‘Nothing short of revelatory’: the 10 best CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories – ranked

<span>Photograph: BBC/PA</span>
Photograph: BBC/PA

Reese Witherspoon is about to become the latest A-lister to read a kids’ book at bedtime, but she’s got stiff competition. From Tom Hardy to Dolly Parton, here’s who to beat

CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories is perhaps the most star-studded show on all of television. Since its humble beginnings a decade and a half ago – intended as a low-key update of Jackanory, where children could have a gentle story read to them before going to bed – it has slowly attracted a stream of increasingly big names, each of them realising the value of an easy, wholesome win. The latest is Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon will be the first best actress Oscar winner to host Bedtime Stories. Her chosen story will be Penny Harrison’s Extraordinary, which is said to celebrate “the best moments in life: the ones we share with friends and family”. But if she thinks she can simply waltz in and become everyone’s favourite Bedtime Stories host, Witherspoon has another thing coming. To prove it, here are the 10 most impressive Bedtime Stories so far. Reese, this is your competition.

10. Matt Berry – The Busy Beaver

Have there been Bedtime Stories hosts more famous than Matt Berry? Certainly. But have any of them been better at reading their chosen books? Not a chance. Pound for pound, Matt Berry is the most entertaining host in history, turbo-charging all his stories with the monumental power of his voice. If there’s an heir to Rik Mayall’s legendary Jackanory turn, it’s him. There isn’t a children’s author on Earth who wouldn’t kill to have their book read by Matt Berry.

9. Terry Wogan – Bare Bear

Again, in terms of sheer global celebrity, Terry Wogan is wildly outpaced by subsequent hosts. But good God, that voice. That twinkle. That fully present engagement. Wogan was born to read bedtime stories for children. For all the hoopla about the A listers lining up to take part, this is proof that you don’t need star power to be an A lister to be truly charismatic.

8. Ryan Reynolds – Where the Wild Things Are

Ryan Reynolds has two qualities that the Bedtime Stories bookers appear to hold dear: he’s a movie star, and he has a tendency to make mums blush. So why isn’t he higher on this list? That’s simple. His chosen book was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It’s a classic, sure, but Bedtime Stories is supposed to be about contemporary books. You can’t just let actors pick the books they liked as kids. That seems impossibly vain.

7. Chris Evans – Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

This is more like it. A proper hunky movie star, who played an integral role in the biggest film of all time, reading a book that isn’t half a century old. It’s all very impressive, but – if I’m honest – a little too impersonal for my liking. A very important part of Bedtime Stories is how the star signs off. By now, the best of them should have forged a connection with their young audience. Evans, meanwhile, says goodbye like he’s seeing off an acquaintance at an airport.

6. Dave Grohl - Octopus’s Garden

Tricky one, this. Dave Grohl is clearly a big kid at heart, so is instantly suited to the Bedtime Stories format. And he’s a drummer, so it only makes sense that he’d choose Ringo Starr’s 2014 novelisation of his song Octopus’s Garden. However, I don’t know if you’ve read Octopus’s Garden, but it’s literally just the song Octopus’s Garden typed out into a book. This is less a bedtime story and more Shatner-level beat poetry. Still good, though.

5. Stephen Graham – The Yoga Ogre

This, meanwhile, is just delightful. In recent years Stephen Graham has developed a reputation as one of this country’s most intense performers; an actor who can harness the steely focus of a young Pacino like no other. But nine years ago, he was a Bedtime Stories host. And a fantastic one at that; warm and funny and kind. You could argue that he was the prototypical Bedtime Stories A-lister. You shouldn’t, but you could.

4. Rosamund Pike – Spaghetti With the Yeti

Part of Bedtime Stories’ appeal is that guests are seemingly chosen for their abilities to disable mums with lust. Dads, on the other hand, are a little overlooked. The closest it has ever come is probably Rosamund Pike, who rocked up in 2014 – right at the pinnacle of her Gone Girl fame – and absolutely charmed the pants off everyone.

3. Tom Hiddleston – Supertato

With one notable exception, who we will come to soon, Tom Hiddleston represents the very peak of what Bedtime Stories can do. Is he famous? Yes. Is he handsome? Of course. Does he rock some impressive knitwear? You bet. But the key to Hiddleston’s success here is his choice of book. Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet’s Supertato is an absolute juggernaut of a book, beloved by kids to the point of hysteria. And Hiddleston gives it everything he’s got. A near perfect achievement.

2. Dolly Parton – Dog Loves Books

Nobody deserves to appear on Bedtime Stories more than Dolly Parton. On top of just being a spectacular person all round, she has done more – via her Imagination Library organisation – to promote children’s literacy than almost anyone alive. Honestly, she could have turned up on Bedtime Stories and just done a bunch of fart noises for five minutes and she’d have made this list. I should point out that she didn’t do that, though.

1. Tom Hardy – There’s a Tiger in the Garden

Who else could it have been? Tom Hardy’s first appearance on Bedtime Stories was nothing short of revelatory, not just with mums who wanted something nice to look at, but with kids who genuinely connected with his easy charm. If it wasn’t for Tom Hardy, there would be far fewer celebrities clamouring to take part on the show. And, if it wasn’t for Tom Hardy, there wouldn’t be so many TikToks of women flinging themselves into bed on his command. But that probably isn’t the point.

Bedtime Stories with Reese Witherspoon will air on Friday 28 January, 6.50pm, CBeebies.