at pains to point out that it was not a reading scheme itself, but supported all of the existing reading schemes in use by schools. Instead it was described as "a shared experience that the teacher can use as a stimulus to explore the concepts underlying reading".
There were just five characters in the series:
The episodes did not have titles as such, but there was a standard, short description for each episode. Master copies of all of the episodes have been kept in the Granada Television archives.
|1.||Introducing Bill and Penelope and their magic playground||21 Sep 1970|
|2.||Introducing the magic box and the policeman||28 Sep 1970|
|3.||The magic box goes wrong||5 Oct 1970|
|4.||The magic box goes wrong again||12 Oct 1970|
|5.||Introducing Penelope's cat||19 Oct 1970|
|6.||Penelope's cat begins to talk||26 Oct 1970|
|7.||Bill and Penelope go for a ride in a car||9 Nov 1970|
|8.||Introducing the dog||16 Nov 1970|
|9.||The cat and dog become friends||23 Nov 1970|
|10.||Playing a game with the magic box||30 Nov 1970|
|11.||Bill makes a "reading screen"||11 Jan 1971*|
|12.||Bill has trouble with the magic box||18 Jan 1971|
|13.||Bill and Penelope have fun with the letter 'P'||25 Jan 1971|
|14.||Penelope helps Bill mend the magic box||1 Feb 1971|
|15.||Bill has trouble with the dog||8 Feb 1971|
|16.||Some new things for the playground||15 Feb 1971|
|17.||The dog gets into mischief again||1 Mar 1971|
|18.||The policeman works the magic box||8 Mar 1971|
|19.||Penelope meets another letter||15 Mar 1971|
|20.||Bill mends the see-saw||22 Mar 1971|
|21.||Bill introduces poetry||3 May 1971|
|22.||Our friends have a party||10 May 1971|
|23.||The dog and the cat find a radio in the playground||17 May 1971|
|24.||The dog gets into trouble||24 May 1971|
|25.||Penelope has an accident||7 Jun 1971|
|26.||Penelope has a birthday||14 Jun 1971|
* Programme 11, Bill makes a "reading screen", was first broadcast as an Out of School preview for teachers at 11:08am on Tuesday 29th December 1970.
|Written and Narrated by||Keith Gardner|
|Produced by||Marjorie Giles|
|Granada Colour Production|
Theme Tune & Titles
The theme tune to the series was called Children's Polka by Eric Towren. The opening titles show the model playground being put together bit by bit, with each item suddenly appearing by magic. The playground contains the climbing frame, the roundabout, the tunnel, the swing, and giant letters spelling out "it's fun to read".
A set of 12 children's reading books were published to accompany the series. Like the TV programmes they were graded, so that the first book contained only very simple words and phrases, and the books become increasingly challenging with longer sentences and a larger vocabulary.
The books did not relate directly to the individual TV episodes - there wasn't one book per episode - but they basically told the same stories as TV episodes 1-10, 16-18 and 26. The books were written by Keith Gardner and Ulyth Roberts, and illustrated with photographs of the puppets.
Each book was 16 pages long, and approximately 18cm x 11.5cm in size. They were not published in time for the first broadcast of the series in 1970, but came out in 1971 to accompany the second broadcasts. For the original printing each book had a different colour background for the front covers, but in a later printing (possibly from 1976) all of the covers had a standard white background. The photographs were still printed in full colour throughout.
The books were never sold individually, only as a complete set of 12, priced £1.50. ISBN 0 247 54431 0.
Here are brief descriptions of the plot to each book.
- Book 1: Bill and Penelope play in the playground.
- Book 2: The magic box controls the swing and the roundabout.
- Book 3: Bill and Penelope show the policeman how the magic box works.
- Book 4: The magic box makes Penelope's cat and and all of the toys disappear. The toys come back but the cat does not, so the policeman goes to look for it.
- Book 5: The magic box has gone wrong and makes the toys disappear again. The policeman returns with the cat.
- Book 6: Bill and Penelope drive around the playground in Bill's car. The policeman also takes a ride. The car goes wrong and Bill tries to fix it.
- Book 7: Bill gives the cat a go on the roundabout using the magic box, but the box goes wrong and the roundabout won't stop. Bill's dog comes to the playground, it runs around and bumps into the magic box, which makes the roundabout stop.
- Book 8: The magic box makes the cat and dog talk, and they both go on the roundabout, but the cat doesn't like it. The magic box makes things disappear again.
- Book 9: The cat doesn't like the roundabout or the swing, so Bill gets the magic box to bring a paddling pool to the playground. But the cat doesn't like water so Bill brings a tunnel to the playground. When the cat goes into the tunnel, the dog thinks the magic box has made it disappear.
- Book 10: A see-saw comes into the playground, and the magic box makes it go up and down. But the dog bumps into the magic box, making it stop working. The dog then operates the see-saw manually and sends the cat flying into the air. The cat lands in the paddling pool.
- Book 11: Bill and Penelope go to find the dog and cat in their car, then they all ride together. The policeman plays with the magic box and messes things up, until the dog bumps into the magic box and everything returns to normal.
- Book 12: Bill goes on the magic box and makes three parcels arrive in the playground. They are birthday presents for Penelope from Bill, the dog and cat. They all drive off in the car. The policeman comes to the playground looking for a present to give to Penelope.
Yes that's right, you have just read a description of the plot to 12 children's learn-to-read books. And yes it did include some spoilers!
The teacher's notes booklets contained the full narrator's commentary from every episode and suggestions for follow-up work.
In 1970-71 there were separate teacher's booklet for each of the three school terms, sold for 2s 6d (13p) each. The following year the teacher's booklets were reduced to 12p per term. In 1972-3 the notes were combined into one single booklet for all 26 episodes, priced at 21p.
Large pictures designed to be put up on the classroom wall. There was one picture for each episode of the TV series, containing a photograph of the puppets with a key word or phrase underneath.
Like the teacher's notes, the pictures for each school term were originally sold separately, costing 4s (20p) per term in 1970-71 and 1971-2. In 1972-3 the entire year's pictures were sold in one pack, costing 40p.
An It's Fun To Read "games pack" by Michael and Betty Root was published in 1972 by Hart-Davis. It has the same ISBN as the reading books, ISBN 0 247 54431 0, and I don't know anything more about it!
The series was first shown throughout the 1970-1971 (autumn, spring & summer) school year. The first broadcasts were on Mondays at 2:25pm, with repeats on Wednesdays at 2:23pm and Thursdays at 11:30am. The three broadcasts each week meant that children could watch each episode again after they had done some classroom follow-up work.
Border Television, which broadcast a reduced service of schools programmes compared to the other regional ITV companies, did not take the Wednesday or Thursday repeats, but apart from that the series was fully networked across all the ITV regions.
New series of schools programmes would normally be previewed for teachers before term began in a series of broadcasts called Out of School. However It's Fun to Read was not previewed in this way, I would speculate because there may not have been a finished episode available by March 1970 when the previews were shown. However it was piloted with a small group of teachers, parents and children before the broadcasts began in September.
It's Fun to Read was repeated in 1971-2 (autumn, spring & summer - Mondays 11:38am & Thursdays 11:30am) and 1972-3 (autumn, spring & summer - Tuesdays 11:35am & Wednesdays 10:05am), and this should have been the end of its planned three-year service - a typical life span for a schools programme in the 1960s and 70s. However when the series came to an end ITV had nothing lined up to replace it, to continue providing support to infants beginning to read and their teachers.
ITV received direct requests from teachers and the IBA Schools Committee to provide support in this area, and so in 1976-7 It's Fun to Read was repeated again (autumn, spring & summer), this time on Mondays at 9:47am and Thursdays at 10:33am. This repeat runs served to "plug the gap" until Granada could introduce a new infant reading series, developed in the light of the influential 1975 Bullock Report on the teaching of English (and incidentally Keith Gardner, the writer of It's Fun to Read, was a member of the Bullock committee). The replacement series eventually reached TV screens in autumn 1977. It was called Reading with Lenny, a mix of simple stories about Kevin the Kitten and reading activities with the popular puppet Lenny the Lion and his human friend Terry Hall. However this was not the last time It's Fun to Read was seen on British television.
Granada television launched several satellite TV channels in October 1996. One of these was Granada Plus, showing classic programmes from the Granada archives including Time for a Story (a schools programme) and pre-school programmes such as Alphabet Zoo, Tickle on the Tum and Allsorts.
It's Fun to Read was repeated on Granada Plus beginning on Tuesday 31st December 1996, replacing Sounds Like a Story. Two episodes were shown each Tuesday morning, at 6:30am and 7:15am. The complete run of 26 episodes was broadcast, ending on Tuesday 25th March 1997. The timeslots for It's Fun to Read were then given over to Once Upon a Time but not for long, as pre-school programmes were removed from the Granada Plus schedule at the end of April.
Sources & references
- ATV (1971) Independent Television for Schools and Colleges 1971/72 Annual Programme. Birmingham: ATV Network Ltd.
- Davis, Anthony (ed) (1970) "TVTalk: In brief" in TVTimes June 27-July 3 1970, p.18 (Anglia edition consulted)
- Gardner, Keith & Roberts, Ulyth (1971) It's Fun to Read reading books. London: Rupert Hart-David Educational Publications. ISBN 0 247 54431 0
- Grampian Television (1970) Independent Television for Schools 1970/71 Annual Programme. Aberdeen: Grampian Television Ltd.
- Hayter, C.G. (1974) Using Broadcasts in Schools: A Study and Evaluation. London: BBC Publications ("a joint BBC/ITV publication")
- Jones, Christopher (1977a) 'Educational Broadcasting: ITV Schools Programme 1977-78' in Visual Education February 1977 p.14
- Jones, Christopher (1977b) 'Educational Broadcasting: Ready for Reading?' in Visual Education May 1977 p.15
- Kennaugh, Alan (ed) (1970) "TVTalk: Bill and Penelope take up teaching" in TVTimes September 19-25 1970, p.6 (London edition consulted)
- Lewis, Peter (1971a) 'Educational Broadcasting' in Visual Education April 1971 p.18
- Lewis, Peter (1971b) 'Educational Broadcasting: ITV's Out of School' in Visual Education December 1971 p.16
- Lewis, Peter (1973) 'Educational Broadcasting: Independent Television Evidence to the Bullock Committee' in Visual Education January 1973 p.29 (citing an extract from the teacher's notes submitted to the Bullock Committee)
- Manchester Teachers' Audio Visual Aids Group (1970) 'Educational Television Preview' in Visual Education August/September 1970 p.9
- Satellite Times television listings, 1996-1997
- Scottish Television (1972) Independent Television for Schools and Colleges Annual Programme 1972/73 Age 5-13. Glasgow: Scottish Television Ltd.
- Times (1970) 'Counterpoint' 18th September 1970 in The Times 18th September 1970
- TVTimes (London Edition) television listings, 1970-1978, via TV Times Project database
- TVTimes (Midland Edition) television listings, 1970-1971
- Weltman, Joseph (1978) 21 Years of Independent Television for Schools, 1957 to 1978 as published with Independent Broadcasting no 16, May 1978, London: IBA
- Wills, Steven (2005) Department TV CD sleeve notes
- In the opening line of the series the narrator welcomes children to "a very special playground." Times (1970) pointedly said the characters "have adventures against (the) classless background of a playground."
- The potential pitfalls of the graded approach taken by the series were pointed out be Manchester Teachers' AV Aids Group (1970).
- Davis (1970) - a very brief, single-sentence TVTimes article reported that "it takes two days to film each eight-minute episode of It's Fun to Read."
- Hayter (1974) p.43 (paragraph 108) reports that "two schools with colour sets thought broadcasts of the two series in colour (It's Fun to Read and Sam on Boffs' Island) were greatly enhanced thereby: in many schools without colour availability the lack of picture definition in the same programmes was criticised."
- Most contemporary articles covering the series point out that it not a complete reading scheme. Lewis (1973) explains that It's Fun to Read is ITV's most direct contribution to the teaching but as an extract from the teacher's notes stresses it is an introduction to reading, not a reading course in itself." The series was also described as "a shared experience" in various places, but the exact quote which continues, "that the teacher can use as a stimulus to explore the concepts underlying reading," is from ATV (1971) p.8.
- The name and composer of the theme tune are identified by Wills (2005).
- The original printing of the It's Fun To Read books, with colourful covers, carry a copyright date of 1970. They were not mentioned in Grampian (1970), but were advertised in ATV (1971) and Scottish TV (1972) at £1.50 for a set.
- I don't know for sure when the white-background reading books were published, as they do not carry a copyright date.
- The It's Fun To Read Games Pack is not mentioned in any of the contemporary ITV Schools catalogues, but it is held by the British Library and several other repsoitories. The National Library of Scotland catalogue entry confirms that it is "Based on the Granada Television schools programme Its fun to read," and not just an unrelated teaching aid using the same title.
- Broadcast information from the TVTimes listings & other publicity material. Times (1970) reveals that Border did not take the repeats.
- Kennaugh (1970) claims that the series "had a sneak preview before teachers, parents and children. All voted the animated puppets a hit."
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