Numbertime (TV)

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started20th Sep 1993
ended3rd Dec 2001
last rpt1st Feb 2008
15 school years
duration15 mins
age rangeAge 3-5 & Age 5-7
languageenIn English
Numbertime title 1993.jpg

Numbertime (TV) is a BBC schools TV series from the 1990s and 2000s, covering Mathematics for primary school pupils.

A wonderfully popular early learning series reinforcing basic maths and numeracy skills, and providing a perfect companion to the early literacy series Words and Pictures.

The programmes are built around recurring sketches using characters and rhymes familiar to young children - at first this is done by using well-known nursery rhymes and fairy stories, but as the series progressed it made its own favourite characters. The break-out star is El Nombre, a masked hero Mexican gerbil, who later got his own entertainment series for children and released a pop single!

In between the longer sketches there are musical sequences repeatedly demonstrating the number or theme of the episode with real-world images as well as animation. There are also very short clips of children talking directly to camera, giving examples of how the number or theme occurs in their own lives - for example when discussing the number 5, they are 5 years old, or they live at number 5, and when describing different times of the day when is playtime and when is bedtime.

All episodes are structured to give viewers practice at the topic of the episode directly from the screen, and reinforce it with repetition of graphics and rhymes.

Regular Features

All episodes of Numbertime mix animations, songs and comedy sketches. These are the main features which are repeated across whole units.

The Presenter

Lolita Chakrabarti

Lolita Chakrabarti introduced viewers to the first four units of Numbertime from a large studio full of mobiles (often being silently operated by a characters in the background) and, in the first series, a large number line. Throughout the episodes she sings songs and at the end sets a challenge for viewers.

Appears in Numbers 1-10 (1993), Shapes, Side by Side and More or Less

Comedy sketches

Sketches with a small number actors playing different parts.

In the early units there are sketches, often in the form of TV news reports and game shows, and songs based around well-known characters from nursery rhymes and fairy stories such as Two Little Dickie Birds, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Enormous Turnip (which needs six people to uproot it). Animals are included in the form of actors in leotards

As well as nursery rhymes, all sorts of different areas generally familiar to young children such as a cat with nine lives, ten-pin bowling, and stone-age people inventing a circular wheel for their car, form the basis for sketches.

Featured in Numbers 1-10 (1993), Shapes, Side by Side and More or Less.

Six people uproot the enormous turnip
Singing about ten green bottles
Queueing in front of the greengrocer's stall

El Nombre

El Nombre

A popular character which began as an ingenious adaptation of Words and Pictures' Magic Pencil - in a "thrilling Western serial" the masked hero swings into town to show Little Juan how to write each of the numbers from 1 to 10, by drawing in the desert sand with his feet, seen from above with only his large sombrero visible tracing the shape of each number.

El Nombre became immediately popular and the outstanding success of the series[1] and so his role in subsequent units is expanded and more of the town of Santa Flamingo seen as well as new characters such as Tanto the tarantula and Little Juan's friends and school mates.

When Little Juan begins to learn about Shapes El Nombre shows him examples of those shapes around the town of Santa Flamingo, as well as drawing them in the sand; later adventures are based completely on everyday life in the town as El Nombre drops in whenever he is needed to give advice to Little Juan and his friends.

El Nombre is the only feature to appear in every single episode of Numbertime.

Bill and Bernie

Bill and Bernie's title screen

Bill is a bird who can swallow and regurgitate almost any object whole. Bill first appeared as simply Number Bird in the More or Less unit, on his own and barely speaking. In later units he gains a name and a pet cat called Bernie, and both can speak.

Featured in More or Less (Bill only), Time, Numbers 1-10 (1998), Numbers 11-20, Numbers up to 100, Money and Addition & Subtraction.

Dolls' House

Branston, Shelly, Scrap and Glimmer

The colourful inhabitants of a bedroom dolls' house go about their everyday lives. The resident toys are a cowgirl called Annie, a robot called Glimmer, a scarecrow called Scrap, a clock called Ticker (whose role is drastically reduced after the Time unit) and a butler called Branston. They receive frequent visits from a pirate called Captain Kevin, and later on from a detective called Shelly Holmes who identifies missing numbers and suggests shortcuts for counting up to 100.

Featured in Time, Numbers 1-10 (1998), Numbers 11-20 and Numbers up to 100.


Screen and T1L

An alien spaceship disguised as a high street shop that has got absolutely everything to sell, but the staff need some help working out which coins to accept and how much change to give.

There is a visit to the Screensaver shop in each of the Money episodes.

Addem and the Ants

Anne, Addem and some ants

A happy young snake discovers Addition and Subtraction in the company of an ant called Ann and all the hundreds and hundreds of other ants that she looks after.

These sequences only appeared in the Addition and Subtraction unit, and they could all be viewed online at the BBC Numbertime website (archived 2014).


Numbers 1-10 (1993)

Title screen

(Age 4-5)

The original unit, counting up to each of the numbers from one to ten in turn. El Nombre teaches Little Juan how to draw each number, and there are two sketches in each episode based on popular nursery rhymes or fairy stories. The presenter finds the position of each number on the number line and sings songs.

This unit was accompanied by a radio series, Radio Numbertime.

# Title Broadcast
1. Number 1 20 Sep 1993
2. Number 2 27 Sep 1993
3. Number 3 4 Oct 1993
4. Number 4 11 Oct 1993
5. Number 5 18 Oct 1993
6. Number 6 1 Nov 1993
7. Number 7 8 Nov 1993
8. Number 8 15 Nov 1993
9. Number 9 22 Nov 1993
10. Number 10 29 Nov 1993


Title screen

(Age 4-5)

Looking at four different shapes and comparing them.

Each episode has two visits to Santa Flamingo (first for El Nombre to show Little Juan the shape in different places around the town, and then to draw the shape in the sand) and two sketches, linked by Lolita Chakrabarti with songs and animations.

The programmes do not introduce a new shape every week - they assume children already know the basic shapes and their names - but they each focus on a particular shape, describing its sides and corners, and comparing it to the other shapes (for example in the song: three sides I'm a triangle, not a circle or a square or a rectangle, I'm a tri-tri-tri-tri-triangle)

# Title Broadcast
1. Circles 24 Apr 1995
2. Squares 1 May 1995
3. Triangles 9 May 1995
4. Rectangles 15 May 1995
5. Shapes Together 22 May 1995

(Monday 8th May 1995 was a Bank Holiday, so episode 3 was first broadcast on Tuesday 9th May)

Side by Side

Title screen

(Age 4-5)

Introducing spacial awareness in concepts such as under and over, in an out.

All of the sequences emphasise the vocabulary used to descibe space and position with visual examples. The comedy sketches follow the formula of previous units, and include one mimicing silent slapstick comedy where almost the only words used are the particular vocabulary such as "up" and "down". El Nombre assists Little Juan in various adventures where he has to understand the difference between in front & behind and similar ideas: how will he ever score a goal against Pedro, or get past a large hole in the ground?

# Title Broadcast
1. Up / Down / On / Off 28 Feb 1996
2. In Front / Behind 6 Mar 1996
3. Under / Over 13 Mar 1996
4. Beside / Around / Between 20 Mar 1996
5. In / Out / Through 27 Mar 1996

More or Less

Title screen

(Age 5-6)

Programmes about comparing numbers and the vocabulary of basic addition and subtraction.

There are animations and songs sung by the presenter, El Nombre's adventures with Little Juan and his friends, and sketches based on fairy stories including Fantastic Fairytales investigative reports and other TV show concepts such as a spoof of Surprise Surprise with Cinderella and her scouse Fairy Godmother, a Making Of a film about Humpty Dumpty who finds his wall is too high, and tricks performed by a stage magician.

There are regular animations involving Test the Toad, who jumps along the heads of people lined up to form a number line, and the Number Bird, who adds and takes away different objects so that he can count them.

# Title Broadcast
1. One More 17 Apr 1996
2. Two More 24 Apr 1996
3. Three More 1 May 1996
4. Five More 8 May 1996
5. One Less 15 May 1996
6. Two Less 22 May 1996
7. Three Less 5 Jun 1996
8. Five Less 12 Jun 1996


Title screen

(Age 4-6)

Various concepts of time, such as days of the week, months and seasons, how to tell the time and the order of events. This topic was apparently covered in response to teachers' specific requests[2].

There is no presenter, but an animated stopwatch riding a skateboard introduces each episode. Bill and Bernie appear together for the first time; El Nombre organises races around Santa Flamingo and helps Mama to follow the instructions in a recipe; the Dolls' House inhabitants arrange their daily lives. Each episode has a silent sketch with a character called Tim who is getting to grips with time-related things like cooking a pie and getting dressed in the right order.

# Title Broadcast
1. Night and Day 13 Jan 1998
2. Days of the Week 20 Jan 1998
3. Sequencing Events 27 Jan 1998
4. Comaprison of Time 3 Feb 1998
5. Clock Face 10 Feb 1998
6. O'Clock 24 Feb 1998
7. Half Past 3 Mar 1998
8. Timing of Events 10 Mar 1998
9. Months and Seasons 17 Mar 1998
10. Telling the Time 24 Mar 1998

Numbers 1-10 (1998)

Title screen

(Age 4-5)

A "revised edition" of the Numbers 1-10 unit, with style & content consistent with the new Numbers 11-20 and Numbers Up to 100 units which followed.

Many of the individual sequences and animations are re-used from the original version, but all of them re-edited. In place of the presenter Bill and Bernie introduce each episode and explore the number line (though Lolita Chakrabarti's voice is still heard narrating some of the re-used animations). Most of the nursery rhyme sketches are replaced by adventures in the Dolls' House, and El Nombre has slightly expanded encounters with Little Juan.

# Title Broadcast
1. Number 1 22 Sep 1998
2. Number 2 29 Sep 1998
3. Number 3 6 Oct 1998
4. Number 4 13 Oct 1998
5. Number 5 20 Oct 1998
6. Number 6 3 Nov 1998
7. Number 7 10 Nov 1998
8. Number 8 17 Nov 1998
9. Number 9 24 Nov 1998
10. Number 10 1 Dec 1998

Numbers 11-20

Title screen

(Age 5-6)

Programmes about counting up to 20, not covering each individual number but progressing in steps towards counting up to 11, then 12, 15, 17 and finally 20, emphasising the order of the numbers and how to add up to make them.

All of the same characters from the revised Numbers 1-10 unit reappear, including Bill & Bernie with a number line, El Nombre and the Dolls' House.

# Title Broadcast
1. Number 11 12 Jan 1999
2. Number 12 19 Jan 1999
3. Number 15 26 Jan 1999
4. Number 17 2 Feb 1999
5. Number 20 9 Feb 1999

Numbers up to 100

Title screen

(Age 5-6)

A further extension of the Numbers 1-10 and Numbers 11-20 programmes, looking at how to build up and identify two-digit numbers all the way up to 100.

Bill and Bernie's number line becomes a number square, with a caterpillar (or maybe a milipede?) called Limo crawling around to count out the numbers they need, and Shelly Holmes investigates cases in the Dolls' House.

# Title Broadcast
1. Counting On and Back 4 Nov 1999
2. Missing Numbers 11 Nov 1999
3. Counting in 10s 18 Nov 1999
4. Patterns of 10 25 Nov 1999
5. Patterns of 5 2 Dec 1999


Title screen

(Age 5-7)

A unit showing what coins are worth and how to work with them to make totals and give change.

El Nombre swings to the rescue of the children in Santa Flamingo (where the currency is pounds and pence) when they have to start spending money. Bill and Bernie operate market stalls and sell things to each other, and there are regular visits to the Screensaver shop. There are also animations imagining the different coins as animals - spiders with a coin for their bodies, and a centipede whose body is made up of all the coins in numerical order.

# Title Broadcast
1. Coin Recognition to 10p 23 Oct 2000
2. Money Problems to 10p 24 Oct 2000
3. Coin Equivalents to 10p 25 Oct 2000
4. Change from 10p 26 Oct 2000
5. Coin Equivalents to 20p 27 Oct 2000
6. Change from 20p 30 Oct 2000
7. Coin Equivalents to 50p 31 Oct 2000
8. Change from 50p 1 Nov 2000
9. Coin Equivalents to £1 2 Nov 2000
10. Up to £2 3 Nov 2000

Addition and Subtraction

Title screen

(Age 6-7)

A unit for the older pupils in Numbertime's audience about basic mental arithmetic.

There is a lot of animation, with long sequences featuring El Nombre, Bill and Bernie and Addem and the Ants, as well as short animations and songs. There is one recurring live-action sequence of Numbertime News, with anchor Tara Boomdeay and roving reporter Bill Quiff tracking down number news.

# Title Broadcast
1. Adding Two Numbers 10 Sep 2001
2. Adding Three Numbers 17 Sep 2001
3. Patterns of Addition 24 Sep 2001
4. Two-Step Addition 8 Oct 2001
5. Addition with Partition 15 Oct 2001
6. Subtracting One from Another 5 Nov 2001
7. Difference 12 Nov 2001
8. Patterns of Subtraction 19 Nov 2001
9. Two-Step Subtraction 26 Nov 2001
10. Plus and Minus 3 Dec 2001


Most of the cast played other parts as well as those listed here - only the main, named and easily identifiable roles are included.[3]

These are combined credits for the entire run of Numbertime, most people were involved in at most 3 or 4 of the individual units.

Presenter Lolita Chakrabarti (1993-96)
Cast Gary Beadle as Bobby Cube / Sammy Shape

Anthony Barclay as Handsome Prince
Tony Bluto as Little Jack Horner / Marvo the Magician / Knave of Hearts / Bruce / Mr Jones / This Old Man / Wee Willie Winkie / Farmer Giles / Ten Pin Pete
Carolyn Bonnyman as Jill Scoop
Laura Brattan as Lucky Lottery Winners host / Snow White
Joanna Brookes as Baa Baa Black Sheep / Baby Bear / Mrs Jones / Grimbleshanks / Jack's mum
Otiz Cannelloni as magician
Paul Cawley as Burglar Bert / Jack / Cecil / Little Jack Horner
Ian Connaughton as Brad Quiff
Simon Corris as Jack / PC Nab / Shoemaker / Early Bird / Simple Simon
Chris Emmett as Jarvis / Find One More host / Fred Fantastic / Reg / Noah / Humpty Dumpty
Regina Freedman as Jill / Goldilocks / Little Bo Peep / Queen of Hearts / Lucy
Mike Hayley as caveman / Old King Cole / Uncle Abanazer / Burglar Bob / Ham / David Attencoat / Knave of Hearts
Toby Jones as Tim
Jenny Jules as Little Miss Muffet / Mummy Bear / Shep / Lucky the Cat / Mary Mary Quite Contrary
Andy McEwan as Nursery Rhyme Theatre MC / Sammy Sallow / Sammy Sport / Wally B/ Farmer Fred
Brian Miller as Lord Posh / Percy Grower / Ten Green Bottles MC / Sid / Pieman
Anastasia Mulrooney as cavewoman / Jill / Sharon Jam / Cinderella / Queen of Hearts
Mo Sesay as Jack / Daddy Bear / Jimmy / Harry Headline
Elisabeth Sladen as Lady Posh / Find One More contestant / Ladybird / Fairy Godmother / Old Mother Hubbard / Tara Boomdeay
Peter Temple
Issy Van Randwyck as Princess Perfect / magician / Beautiful Princess / Carlotta Bottle / Rebecca Testament
Rene Zagger as Aladdin / Darren Jam

El Nombre cast Sophie Aldred as Little Juan (voice)

Janet Ellis (voice)
Kate Robbins as Mama (voice)
Steve Steen as El Nombre (voice)

Bill and Bernie cast Laura Brattan as Bernie (voice)

Paul Cawley as Bill (voice)

Doll's House cast Ashley Artus as Glimmer

Paul Cawley as Scrap
Victoria Gay
Roger Griffiths as Captain Kevin
Mike Hayley as Ticker
Tania Levey
Brian Miller as Branston
Fidel Nanton as Megamax
Issy Van Randwyck as Shelly Holmes

Screensaver cast Sue Elliott-Nicholls as Screen (voice)

Michael Fenton-Stevens as all of the customers
Paul Vates as T1L (voice)

Addem and the Ants cast Brian Bowles (voice)

Moir Leslie (voice)
Richard Pearce (voice)


For Schools

The series was accompanied by a very wide range of resources for schools.

Teacher's notes including photocopiable worksheets were issued for every unit apart from the very last one, and printed until 2002.

The first series was accompanied by a computer game for the BBC, Acorn Archimedes and Nimbus systems called Adventures in Numberland. and the units on Time and Numbers 11-20 were accompanied by PC CD-ROM resources. A website, (archived 2018), which is still available in 2011.

Each unit was issued on a Video Plus Pack, containing the entire programmes slightly edited to add "Video Plus" branding and in some cases to remove the opening titles. Several units were later reissued as DVD Plus Packs.

Wall frieze accompanying the first series

In addition there were classroom activity packs including teacher's notes, photocopiable activity books and audio cassettes of the songs (these resources were also packaged with the Video Plus Packs).

Later on class activity packs were issued containing board games, counters and cards based on the El Nombre characters, there were classroom big books featuring the same characters, and even a range of El Nombre glove puppets and finger puppets.

A further range of mental maths activity books were released to support the Numbertime radio series.



A Numbertime magazine was issued by BBC Magazines in 2001, intended to 'make maths fun' for parents and children at home. It used Bill and Bernie and all the characters from El Nombre's world in cartoon strips, puzzles and games all with a light maths-learning theme.

Fun with Numbers

Fun with Numbers pack

Numbertime has been again targetted at home learners in a series of Fun with Numbers activity packs released on general sale by the BBC - an accompaniment to the similar Fun with Phonics packs using content from Words and Pictures.

The Fun with Numbers packs contain activity books, posters and a DVD of sketches edited together from the relevant Numbertime units.

Three packs have been released:

  • Counting 1 to 10, including a 45-minute DVD with material from the 1998 version of Numbers 1-10 Buy from Amazon
  • Shapes and Time, including a DVD with material from both the Shapes unit (about 35 minutes) and the Time unit (about 10 minutes) Buy from Amazon
  • Adding and Taking Away, including a 35-minute DVD with material from the More or Less unit Buy from Amazon

Related programmes


Sources & References

  1. The BBC Education Radio and Television for Primary and Middle Schools 1994-1995 catalogue (the first published after Numbertime's launch) includes a quote on the series from a London teacher: "I've had a reception class for many years and never before has a programme so captivated the children. El Nombre is the best."
  2. BBC Education 5-14 Television, Radio and Resources for Scottish Schools 1997-1998 catalogue p.10 says that the Time unit "has been requested by teachers to help children understand early concepts of time."
  3. The roles played by individual cast members are never identified in the end credits or any other documentation that I have found. I have done my best to identify each actor and then "spot" the roles that they play in different episodes. In many cases the actors' own websites have been invaluable for confirming what they look like and in some cases what roles they played - for example Ashley Artus' MySpace page which included a photograph of him playing Glimmer (no longer available). If anybody knows for sure who played Annie in the Dolls' House sketches please get in touch by email!


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