Zig Zag

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started19th Sep 1983
ended16th Nov 2000
last rpt13th Jun 2008
25 school years
duration20 mins
subject 🏫Miscellany
age rangeAge 8-10+Age 7-9 & Age 9-11
languageenIn English

Zig Zag is a BBC schools TV series from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, covering Miscellany for primary school pupils.

A long-running BBC miscellany series designed to encourage work on projects by junior school classes.

The series particularly covers history and geography topics with recurring themes including Normans and Anglo-Saxons, Ancient Greece and Rome, social studies of countries including Canada, Tunisia, Kenya and France, as well as wildlife and nature studies. From the mid-1990s units also covered UK geography and local studies.

The programmes

Zig Zag programmes were generally presenter-led documentaries exploring a specific topic. Some use was made of drama to engage pupils, with a tale of life under the Normans in Hungry Times and a cliffhanger serial of murder and betrayal amongst Vikings in The Saga of Gunnar Goldhair.

Drama could only be produced where costs allowed though, and the series also used storytellers with dramatic illustrations to tell stories of The Greeks and The Anglo-Saxons.

The drama repertoire was further expanded using repeats of 1970s productions from the predecessor series Merry-Go-Round including a filmed production of the Anglo-Saxon drama The Raven and the Cross from 1974, which was resurrected for Zig Zag's 1992 unit on The Anglo-Saxons and repeated until 2003.

The series was also adventurous in supporting work on topics other than history and geography, especially in the summer term at the end of the school year, with occasional units covering areas such as energy, media, festivals, mini enterprise and health & safety.

In the 1980s regular topical programmes promoted the BBC Domesday Project initiative asking local schools to survey the whole of Britain as well as link-up with Australia and immediately post-Communist Hungary. The Commonwealth Games and three consecutive Olympic Games were also marked by the series.

Also in the 1980s Zig Zag serialised some striking contemporary natural history films with special introductions, including two BBC nature films following a buzzard and a deer, and the Oscar-winning animated film 'The Man Who Planted Trees.

Throughout the 1980s Zig Zag's regular presenters were Sheelagh Gilbey and Paul Coia, later joined by Nicola Davies for nature and animal-based programmes.

From autumn 1993 the series was produced as a set of completely standalone units, each with its own individual presenter and style. Programmes in this later period often used real children to investigate local issues who were known as "Zig Zaggers" or similar.

Before and after

Merry-Go-Round preparing to rebrand itself as Zig Zag

Zig Zag replaced the BBC's earlier miscellany series for junior schools, Merry-Go-Round, which had been running since the early 1960s. It was a progressive re-branding rather than a complete relaunch, with a BBC flyer sent to schools in the final year of Merry-Go-Round explaining that "television series, like ocean-going liners, need periodic overhauls" including a new title - though at that time in 1982 the title Zig Zag was still out of reach with the new name "still the subject of anguished deliberation."

Zig Zag used repeated episodes and whole units from Merry-Go-Round in its first few years, and later repurposed material produced for the earlier series with new Zig Zag introductions and film, Getting About, a treasure hunt round the Isle of Wight; The Odyssey, an illustrated retelling of the ancient Greek tale; and the above-mentioned Anglo-Saxons drama The Raven and the Cross.

Zig Zag was originally targetted at 8-10 year olds, with various other BBC schools series covering geography and history topics for older primary pupils including Near and Far and Now and Then. In 1988 these programmes for older primary pupils were consolidated into the miscellany series Landmarks. Landmarks ran alongside Zig Zag for 15 years, with the topics of the two series planned together and some of the production in common.

Then in 2002 Zig Zag and Landmarks were combined again into two new series, this time covering the whole age range from 7 to 11 year olds but separating the two main topics - the new series were called Primary Geography and Primary History, and they combined repeats from both Zig Zag and Landmarks with newly produced units.

Zig Zag covered more areas than just geography and history though, and so some units which did not fit into the new replacement series continued to be repeated under the Zig Zag branding for several more years. These units covered Art and, in Tales from Europe, English.

Subtitle Slot

Zig Zag was one of the first schools programmes to have subtitles available on the BBC teletext service CEEFAX, starting in 1984, for viewers with hearing or cognitive difficulties.

Several units were also used in the Subtitle Slot, which broadcast selected schools programmes with permanently visible subtitles in the years before it was possible to record and play back the hidden CEEFAX subtitles. These Subtitle Slot broadcasts are covered on the pages about individual units.

Zig Zag Shorts

Zig Zag Shorts title.jpg

Zig Zag programmes were generally 20 minute long features taking up a substantial part of school lesson time. By turn of the 21st Century attempts were made to provide shorter programmes to fit more adaptably to the teacher's needs. Both Landmarks and Zig Zag therefore provided edited, 10 minute versions of some of their regular episodes, broadcast at separate times.

In the case of Zig Zag, the 2000 unit on France was provided in 10 minute format, and presented as a series called Zig Zag Shorts.

This arrangement of producing some programmes as 10 minutes and some as 20 minutes was continued in the replacement series Primary Geography.

Titles and theme music

Version 1: gridlines (1983-92)

Zig Zag title 1.jpg

The stylised letters of ZIG ZAG travel along 3D gridlines and form into the series title in the background.

Version 2: concertina (1993-98)

Zig Zag title 2.jpg

A series of still images from the series move in a zig-zag concertina fashion before settling into the I of the title ZIG ZAG.

Generic still images were used, but sometimes they were substituted for specific images from an individual unit.

These titles were used for new programmes made from 1993 onwards, and a static version of this ZIG ZAG logo was edited onto some older episodes repeated after that time, notably The Vikings and The Saga of Gunnar Goldhair.

Version 3: hillside (1998-2000)

Zig Zag title 3.jpg

A "stop motion" sequence showing real children charging around hills, woods and beaches investigating the world and chasing huge letters that spell out ZIG ZAG.

In addition some 1990s units created bespoke "Zig Zag" titles, including 1993's Trees and 1997's Making It Work.

The "names" of the title sequences used here are just shorthand was to describe each sequence, they are not official names used by the production teams.



There were more than 50 individual units of Zig Zag programmes over the years. There is a separate page providing a summary of the episodes and content of each one.

This site also has an individual page about every unit of Zig Zag, which you can find by following the links below.

Termly broadcasts

This grid gives an overview of the main units broadcast in the daytime on BBC2 each term.

For simplicity, overnight broadcasts as part of Nightschool TV and the Learning Zone are not included, nor are repeats on the CBBC Channel, or units from which a small selection of episodes were broadcasts on an 'extra' basis in the early 1990s. Broadcasts as part ofthe re-branded Primary Geography and Primary History series are also not included.

Colours are used to broadly identify units covering history, geography, science and nature, as well as the less common English, PSHE and art.

Early units with a white background are straight repeats of Merry-Go-Round programmes. Some individual Merry-Go-Round episodes were also repeated as part of Zig Zag units such as Space and The Olympics. Later on, Merry-Go-Round filmed material was incorporated into the new Zig Zag programmes on Getting About, The Odyssey and The Anglo-Saxons.

Year Autumn Spring Summer
1983-84 The Normans & Hungry Times The Detectives Comp­uters Space Time and History The Olympics Outward Bound
1984-85 The Arabs The Sea The Eskimos Roads Gardens and Growth Energy
1985-86 The Normans & Hungry Times Computers Over to You Space & Spaceship Earth The Detectives The Greeks Over to You
1986-87 You and the Media Mordicus Winter Festival The Eskimos Canada The Arabs Doctors and Dentists
1987-88 The Vikings & Gunnar Goldhair The Channel Tunnel Rush, The Fallow Deer The Normans & Hungry Times Getting About Gardens and Growth The Olympics
1988-89 Space & Spaceship Earth Winter Festival Wildlife Safari Cathedrals The Greeks World of Work
1989-90 The Vikings & Gunnar Goldhair Over to You The Odyssey Canada Let's Face It The Channel Tunnel Rush, The Fallow Deer
1990-91 Water Getting About Wildlife Safari The Arabs The Greeks Trees and Man
1991-92 Technology The Vikings & Gunnar Goldhair Tales from Europe (1992) Gardens and Growth The Olympics Tales from Europe (1992)
1992-93 The Anglo-Saxons Getting About Water The Odyssey Trees & Trees and Man Wildlife Safari
1993-94 Roman Britain Mapmakers! The Vikings & Gunnar Goldhair Where You Live, Where I Live Tales from Europe (1992)
1994-95 Kenya The Anglo-Saxons Food and Farming Roman Britain Wildlife Safari
1995-96 Geography UK The Vikings & Gunnar Goldhair Mapmakers! Technology Kenya Danger Detectors Tales from Europe (1992)
1996-97 Food and Farming Ancient Greece Village, Town, City The Anglo-Saxons Making It Work Danger Detectors Art
1997-98 Geography UK Invaders Water, Air, Land Kenya Roman Britain Danger Detectors Art & Making It Work
1998-99 Tudor Life Invaders Weather Water, Air, Land Ancient Greece Village, Town, City
1999-2000 Invaders A Walk Through Time France Tales from Europe (2000) Water, Air, Land, Weather & Kenya Village, Town, City Anglo-Saxons, Tudor Life & Ancient Greece Art & Making It Work
2000-01 Tudor Life, Ancient Greece, Walk Through Time Kenya, Village, Town, City, France Snapshots: Children in WWII Invaders A Walk Through Time Water, Air, Land Weather Children in WWII Art & Making It Work
2001-02 A Walk Through Time Children in WWII Village, Town, City Tudor Life & Invaders France & Water, Air, Land Weather Mapmakers! Art
2002-03 Art Tales from Europe (2000) Art
2003-04 Tales from Europe (2000)
2006-07 Tales from Europe (2000)
2007-08 Tales from Europe (2000)

Episode List

A full, sortable list of all episodes is available on a separate page.

There were 227 regular episodes of Zig Zag, plus 4 teachers' programmes and 28 repeats from the earlier series Merry-Go-Round rebranded with the Zig Zag opening titles.


This summary grid covers the most common times for daytime broadcasts on BBC2. Other, irregular broadcasts are generally covered on the page for each unit.

Year Term Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Channel Details
1983-84 Autumn 1983, Spring & Summer 1984 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 2:40pm BBC2
1984-85 Autumn 1984, Spring & Summer 1985 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 2:40pm BBC2
1985-86 Autumn 1985, Spring & Summer 1986 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 2:40pm BBC2
1986-87 Autumn 1986, Spring & Summer 1987 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 2:15pm BBC2
1987-88 Autumn 1987, Spring & Summer 1988 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:38pm BBC2
1988-89 Autumn 1988, Spring & Summer 1989 Monday, 10:58am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1989-90 Autumn 1989, Spring & Summer 1990 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1990-91 Autumn 1990, Spring & Summer 1991 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1991-92 Autumn 1991, Spring & Summer 1992 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1992-93 Autumn 1992, Spring & Summer 1993 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1993-94 Autumn 1993, Spring & Summer 1994 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:40pm BBC2
1994-95 Autumn 1994, Spring & Summer 1995 Monday, 11:00am Wednesday, 1:25pm BBC2
1995-96 Autumn 1995, Spring & Summer 1996 Monday, 11:05am Wednesday, 1:20pm BBC2
1996-97 Autumn 1996, Spring & Summer 1997 Monday, 11:10am Wednesday, 1:25pm BBC2
1997-98 Autumn 1997, Spring & Summer 1998 Monday, 11:20am Thursday, 11:15am BBC2
1998-99 Autumn 1998, Spring & Summer 1999 Monday, 11:20am Thursday, 11:15am BBC2
1999-2000 Autumn 1999, Spring & Summer 2000 Monday, 11:10am Tuesday, 11:05am Wednesday, 11:20am Thursday, 11:05am BBC2
2000-01 Autumn 2000, Spring & Summer 2001 various days & times BBC2
2001-02 Autumn 2001, Spring & Summer 2002 various days & times BBC2


Presenters Sheelagh Gilbey (1983-91)
Paul Coia (1983-92)
Nicola Davies (1989-93)
And others including Wayne Laryea (The Olympics, 1984)
Denise Coffey (Tales from Europe, 1992)
Sally Gray (Mapmakers!, 1993)
Jeremy Dry (Food and Farming & Geography UK, 1995)
Shauna Lowry (Geography UK, 1995)
Tony Robinson (A Walk Through Time, 1999)
(Series) producers include Tom Stanier (1983-92)

David Meldrum (1983-84, 1992-93)
Chris Ellis (1984-86)
John Chapple (1985-88)
Peter M. Evans (1989-97)
Andrea Christodoulou (1990, 1999)
Patricia Williams (1992-93)
Nicholas Whines (1995-96)
Elaine Mullings (1997, 2000)
Michelle Jones (1999-2000)


There were teacher's notes and books and resource packs available.

Some further details are given on the individual unit pages.


Sources & References

  • with thanks to Ben Rigsby.


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