Sunday 31 October 2021

Book Review: See-Saw Annual (1983)

See-Saw, the early afternoon children's slot on BBC1, was an important element in my earliest understandings regarding television and how it worked. It was here that, following on from lunch (and the dreaded sit-through of Pebble Mill at One which, incidentally, I now love) that my preschooler self would be treated to just under half an hour's worth of children's programming. This was how television scheduling worked. At least, it did back then. Nowadays, children can watch programmes aimed at them no matter what time of day it is. But I'm digressing and, besides, this blog isn't here to concern itself with the modern day.

So, the See-Saw slot! Ah, what a glorious time that was for my sensory receptors! The phonetic brilliance of Bric-a-Brac, the rhyming magic of Chock-a-Block and the gentle adventures of Mop and Smiff left indelible marks on my memory. Without these programmes we wouldn't have Curious British Telly. These earliest memories of television stayed with me throughout the decades and kept my curiosity piqued almost constantly. Despite my love of all things See-Saw I was never treated to the See-Saw annual. In fact, it wasn't until earlier this year that I had even heard of it.

I was put on furlough at the start of this year for about three months and, inevitably, I had a lot of spare time on my hands. A lot of time was spent browsing haphazardly online. One particular session found me trawling through Ebay for vintage BBC curios and it was here that I discovered the See-Saw annual. It wasn't going for much money (probably £5ish) but, annoyingly, some of the pages had been coloured in and scribbled on - a standard fate befalling anything owned by a toddler. Due to my rather anal obsession with wanting my possessions to be in pristine condition, I passed on bidding for the annual. After all, surely another one would turn up soon.

Fast forward several months and, eventually, another edition pops up on Ebay. It's part of a job lot with several other annuals, though, and the postage cost is irritating me a bit. I decide that I'll pass again. But then I remember that I'm Curious British Telly. I'm supposed to own curiosities like this and hold them up to the light of the modern day. I give myself a hefty slap round the face and put in a couple of bids. I win a very minor bidding war and it's mine for roughly £3.50 given the other annuals in the lot. A bargain if ever I saw one, but what would I find within?

The See-Saw annual was written by the man that more or less made the See-Saw slot his own: Michael Cole. Michael was accompanied, just as he was in his television programmes, by his wife Joanne who provided the artwork that adorns the annual throughout. The annual was published through Grandreams, a name familiar to anyone who grew up reading annuals in the 1980s and 90s and cost £2.75. When the annual was actually released is shrouded in mystery. The book is copyrighted as 1983, but the only other details I could find relating to a release was through an ISBN online search which suggested August 1983.

I didn't purchase the annual merely to ponder the release date, though, I was much more interested in the contents. And it's a quite glorious affair, assuming you can adjust your mindset to that of a preschooler in the early 1980s. The annual is split into six different sections, each one focussing on a specific programme from the See-Saw schedule. The programmes offered up for digestion are: Bod, Heads and Tails, Pigeon Street, Bric-a-Brac, Fingerbobs and then there's a diversion back to Bod with the final section being turned over to Alberto's Animal Band. Continuity between each section is provided by PC Copper, who introduces each section with an enquiring "Allo Allo...

As with anything tasked with arresting the errant attention of a young child, the See-Saw annual goes the way of the programmes it's representing: variety. The Bod section, for example, contains not just a cake recipe and a Coppers Cup board game, but also poetry, puzzles, colouring pages and instructions on how to make a BodSnap card game. This variety features throughout the annual, so you can expect to find details on making potato prints courtesy of Long Distance Clara, phonetic learning in the Bric-a-Brac shop (complete with fascinating closeup photos of the shelves from the shop) and a maze game featuring the protagonists from Fingerbobs.

The See-Saw annual is a beautiful, beautiful piece. Aside from administering a dose of nostalgia to the power of ten, it's put together by two stalwarts of imaginative children's television in the form of Michael and Joanne Cole. A child of the 21st century would, no doubt, struggle to engage with the See-Saw annual due to the lack of recognition on offer. But it's not for them, they've got their CBeebies annuals (yes, they still make annuals) to keep them entertained. For those of us the wrong side of 35, however, the See-Saw annual exudes a beautiful simplicity shot through with a reassuring familiarity. The only downside is that this annual was a one-off release, so there was no follow up featuring Chock-a-Block, Mop and Smiff or Pie in the Sky.

If you haven't got the See-Saw annual (and you're prone to needing a reminder of childhood) then you should make a concerted effort to track it down!

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