Start reciting the words “Here’s a house, here’s a door” to many over-30s, and you’ll soon be joined in a rollicking chorus of “ready to knock, turn the lock – Play School!” While New Zealand can’t take the credit for that particular children’s television earworm, over the years, we’ve definitely delivered our fair share.
Arriving on our screens in 1973, educational show Spot On was ushered in by the funky sounds of Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman’s Blue Boy. The series went on to run for 15 years, and launched the careers of a number of local presenters; among them, Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan and former Newstalk ZB host and 6th dan black belt Danny Watson. Fun fact: a young Sir Peter Jackson entered the show’s annual ‘Young Filmmaker’ competition.
Another import we can’t take credit for, The Romper Room buzzed into New Zealand living rooms in 1975. Its opening titles – somewhat incongruously backed by Pop Goes the Weasel – established a bee motif that ran throughout the show, where phrases “Do Bee” and “Don’t Bee” were used to model correct and incorrect behaviour for littlies. Those of us of a certain vintage may also recall host Miss Yvonne’s ‘magic mirror’, through which she pretended to spy on the audience at home. Fun fact: ‘Miss’ Yvonne was in fact the very married wife of future Prime Minister Mike Moore.
Weekend viewing since 1981, What Now? is well-known to multiple generations of Kiwi kids. Less known is that the show’s iconic theme tune wasn’t, as some of us assumed, purpose written – Get Out of Your Lazy Bed was actually a minor hit from UK band Matt Bianco. This 1992 Christmas Special features the track, and sees presenters Simon Barnett and Cath McPherson larking it up with a long line of past hosts, and includes a best of compilation from the show’s first decade on air. Fun fact: Check out Barnett’s 90s curtain fringe and undercut.
First broadcast in 1985, and still remembered fondly, Terry and the Gunrunners followed 12 year-old skateboarder Terry Teo in his attempt to fight crime and take on bad guys (among them another former PM, Rob Muldoon). The much-loved series was given a reboot last year, initially screening OnDemand before making it to prime time. Fun fact: The show’s original theme song was composed by Don McGlashan and sung by Billy T James, who also starred in the series.
Three years after debuting on A Haunting We Will Go, 1982 saw Count Homogenized given his own breakout series, named and theme-tuned around his famous catch-cry. It is I Count Homogenized found the Count on a quest to dupe local dairy owners out of an endless supply of cow juice. Fun fact: the series was made in association with the NZ Milk Promotion Council.
Fast forward to the 90s, and it was all about Suzy Cato, who dominated the decade with her children’s series’ The Early Bird Show, 3pm and You and Me. You and Me was targeted towards the pre-school crowd, and opened with a catchy sing-a-long theme coupled with shots of lots of young-uns at play. But it wasn’t all fun and games – this episode sees Suzy tackle the sensitive subject of toilet training. Fun fact: Clearly no slacker, Cato appeared in more than 2000 episodes of You and Me during the series run.