2 Apr 2002 2 comments. tbs.pm/1810
To many young people, news is a turnoff: dull, boring and irrelevant to their lives. Some think this is a relatively recent phenomenon, but in 1972, the BBC faced the same problem – children weren’t watching the news.
Whilst children are very different to adults, it would be wrong to suggest that kids are only interested in cartoons on the TV. The young, inquiring minds of each young generation start to take more interest in the world, and the issues that affect it, as they grow older. However, the main news programmes, aimed at an older audience, are not particularly accessible when you’re seven and eight, and it’s easy to think of them as being dull and boring.
The BBC’s solution in the early seventies was to commission a ten-minute programme targeted at children, with the aim of making the news interesting for kids.
The resulting programme was John Craven’s Newsround, later to become Newsround. Starting on 4 April 1972, the ten-minute programme was broadcast twice a week. Its initial six week trial run proved to be so popular that was extended, quickly moving to broadcast four days a week. Newsround has been a core staple of the BBC’s children’s schedules ever since.
Presented by a former Points West reporter, John Craven, the aim was to present the news for, and about, young people. Stories had to be fully explained, and not assume the audience had a great depth of knowledge on the subject, but also not be presented in a way. Stories featured included much of the main news of the day, along with stories also of interest to the viewers, often involving pop bands, films and science.
Newsround’s presentation was designed to appeal to kids, with the set having a bright reddish backdrop. Whilst John initially dressed smartly, in a shirt and tie, his clothing later relaxed and he’d be often seen wearing a jumper, or an open necked shirt. Rather than sitting at a desk, John sat in front of it, as he didn’t want to look like a teacher. The presentation ensured Newsround didn’t look stuffy to the audience, and its more relaxed approach has recently been copied by main news bulletins. Newsround had presenters sitting on desks long before Channel 5 even existed.
After the extension of its six-week run, the programme went from strength to strength. The same reporters as the main news programmes would often file reports. John Humphries and Richard Whitmore are two of the bigger names who can be found in the programme archives. The programme also used the idea of having a short, light-hearted story at the end of the programme. The phrase “And finally,” much associated to ITN’s Trevor McDonald, was used by John Craven first.
By 1975, the first edition of Newsround Extra was broadcast. Broadcast on Fridays, the slightly longer programme was dedicated to an in-depth look at one particular subject, but only had a limited run of around 13 weeks. In 1977, the short-lived Newsround Weekly was launched, giving a round up of the week’s main stories on a Friday afternoon.
A new set design was introduced in the late 1970s that featured the day of the week spelt out in a chunky round font in the backdrop. Five versions were created with different colour schemes, slightly more subdued than the original red one. The show also started building up a small team of reporters, including Lucy Mathern and Paul McDowell.
In 1986 John was joined Roger Finn, now a presenter on the BBC’s South Today. Roger would take on more of the presenting and reporting duties, and coincided with John Craven becoming editor of the programme. His arrival also enabled more reporting from foreign countries. Until this time, foreign reporting had relied heavily on using the BBC’s main correspondents, but now Newsround could do more of the reports themselves. The “John Craven” prefix to the programme name was dropped on the days when John wasn’t presenting in the studio.
With its 5pm timeslot, Newsround would often feature news stories before the main news bulletins. In 1986 the programme had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the UK that the Challenger Space Shuttle had exploded just moments after it launched.
The 1980s also saw Newsround hold its first mock general election. Schools held their own ballots, with pupils standing for election in the camps of the main political parties. Produced by the candidates in each election, the manifestos took the party line, focussing on issues that were most relevant to those voting in school.
The not-very-subtle aim was to get the younger generation interested in politics by making it relevant to the viewers, and the mock elections continue to be a core part of Newsround’s political coverage during elections. From the early elections that featured John Craven showing the one school’s results on a small computer screen, the programme later started being joined by Peter Snow for its coverage. In recent years, Newsround has also interviewed the main party leaders.
In September 1986, Newsround finally went five days a week, with the introduction of a Friday afternoon bulletin when Newsround Extra wasn’t being broadcast. As the programme grew and grew, a third presenter was brought in during 1987. The late Helen Rollason, best known as the first female presenter of Grandstand, joined the programme as a presenter and reporter. Helen sadly died of cancer in 1999 and is much missed.
Around the same time, the programme got another new (reddish) set, with a new logo made out of yellow blocks. It also featured a computer in the background, and allowed the use of multiple camera angles to be used, rather than the single fixed shot previously used.
1989 saw a sad moment in Newsround’s history. After 17 years of presenting, and later editing, Newsround John Craven said goodbye for the final time. John’s new home was to be BBC One’s Countryfile, which he continues to this day. However, for many it will be Newsround that he will be most strongly linked with, and there can be few viewers during those 17 years who don’t have fond memories of John.
After John’s departure, presenting duties were shared between Roger and Helen. Helen left in 1990 to present Grandstand and replaced by Julliet Morris. Roger left for BBC South shortly after, and Julliet was joined by Krishnan Guru-Murphy. With a new set and new presenters, the programme continued to grow and adapt, as parts of its audience grew older and left, replaced by another generation.
Those watching now will probably never have heard of John Craven, but his legacy lives on. His work during the early years of the programme helped make Newsround what it is today – the main source of news for young people in the UK. The aim was to get kids to take an interest in the world around them – they did, and they still do.