Now and Then

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started23rd Sep 1986
ended21st Mar 1988
2 school years
duration20 mins
subject 🏛️History
age rangeAge 9-11
languageenIn English

Now and Then is a BBC schools TV series from the 1980s, covering history for primary school pupils.

A child-friendly, topic-based primary school history series in which most episodes were made accessible by showing a class or an individual child investigating a particular element of history.

The series replaced The History Trail, and was designed very specifically as a companion to the geography series Near and Far. In addition to new topic-based programmes, Now and Then included a repeat run of four popular programmes on Life in the 17th Century including The Gunpowder Plot, Prisoner in the Tower, Plague! and Fire! which had first been shown in The History Trail in 1985, and which would live on as subsequent repeats well into the 1990s.

Near and Far: Now and Then

Now and Then was broadcast in alternate weeks to Near and Far and covered the same topics, but from a historical perspective. This site's page about Near and Far explains more about how the two series were brought closer together in their second combined year, even billed under the joint title Near and Far: Now and Then, until eventually they were both replaced by the new series Landmarks in 1988.

Now and Then and Near and Far solicited schools to send in proposals for five minute "access" films they would like to make about a topic of interest to their children. Several of these films, including a look at glass-making in Rotherham and Bronze Age carvings on Ilkley Moor, were made and shown in the Over to You episode at the end of the summer term 1987.

Subsequent Over to You episodes were shown as part of Near and Far in 1988, and then Landmarks in 1989 and 1990.

Titles & Theme Music

To an original BBC Radiophonic theme tune, an old stone mason is seen carving the word 'THEN' into a stone, while a young girl operates a computer graphics package to provide 'NOW &' in the same style.

The designer's description for the BBC Motion Graphics Archive (linked below) reveals that the graphics tool being used is an in-house BBC system called Flair.


# Title Broadcast
Builders and Buildings
1. The Age of Concrete #1986-09-23-00-00-0023 Sep 1986
2. The Age of Brick #1986-10-07-00-00-007 Oct 1986
3. The Age of Wood #1986-10-21-00-00-0021 Oct 1986
Natural Resources
4. The Rise and Fall of King Coal #1986-11-11-00-00-0011 Nov 1986
5. All Change at the Docks #1986-11-25-00-00-0025 Nov 1986
Life at Sea in the 16th Century
(linked to People and the Elements)
6. The Search for the 'Mary Rose' #1987-01-20-00-00-0020 Jan 1987
7. The Secrets of the 'Mary Rose' #1987-02-03-00-00-003 Feb 1987
8. The Spanish Armada #1987-02-17-00-00-0017 Feb 1987
Leisure and Recreation
9. Beside the Seaside #1987-03-10-00-00-0010 Mar 1987
10. Out in the Country #1987-03-24-00-00-0024 Mar 1987
Travel and Transport
11. On the Road #1987-04-28-00-00-0028 Apr 1987
12. On the Water #1987-05-12-00-00-0012 May 1987
13. On the Rails #1987-06-02-00-00-002 Jun 1987
Children's Work Programme
14. Over to You (1987) #1987-06-16-00-00-0016 Jun 1987
15. The Toy Business #1987-11-23-00-00-0023 Nov 1987
16. A History of Christmas #1987-11-30-00-00-0030 Nov 1987
All About Food
17. A History of the Kitchen 1 #1988-01-25-00-00-0025 Jan 1988
18. A History of the Kitchen 2 #1988-02-01-00-00-001 Feb 1988
Victorian Children
19. A Victorian Day #1988-02-29-00-00-0029 Feb 1988
20. Queen Victoria's Children #1988-03-07-00-00-007 Mar 1988
21. The Country Child #1988-03-14-00-00-0014 Mar 1988
22. Going to School #1988-03-21-00-00-0021 Mar 1988


  • 1986-87 (autumn, spring & summer) - fortnightly, Tuedays 11:17, repeated alternate Mondays 14:17
  • 1987-88 (autumn, spring & summer) - weekly Mondays 13:38, repeated Thursdays 11:15, mixed in with episodes of Near and Far and billed as Near and Far: Now and Then

Additionally, the two episodes on the 'Mary Rose' were repeated with in-vision subtitles as part of BBC Schools TV's "Subtitle Slot" in summer 1987, Wednesdays 17th & 24th June at 13:38 repeated the same weeks on Fridays at 10:15.

The Going to School episode from the Victorian Children unit won a BAFTA award for Best Education (Documentary) Programme[1] and was then given a special repeat for a general audience on Monday 29th May 1989 at 16:15 on BBC2.


Narrators include

Thom Gorst
Margaret Rule
John Hedges
Su Pollard
Bill Giles
Libby Fawbert
Sean Barrett


Nicholas Whines (11 episodes, 1986-88)
Pat Farrington (6 episodes, 1986-88)
Diane Morgan (3 episodes, 1987)
Judy Brooks (1 episode, 1987)
Kate Walker (1 episode, 1987)


Teacher's Notes

Teacher's notes were issued for the series, combined with Near and Far.

In 1986-87 there was one booklet per term costing £1.25 each. Then in 1987-88 there was an autumn term booklet costing £1.40 and a combined spring & summer terms booklet costing £2.50.


BBC Books published Domesday Then and Now by Nicholas Whines shortly after the series started, and advertised it to accompany Now and Then and also "for general environmental studies work". It initially cost £2.95. Read more from the Centre for Computing History Buy from Amazon

Related programmes

  1. At time of writing in 2022 the BAFTA website has wrongly credited the award-winning Now and Then programme to the runners-up, How We Used to Live producer Ian Fell and director Carol Wilks, when in fact the Going to School programme was made by Nicholas Whines.


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