Matt here, covering for Hugh. I hope you all had a great… actually, you know what, that doesn’t feel right. Let’s just hope this is the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning. I’m an optimist, and despite all the barriers to optimism, I think things will get better this year. Promise.
This week, we’ve got a lovely Formats Unpacked from Robyn Collinge. Robyn is a brilliant copywriter and all-round creative guru who makes words and brands for WeTransfer. She also has a great newsletter about forgotten ideas that I know many of you will enjoy.
This week, Robyn has given us a particularly, um, personal take on a much loved format. Let’s just say I think many of our regular readers will like, and possibly identify, with this one - let her know on Twitter if you agree.
What’s it called?
What’s the format?
Bedtime Stories is the final show of the day on CBeebies (the children’s television network from the BBC). It airs every day at 6.50pm, and follows the format of a celebrity or guest star reading a well-known children’s book to camera. The studio is usually customised to fit the narrative world of each story, and props like stuffed animals or fairy lights bring a sense of magic, wonder and a general wholesome vibe.
It’s essentially a televised bedtime story for children (you get it, the clue’s in the name). Except it’s not. Because here I am, a 30 year-old childless woman, about to tell you why it’s so great.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
First off, Cbeebies’ content game is strong. The channel does a remarkable job of delivering a broad range of children’s tv shows centred on learning, growth, diversity and fun, and it doesn’t shy away from important or controversial issues (just look at how presenter Ben Cajee perfectly articulates racism).
And while Bedtimes Stories could easily be written off as a simple format to save busy parents a job, it’s more than that. You have Mr Tumble (the cream of CBeebies talent) signing all of his stories, Professor David Olusoga kicking off Black History Month, and the likes of Chris Evans explaining how even superheroes have bad days. From Hollywood A-listers to national treasures, health professionals to activists, guests are diverse and deliberate in their choice of stories — often delivering a message to children that goes beyond the final page.
But, praise for the BBC aside, the main magic that makes it special is what I shall refer to as “CBeebies’ thirst trap agenda.”
You see, when it comes to its choice of male celebrity guests, the show has a habit of being incredibly tongue-in-cheek.
Tom Hardy (and his dogs) are a regular on the program, and CBeebies is far from subtle in promoting his appearances. A swift scroll through the replies to its “Tom Hardy Bedtime Story. New Year's Eve. You're welcome.” tweet reveals claims of “BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!!” and pledges to cancel all New Years plans to spend the evening with Tom. And no, these are not tweets from 4-year-olds. Hardy’s appearance on February 14 in 2017 — Valentine’s Day for god’s sake — is said to be the show’s most viewed episode. No doubt followed by his Mother’s Day special.
When Chris Evans took to the screen, even I, a self-confessed Pratt girl when it comes to the Hollywood Chris’s, caught myself shushing my nephew as he complained “Captain America isn’t wearing his magic shield.” (To be fair, I doubt he’d be able to get the thing on with shirt sleeves that tight.)
And don’t get me started on the amount of “Are you all tucked in?” euphemisms.
But it’s not just the celebrities themselves — which, let’s face it, are rarely for the children at all. It’s the way we see these A-list, People Magazine list-topping men earnestly read the books of our own childhoods. And while the whole thing may be incredibly clichéd (and I fear massively sexist), there’s something so soothing about having someone read a familiar story to you, even if just for a few minutes. And couldn’t we all do with a little soothing right now?
In the broadest sense of people/celebrities reading things aloud that other people have written, I’d say My Dad Wrote a Porno, Storyline Online, Celebrities Read Mean Tweets ...and I guess any audiobook ever?
I’m ashamed to admit I can’t get through the first 15 seconds of James McAvoy without giggling like a schoolgirl. But since my opinion is perhaps somewhat skewed I decided to ask my 3-year-old nephew about his favourite episode…
He replied: “What’s black and white and red and brown all over? A penguin and a newspaper.”
He discovered cracker jokes this Christmas.
When pressed again he told me “Justin!” That’s Justin Fletcher of Justin’s House, who is also Mr Tumble’s alter ego (honestly you’re about to end up in a google hole you won’t regret...)
I have a slightly different relationship with CBeebies Bedtime Stories, as my wife is a children's book illustrator, and her books have featured a couple of times. Although, come to think of it, she has had a bit of a thing for Martin Freeman since he read one of her books…
If, like Robyn, you’ve got a format you’d like to unpack, please get in touch!