Recently I posted here about Cousin H, who has landed the rather plum job of designing toys for In the Night Garden.
The other week he enquired whether he could ‘borrow’ the Littleboys one morning – as a kind of mini toddler focus group for some of the toys that are currently in development. We jumped at the chance – well, why turn down free entertainment?
He subsequently turned up on Saturday in a taxi laden with a mind-boggling number of ITNG toys all of all descriptions: Upsy Daisy-themed ride on cars; Pontypine stacking blocks, and an Iggle Piggle etchasketch among them.
Some of the other exciting products I am not even allowed to reveal because they are still at the ‘drawing board’ stage – these had to be smuggled back to the Beeb in the taxi, but suffice to say that they are the cutting edge of toddler-facing design.
But the Littleboys did get to keep a rather astonishing number, and for them it was as if Christmas came early (even if Santa was a thirtysomething curly-haired guy in trainers rather than the traditional merry gent). And Cousin H got his research done, looking on earnestly as they played manically with the toys, helpfully tested their sturdiness with their usual throw-fest and fought over the ones they liked best.
Our house is now stuffed with toys that could well be next year’s Christmas bestsellers (it did make me laugh last year when the ‘In the Night Garden Little Library’ constantly appeared in the top 10 books charts alongside the latest Booker winners and celebrity memoirs).
This is, after all, big business for kids’ telly. Work-wise, I’ve just been writing an article on kids’ TV (for once, an appropriate subject for me to write about, since I sit through so much of the stuff). I had to look at how children’s programming is faring following the junk food advertising ban, the entry of multiple digital kids’ channels to the UK and so forth. The answer is not well – over the past few years broadcasters have drastically cut their budgets for original programming (ie., the stuff that’s not US imports or repeats). But, as one broadcasting pundit pointed out to me, create a hit show from which you can create toys under licence – ITNG being a classic example – and you’ve struck children’s TV gold, recouping the cash that goes into funding quality shows.
So if all these TV-themed toys are funding the next