Teach­ing life lessons

As Play School turns 50, the show con­tin­ues to play an im­por­tant role in chil­dren’s lives. By CLARE RIGDEN

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS -

NONI Ha­zle­hurst is of­ten re­ferred to as “the na­tion’s mother-in-chief”.

She was, af­ter all, a ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence in a lot of our child­hoods, hav­ing spent half of Play School’s 50 years on air as a pre­sen­ter.

“I’m happy with that la­bel,” she says. “People need love and nur­tur­ing. They need com­fort and em­pa­thy. That, to me, is what I want to send out to the world, and those are the sto­ries I want to tell.”

Ha­zle­hurst’s gen­uine warmth en­deared her to mil­lions of view­ers in her time on the iconic chil­dren’s pro­gram, which she pre­sented from 1978 to 2002.

It is fit­ting she was in­ducted into the Lo­gies Hall of Fame in the same year the show she so adores cel­e­brates a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone.

In July, the chil­dren’s TV sta­ple will un­roll a raft of spe­cial events to cel­e­brate their half-cen­tury on the air.

When Ha­zle­hurst pre­sented the show, it was all filmed in one con­tin­u­ous take. These days, ex­tended seg­ments are edited. But the rest re­mains the same.

Big Ted, Lit­tle Ted and Jemima are all still all there – al­beit a lit­tle well-loved these days – and they have a range of new friends, both stuffed and hu­man, with whom to share the stage.

“They would only stop the tape if it was ab­so­lutely un-get-out-able,” Ha­zle­hurst says. “You would have to have sworn pretty hor­ri­bly to make them stop, be­cause they wanted it ‘warts and all’. And that was the charm.”

These days it is eas­ier to reshoot, but there’s still an em­pha­sis on sol­dier­ing on. Pro­ducer So­phie Am­tage says the ac­tors “use their skills to cover up and keep go­ing”.

As in the be­gin­ning, to­day’s pre­sen­ters – mostly NIDA-trained ac­tors – are cast for their “re­al­ness” and re­lata­bil­ity to chil­dren.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jan Stradling says they “still stick to a for­mula”.

“You can change the set and do those types of things,” she says. “But es­sen­tially it’s the same show it was many years ago – two pre­sen­ters talk­ing to a child at home as a best friend.

Ha­zle­hurst says chil­dren “can see through you if you’re not sin­cere”.

“Hav­ing done a lot of work with ne­glected and abused chil­dren, I also know for a fact that some­times Play

School pre­sen­ters are the nicest adults chil­dren are in con­tact with,” she says.

“Through the vi­car­i­ous medium of tele­vi­sion, at least two people, for half an hour, twice a day, give them non-judg­men­tal, un­con­di­tional sup­port.”

Play School’s new­est re­cruit, Lo­gie award-win­ning ac­tor Mi­randa Tapsell, agrees. She knows she plays an im­por­tant role, es­pe­cially for indige­nous chil­dren watch­ing from re­mote ar­eas.

“It’s lovely to think there are Abo­rig­i­nal people go­ing into their adult life hav­ing seen another Abo­rig­i­nal per­son on Play School, like me and Luke [Car­roll, her costar],” she says.

“Even for non-indige­nous chil­dren, to have fond mem­o­ries of see­ing some­one like me on TV.

“Play School is so di­verse. People in all walks of life and dif­fer­ent back­grounds are be­ing rep­re­sented on the show … it’s nice for lit­tle people to see dif­fer­ent faces and make that con­nec­tion.”

PLAY SCHOOL WEEK­DAYS – 6AM, 9.30AM, 12.30PM, 3.30PM; WEEK­ENDS – 9.30AM, 3.30PM; ABC KIDS

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