The death of Edward Barnes truly marks the passing of one of the greats of children’s television. He spent 30 years working in children’s programmes – around half of it as the deputy head then head of the department.
He oversaw a remarkable range of programmes. The BBC’s children’s service under him – and his successor Anna Home – was truly BBC TV in miniature.
Virtually every genre had a place and there was a sense that the cartoons and fun were ultimately there to support the remarkable content which stretched young imaginations.
His role in the creation of Newsround is widely chronicled. His late wife Dorothy Smith contributed many fine and memorable history items to Blue Peter.
She had an incredible sense of the “hook” or “detail” which could engage a child in history – so often a dry and boring subject in the hands of a bad teacher.
The quality of the drama made for children – sometimes on modest budgets – is also astounding in retrospect.
The respect Edward Barnes and his colleagues had for young people is evidenced by the surviving replies to letters he received.
As we all like talking about Pres, it’s interesting to note how much survives thanks to Blue Peter. Legendary editor Biddy Baxter tried to ensure copies of each programme were kept at a time when junking was common.
Until 1977 Blue Peter was one of the few programmes regularly afforded the honour of a “clock start” – normally reserved, of course, for the news and major outside broadcasts. This, at least subliminally, added to the impression it was an important and prestigious programme.
This became impractical after 1977 as Blue Peter moved to a later slot after Newsround.
Like many live programmes, Blue Peter rarely ran exactly to time. This must have been a challenge for Presentation going into the junction at 5.39pm – including a trail for the regional news plus the clock for the Evening News.
But of course Pres is there to support the programmes.
Few young people knew the name of Edward Barnes but he gave them so many programmes to treasure.
PICTURED: Edward Barnes (1970). COPYRIGHT: BBC.