Monday 4 July 2022

Book Review: Play School Annual (1985)

Back in the pre-internet age, parents knew there was one Christmas present guaranteed to generate a beaming smile from a child: the TV tie-in annual. A cheap, simple purchase, the TV tie-in annual provided a much welcome extension of children's TV shows and, more importantly, kept the children occupied whilst their parents cracked on with cooking Christmas dinner. And there were lots of them. At least 62,000. Probably. Anyway, with that brief overview in place - let's face it, we all know what an annual is, it's time to look at the 1985 Play School annual.

Quite when this annual, priced at £3.25, was released is a mild mystery. It's copyrighted as 1985, but there's no specific year attached to it. Maybe it came out at the end of 1984 for 1985 or perhaps it was a late 1985 release for 1986. If I were particularly perturbed by this mystery, I could no doubt dig through old issues of the Buttons comic to hopefully glimpse an advert. But, frankly, I've got better things to do with my time, like admiring the front cover of the 1985 Play School annual. It was almost de rigueur for TV tie-in annuals to sport fantastic covers, but this one really takes the genre to new levels. Fred Harris, Carol Chell, Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty and Iain Lauchlan brandishing a guitar, what more could you want?

The front cover bodes well for a cover-to-cover Play School extravaganza, but... uh... well... it's only really Play School in spirit. Out of the 61 pages, only two, yes TWO, contain the stars of the programme - a two-page spread of The Toys' Favourite Photographs featuring Jemima as a mermaid, Little Ted as a wizard and Big Ted as Superman. Aside from this meagre offering, the rest of the annual is merely Play School in tone, and I found this disappointing. Well, as much as a 39-year-old man can be disappointed in a 37-year-old annual aimed at the under-fives. But a little more Play School would have gone a long way, just imagine the wonder of Fred Harris' Summer Drinks recipes...

Some of the content may well have originated in the programme - or even in the pages of Buttons magazine - but as with a lot of annuals, it's too generic to mark it out as a legend of the game. For example, the Follow the Jungle Trail game is the wonderfully simple game that a 1985 pre-schooler would love to play, but it could have easily slotted in to half a dozen different annuals as filler. The same goes for activities such as making a bus conductor's ticket machine, the ticket song and the curious tale of Goat at the Wedding. All very cutesy, but it says nothing about the Play School experience.

Children, thankfully, aren't as cynical as us life-hardened adults (or maybe it's just me) and they would have only been too pleased to have unwrapped the Play School annual in 1985. Sure, they would probably have been thrown to the wayside once they unwrapped either their Masters of the Universe or My Little Pony toys, but the contents of this Play School annual have just enough to keep it relevant for the intended audience's mindset. And, for tragically demanding TV anoraks like myself, it's got a sublime front cover which will exercise your nostalgiapezius muscles like little else.

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