Greg Healey: Not in Front of the Children: Hidden Histories in Kids’ TV
For those of us who grew up watching children’s TV in the 1960s and ‘70s, it’s hard to separate memories of certain programmes from our youthful attempts to understand the world around us. Many books have been written about classic children’s series from the era, mostly serving a nostalgic function, but Greg Healey’s book ‘Not In Front of the Children’ pursues s radically different purpose, seeking as it does to use four classic children’s programmes as the springboard for a breathless exploration of socio-cultural developments in the post-WW2 period.
There is something rather profound about Healey’s approach. The cultural revolutions of the ‘60s and 70s were so far-reaching that it often feels like we’re still trying to make sense of it all; certainly, the ramifications are ongoing. For those of us who grew up in this era, revisiting the past via our favourite childhood TV programmes is an opportunity to understand the societal upheavals which were going on in the background (from a child’s perspective), but which nevertheless were shaping our lives and those of our parents.
Healey focuses on four TV programmes: Scooby-Doo; Mary, Mungo & Midge; Mr Benn and Ivor the Engine, using these series as the entry point for ruminations on everything from the impact of ‘Butcher’ Beeching’s reshaping of the UK’s rail network,s to the 1957 Wolfenden report on sexual offences. The scope of Healey’s socio-cultural exploration is breathtaking. For example, while many previous pop culture commentators have mentioned the importance of 1960s art schools to British Invasion-era UK musicians, Healey provides fascinating background detail on the policy changes driving the post-WW2 explosion in arts education.
‘Not in Front of the Children’ traces numerous intertwined threads through the cultural changes of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Healey provides the missing interstitial tissue that contextualises many of our half-remembered childhood memories, not just from our favourite TV programmes.
For this reviewer, reading ‘Not in Front of the Children’ was a compulsive experience. I gorged on this surprising and remarkable book, finding it unexpectedly satisfying to have so many loose ends connected and embedded in their historical context. There is also much humour along the way, ensuring that ‘Not in Front of the Children’ is never a chore to read.
Healey should be congratulated not only on his detailed research, but also for his ability to present such complex material in an accessible and compelling manner. Buy this book, not for nostalgia value, but for an opportunity to make sense of how we got where we are now.