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Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 years

Exhibition

Blast off as we celebrate Australia’s longest-running children’s television program in the exhibition Happy Birthday Play School.

Explore 50 years of Play School

Beginnings

Play School first aired on Australian television on 18 July 1966, presented by Alister Smart and Diane Dorgan. It was adapted from an original program first screened by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1964.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Play School has outlived the BBC version, which ended in 1988.

Alister Smart and Diane Dorgan
Alister Smart and Diane Dorgan presented the first episode of Play School in 1966.

Production

Play School has been led by six executive producers: Jan Stradling (2009–present), Virginia Lumsden (1999–2008), John Fox (1988–90), Claire Henderson (1984–88), Henrietta Clark (1980–84 and 1990–99) and Allan Kendall (1966–80). 

The Play School team makes nine series of five episodes each year. Each series revolves around a theme chosen by the producers and early childhood advisors. Every episode and idea goes through many rehearsals and revisions.

The program appears natural and unstructured, but this is achieved through deliberate and careful scriptwriting and the relaxed style of the presenters. There is no autocue – the presenters must learn their lines. The low camera angles add to the show’s appeal for a young audience.

Jan Kingsbury and John Hamblin
Presenter Jan Kingsbury on set with the windows, which have been part of the Play School routine the program began. Presenter John Hamblin is pictured with Humpty, one of the show's original toys.

Routine

Play School has always tried to create a comfortable and familiar environment for preschoolers. Routine elements such as going through the windows and the story remain, but others have changed.

Every week day from 1966 to 2010, viewers looked at the calendar to see what day of the week it was. The calendar segment became confusing once children were able to watch programs any time, on demand.

Monica Trapaga and Simon Burke
Play School has attracted stars from the stage and screen, including Monica Trapaga and Simon Burke.

Reach

In 2016, more than one million Australians tune into Play School each week. It screens four times a day, seven days a week. Viewers can download apps or watch a spin-off series.


All images © Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2016