Saturday 20 March 2021

Ragtime Episodes Have Appeared Online!

The vast majority of television programmes are, unfortunately, out of reach for many of us. Collecting dust in the archives, these slices of cultural interest remain shrouded in mystery. All that remains in the public consciousness is a motley assortment of vague and conflicting memories. That's part of the reason why I put Curious British Telly together. If these programmes are to remain out of reach then perhaps I can put up some solid facts about them. 

Anyway, a show that I covered in my most recent book - More Curiosities of Children's Television - was Ragtime, and this fell squarely into the "out of reach" bracket for most people. The only way I'd managed to watch copies was by booking in at the BFI. But it turns out that several episodes sneaked online in late 2019.

Ragtime was a preschooler's programme which ran for two series (in 1973 and 1975) on BBC1 and featured a number of important names from the genre. The series was created by Michael Cole and starred Fred Harris alongside Maggie Henderson on presenting duties. A classic Cole production, Ragtime finds Harris and Henderson amongst a world of curious puppets such as Humbug the Tiger, Dax the Dachshund, the extended Spoon family and the curious Bubble. A surreal joy - one which is indebted to Cole's love of Zen and Eastern philosophy - Ragtime satisfies every toddler's demands with stories, songs and learning (the most fun variety imaginable, of course)

And now you can see for yourself as seven episodes - only eight out of the 26 episodes still exist - have been uploaded to YouTube. Given the production slates that appear at the start of the videos, these certainly haven't originated from home recordings. Instead, I would suspect they have made their way out of an internal BBC system at some point. There's a BBC system known as Redux which houses hundreds of thousands of hours of archive programming. Access to this is highly restricted to BBC employees, but a few temporary accounts were made available in 2008. As you might have guessed, I would kill for access to Redux. But I'll probably never get it. Anyway, the most important thing is that Ragtime is now available online (until it gets taken down, but it's unlikely the Beeb will be that bothered)

If you want to learn more about Ragtime then there's a decent sized chapter on it in my book. And it includes an interview with Fred Harris about his time on the series, so what more could you want?


  1. Did I see this back in the day? Maybeeee. Anyway I've now got the kindle version of the book, there goes my Sunday :)

    1. Thanks for getting a copy!

      Ragtime was repeated up until 1980ish, so it was on for a fair few years. Fred Harris was in so much, though, that it's easy to get his shows mixed up. Especially when you watched them when you were three...

  2. Wow. I'd forgotten what a crush I had on Maggie Henderson way back. She looks uncannily like Saint Etienne singer Sarah Cracknell here, who I was equally smitten with.

  3. Blimey, I didn't have any specific memory of this programme but that piano player at the start brings back a Proustian rush :-)