Wednesday 10 December 2008

RIP Oliver Postgate: "Children are no longer children. With so many millions at stake they are a market"

The Guardian today published a 2003 article by the late Oliver Postgate - creator of the Clangers, Bagpuss (pictured) and Ivor the Engine - on a budget he estimates at £10 a minute for each finished film, a stark contrast to the multi-millions now spent on children's programmes.

Such frugal programming came to an end when:
Then, in 1987, the BBC let us know that in future all programming was to be judged by what they called its "audience ratings". Furthermore, we were told, some US researchers had established that in order to retain its audience (and its share of the burgeoning merchandising market), every children's programme had to have a "hook", ie, a startling incident to hold the attention, every few seconds. As our films did not fit this category they were deemed not fit to be shown any more.
My fellow writers of children's books, does this sound familiar? If one were to replace the word "stations" with "publishers" would this be a fair assessment of children's publishing today? Postgate wrote:

Today, making films for children's television has become very big business, requiring huge capital investment, far beyond the reach of small companies . . . entrepreneurs have to hurtle from country to country, seeking subscriptions from TV stations to fund their enormous costs. Each of these stations will often require a format to be adapted to suit its own largest and dumbest market. They have to do this because, for them, children are no longer children: they are a market. With so many millions at stake, the bottom line is "to give the children of today only the sort of things that they already know they enjoy". Or they might switch channels.

My own assessment is this comes close. But there are too many really fine children's books in the shops to say that publishing is dumbing down. Yes, children have become a market. Yes, children's publishing is under similar pressures to children's programming. But no, the fact that editors are constantly banging on about looking for that new Voice means that good things can still be expected from this highly important industry.

Read the rest of Postgate's article and have a good think.


  1. Great blog, Candy. Postgate was, along with Ray Harryhausen, the reason I got into animation, and publishing also for that matter. My love of stop frame comes directly from them - didn't realise until his passing how much of an influence he'd been, supplying the shows I so dearly loved as a child.

    Keep up the great work, m'dear!

    Curtis Jobling

  2. I suspect one will see in the children's "market" the same as one sees in the adult book reading "market" - stuff with mass appeal and literary books. It will all depend on an individual publisher's mission statement and vision.


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