Podcast: Brighter than Bagpuss – BBC’s Radio 4 Sideways

I appeared on the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Sideways.

My snippets:

Listening options for the full episode:



Matthew Syed looks at how kids’ TV got smart, and what we can learn about the developing mind from the program makers who led the way. I discuss the role of cultural evolution in this phenomenon.

Boston, Massachusetts. 1970. A group of mothers and young children assembles outside the offices of the local TV station. It’s the first phase of a fight to improve kids’ TV that would go all the way to the United States Senate. In the late 1960s, children’s television in the US was dominated by cheap cartoons and adverts for sugary snacks. Peggy Charren had something to say about it. She formed a grassroots activism group in her living room with other concerned mothers – Action for Children’s Television. It would become one of the most influential broadcast lobbying groups in history. Peggy was part of a wave of people who were starting to take kids’ TV seriously. From the creators of Sesame Street to psychological researchers like Professor Daniel Anderson who brought science into children’s program-making, Matthew draws out what we can learn from these innovators who know how to create a hit show.

So many great points included from the other guests:

  • Debbie Charren, Peggy’s daughter, and former schoolteacher and reading specialist;
  • Robert Krock, Action for Children’s Television’s former development director;
  • Daniel Anderson, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst;
  • and Andrew Davenport, creator, writer and composer of In the Night Garden, Moon and Me, and Teletubbies.

My thanks to presenter Matthew Syed, producer Caroline Thornham and editor Katherine Godfrey.