The most shocking scandals in children’s TV history

Dave Lamb’s brisk, sarky manner might be perfect for ‘Come Dine With Me’ – but for tots’ TV? Parents complained in their droves when the BBC introduced Lamb for a new series of ‘Waybuloo’ (a show for very young kids that hopes to get them interested in exercise with yoga-type moves). Comments included: “We’ve had to switch off. It has ruined a lovely, calming programme” and “The changes are actually upsetting for my children.”

The BBC was forced to drop Lamb after just one episode. It was the second kids TV row in as many weeks, with Channel Five also under fire as parents complained that the much-loved ‘Peppa Pig’ was making their children naughty! Parents reported copy-cat (or copy-pig) behaviour including jumping in muddy puddles and yelling for chocolate cake, both favourite activities of Peppa Pig and family.

Whatever their crimes against viewers, Lamb and Pig can at least rest assured that they are in good company when it comes to children’s TV controversies. Alan Tyers looks back at some more examples of bad behaviour from adults who really ought to know better…

[See also: Life after soaps - An interview with Craig Fairbrass]

Title: Teletubbies
Controversy: “Tinky Winky is gay,” says mad American preacher
Year: 1999
What happened? For reasons that remain unclear, the Teletubbies somehow appeared on the radar of Jerry Falwell, right-wing televangelist and enemy to gay people everywhere. And he did not like what he saw. It was bad enough that Tinky Winky is “purple, the gay pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle, the gay-pride symbol.” But the fact that the largest Teletubby carried a manbag? Definitive proof that he was “a gay role model”. Of course.

Title: Rastamouse
Controversy: Crime-fighting mouse ‘has cannabis undertones and stereotypes Rastafarians’
Year: 2011
What happened? Loveable Rastafarian mouse, erm, Rastamouse, whose creed is “to make a bad ting good”, solves crimes with his furry chums but urges forgiveness, not punishment, of miscreants. Rastamouse is extremely fond of cheese, leading some to speculate that this is code for marijuana, and others to call the show “this generation’s ‘Magic Roundabout’.” What’s more, others felt it was offensive to Rasta culture, with Reggae Reggae Sauce founder Levi Roots saying: “I was asked to do the voice of the mouse, but I said no. I am a Rastafarian and I wouldn’t want to portray a Rastafarian as a mouse. For me it is about integrity.”

Title: Sesame Street
Controversy: Today’s show is brought to you by Katy Perry, the number 32 and the letter D
Year: 2010
What happened? Bouncy pop star Katy Perry’s duet with Elmo on her ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ hit appeared on the internet prior to the show, causing consternation among parents. Comments included: “You can practically see her t*ts. That’s some wonderful children’s programming”; “They should rename it Cleavage Avenue” and “My kid wants milk now.” The segment was pulled from the show. Perry appeared on ‘Saturday Night Live’ soon after in a light-hearted tribute, bursting out of a super-tight Elmo t-shirt.

[See also: Coronation Street causes storm over child slap]

Title: Blue Peter
Controversy: Cat-naming scandal shocker
Year: 2007
What happened? Flagship children’s show ‘Blue Peter’ asked its viewers to vote in a poll to name the programme’s new cat, and the young public spoke in favour of the name Cookie. For reasons that were unclear, programme bosses instead pretended that the poll winner was Socks. Hardly the crime of the century, but coming just a few months after the show was forced to apologise for inventing a competition winner, and right in the middle of the ‘TV fakery’ row, the series had to issue an apology. It was delivered by the unfortunate presenters Konnie Huq and Zoe Salmon. Holding cats.

Title: The Magic Roundabout
Controversy: Making out that drugs were not bad
Year: 1977
What happened? The classic stop-motion animation featuring grumpy Dougal, excitable Zebedee and hippy Dylan was beloved by a generation of children, and several subsequent generations of students. Dougal’s fondness, not to say need, for sugar lumps; the spaced-out nature of Dylan, often found taking a keen interest in plants and, as many thought, the hallucinogenic metaphor of the magic roundabout itself were the inspiration for thousands of debates about drugs and the show’s meaning.

Title: Grange Hill
Controversy: Kids say no, adults say “what hell going on?”
Year: 1987
What happened? Phil Redmond’s programme about a suburban London comp radically changed the idea of what children’s TV could be. And a lot of people were not ready for it. Parents complained about the on-screen rebellions and disrespect for teachers, arguing that it was encouraging bad behaviour in real-life kids. Or was it just reflecting society? Either way, the show’s most famous storyline – Zammo on heroin – caused a huge stir, and even took the cast all the way to the White House to meet anti-drug campaigner and First Lady, Nancy Reagan.

Title: Blue Peter (again)
Controversy: Apology can’t save druggy presenter’s bacon
Year: 1997
What happened? One celeb who can’t have lamented the demise of the ‘News Of The World’ last year is presenter Richard Bacon, who found himself the subject of a classic ‘Screws’ splash when it was revealed that he had taken cocaine. The presenter was sacked, but has gone on to have a successful career post-BP. He’s not the only presenter to come under fire for his private life: in 1980 it was revealed that Peter Duncan had once been in a porn film; while ‘Blue Peter’ big cheese Biddy Baxter was said to be furious when it emerged that Janet Ellis had a child out of wedlock.

Title: Minipops
Controversy: Pre-teeny boppers make parents uneasy
Year: 1983
What happened? The idea of very young kids singing pop hits seemed like a cute one at the time. But viewers soon found the sight of tiny children dressed in adult clothes, gyrating in a distinctly adult way, and singing lyrics which were way beyond their station a little bit… icky. The show’s nadir came when five-year-old Joanna Fisher covered the Sheena Easton song ‘9 to 5’ in nightwear. Sample lyric? “Night time is the right time, we make love.” ‘Minipops’ did not get a second series.

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