The golden age of children’s television is long behind us argue the critics with the demise of Byker Grove and Grange Hill in recent years prove that broadcasters are shunning producing original children’s drama in favour of cheap American imports. So this week we ask you to vote for your favourite Children’s drama and shockingly only one of candidates is a current series; The Sarah Jane Adventures.

 

The golden age of children’s television is long behind us argue the critics with the demise of Byker Grove and Grange Hill in recent years prove that broadcasters are shunning producing original children’s drama in favour of cheap American imports. So this week we ask you to vote for your favourite Children’s drama and shockingly only one of candidates is a current series; The Sarah Jane Adventures.

 


Grange Hill: 1978 – 2008

 

The BBC school drama was created by Phil Redmond who in the 1980s created Brookside for Channel Four and in the 1990s created Hollyoaks for the broadcaster as well. As it was the brainchild of Redmond Grange Hill was a hard hitting children’s drama originally set in a London comprehensive school tackling subjects such as domestic abuse, bullying, drugs, knife crime and a wide range of other issues. Over the years many future stars appeared in the series as pupils such as Todd Carty, Susan Tully, Amanda Mealing and Clare Buckfield.

The drama also featured several disabled characters over the years. In 1985 a deaf character, Eric Wallace, was featured while in 2005 another deaf character, Holly Parsons was added to the cast. The actress who played her, Rebecca-Anne Withey was also deaf and was Grange Hill’s first deaf cast member. In the 1990s the drama received media attention for its inclusion of two characters; Rachel Burns (Francesca Martinez) who had cerebral palsy and Denny Roberts (Lisa Hammond) who suffered from dwarfism – both characters were treated as ‘part of the gang’ by the other characters.

In the mid 2000s the BBC decided to refocus its attention, in regards to the CBBC strand of programming, on younger audiences – effectively abandoning its teen audience. Therefore Grange Hill was forced to undergo a revamp to fit in with this format – criticised by the press as “dumbing down” the drama. In 2008 it was axed after 30 years on-air and sadly it went out with a whimper rather than a bang.


Byker Grove: 1989 – 2006

The drama was set in Newcastle and was often described as a “northern Grange Hill” but it was not set in a school but instead at a youth club. As with its southern counter-part the series tackled a wide range of subjects as it focused on teenagers on the path to adulthood and self discovery – it was one of the first children’s dramas to feature a gay kiss. The theme tune and opening credits, especially in the 1990s, are one of the most memorable things about the drama.

Obviously no mention of Byker Grove would be complete without referring to ‘Ant & Dec’ who started out life on the drama. Yes folks Byker Grove is too blame for the careers of Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly who went from being PJ and Duncan to regular presenters on ITV. They are not everyone’s cup of tea though but to a whole generation, despite there numerous ITV shows, they’ll forever remembered for Byker Gove. Other memorable cast members from the drama include Donna Air, Jill Halfpenny, Andrew Hayden-Smith, Dale Meeks and Charlie Hardwick.

Unfortunately the drama was a victim of the silly idea by CBBC to shift its focus away from a broad audience to a younger, more defined audience and abandon teenagers. While Grange Hill was “dumbed down” to fit this remit Byker Grove was cancelled by the BBC.


Timeslip 1970 – 1971?

TimeslipA children’s drama concerning time travel and the perils of science; teenagers Liz (Cheryl Burfield) and Simon (Spencer Banks) discover a ‘time barrier’ at a disused ministry of defence site while on holiday. The ‘time barrier’ takes them back in time to 1940 where the same base is being used to develop Radar and is taken over by Germans. Working at the base is Liz’s father Frank and it is run by Commander Traynor (Dennis Quilley) who, while Liz and Simon are stuck in 1940, turns up in 1970 to tell her parents what has happened to her.

Timeslip comprised of four serials of verifying lengths with the first serial, The Wrong End of Time, set in 1940 while the following two; The Time of the Ice Box and The Year of the Burn Up were set in to alternate versions of the year 1990. However, both share the common theme of the dangers of science with the Ice Box being controlled by a deranged clone (John Barron) while the alternate version of 1990 presents us with an England ruined by global warming. The fourth and final story is something of a chase through time as Simon and Liz discover some of the truth behind the ‘time barrier’ and their journeys through time.

Timeslip is sometimes described as ITV’s attempt at re-creating Doctor Who but this isn’t really true as the only similarities they share is the time travel aspect. Timeslip as with other series from the 1970s such as Survivors was distrustful of science presenting it often as the root of problems of the era’s explored by Liz and Simon. In some aspects it was ahead of its time especially given the global warming situation of the alternate 1990 – the environmental damage caused by humanity is now a major concern. A sequel series was proposed but Timeslip was plagued by problems including a colour strike meaning some episodes had to be recorded in black and white – limiting over sea’s sales. Now only one colour episode is believed to exist with the remaining episodes all in black and white.


The Sarah Jane Adventures: 2007 – Present

Shockingly this Doctor Who spin-off series is the only current children’s drama to make our poll – which speaks volumes about the dubious quality of the genre today. Right from the word go though The Sarah Jane Adventures stood out against the rest of its fellow children’s drama with Elisabeth Sladen, reprising her Who role of Sarah Jane Smith, leading a cast who defended the Earth again various alien menaces. Perhaps part of the reason why this series is better than other children’s dramas is because the producers know it has to intelligent and well written because a fair chuck of the audience is actually adults – Doctor Who fans, not just parents watching with then kiddies.

The charm of the series is plain to see as Elisabeth Sladen – who doesn’t appear to have aged a day since the 1970s – is once again playing Sarah Jane Smith tackling different alien nasties with the aid of her sonic lipstick, super-computer (Alexander Armstrong) and her neighbours. The occasional nod to Doctor Who such as the appearance of Sontarans, Siltheen and friends such as Jo Grant (Katy Manning), The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) K-9 (John Leeson) and even the Doctor himself (David Tennant, Matt Smith) has helped The Sarah Jane Adventures keep its connection to Doctor Who alive.

The series has also attracted some strong guest-stars such as Bradley Walsh, Doreen Mantle, Beth Goddard, Phyllida Law, Jane Asher, Samantha Bond, Ronan Vibert, Russ Abbott, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Nigel Havers, Callum Blue, Suranne Jones, Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes, Laila Rouass and Julie Graham.


The other dramas you can vote for this week are; the ITV series The Tomorrow People which ran between 1973 and 1979 and was revived in 1992 running until 1995 – but it was a remake rather than a continuation of the original series. The 1990 six-part drama Dark Season created by future Doctor Who/Queer as Folk writer Russell T. Davies and was notable for featuring Kate Winslet in an early acting role. Dark Season was also memorable for featuring Jacqueline Pearce (Blakes 7) as a neo-nazi turban-wearing fanatic. The Granada drama Children’s Ward was created by Kay Mellor and Paul Abbott – both of whom went onto greater things. Children’s Ward ran between 1989 and 2000 on ITV and featured many future stars such as Tim Vincent, Tina O’Brien, Jane Danson and Chris Bisson.

Uncle Jack ran for four seasons on BBC One between 1990 and 1993 and featured Paul Jones as the ‘titular character’ and Fenella Fielding as The Vixen, the baddie of the piece. Uncle Jack also starred Roger Hammond and Jimmi Harkishin now better known as Dev Alahan in Coronation Street. Raven was a six-part ATV series from 1977 which starred Phil Daniels (future EastEnders actor) who discovers a cave system connected to the legends of King Arthur. Raven also starred Patsy Rowlands, James Kerry, Michael Alridge and Shirley Cheriton. You can also vote for Children of the Stones and The Jenson Code.

 

Voting will remain open until Thursday 18th November. To vote it couldn’t be simpler! Our poll is located on the right-hand side of our site. Select the show of your choice and hit vote – you’ll then be re-directed to the results page where you can see how the poll is doing. You can vote for ‘Other’ if the show of your choice isn’t included within our poll. However, please do post below what your ‘Other’ choice is as it will be included in the final results of the poll.

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