'It’s a massive joy': the programme-makers bringing back quality British kids' TV

While the BBC’s dollops of Bitesize Daily has reminded the country of the value of children’s television, there is another public-service initiative quietly climbing the charts. It is the awkwardly named Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF), which was launched in 2019 to reverse a collapse in the number of original British children’s programmes, where funding has fallen by 40% in 10 years.

No one knew if devoting £60m to a three-year-long experiment to subsidise programmes for four- to 18-year-olds could revive a creative sector that was dying on its feet or reintroduce variety beyond bought-in cartoons. But as the YACF enters year two, it is judged to have had a good start despite the pause in most TV production. Floella Benjamin, who championed it, says: “It is a success – it has opened the door to people whose voices have not been heard. The BBC can only do so much.”

It is also delivering a lockdown dividend, after it improvised by inviting children and teenagers to become involved in short, quality programmes for broadcast, after only a quarter of children polled said television reflected their lives.

If you want to see the output for yourself, try sampling the six-part Letters in Lockdown, available on All 4. One that touched me was made in three weeks, with Soham, a 16-year-old boy from Coventry, who writes to his absentee father in the Middle East: “I never felt I had a father figure; you drifted away,” he says, remarking he would have liked tips on shaving. As they share the letter, his father has teary moments and they reconcile.

An experiment in May called See Yourself on Screen challenged children to compete to make a short TV show (with mentors) resulting in 15 that made it to broadcast. I loved one from a young girl, Betsy – called Squeaks and Wheeks – about her guinea pigs. “My best friends in lockdown … they can sometimes get a bit smelly,” she says. So she gussies them up with a shampoo and groom in preparation for a guinea-pig tea party. This was all mentored by Jessica Hynes.

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