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