Small Time – The Complete History 

1 January 2004 tbs.pm/3415

“Small Time” was Rediffusion’s 15-minute slot for the under fives, broadcast from 1955 to 1966. As well as airing in London, it was picked up by Anglia and Southern Television and possibly some other regions. The story of Small Time is documented here by Malcolm Batchelor, with thanks to the TV Times and the British Newspaper Library at Colindale. Times given are for the London transmissions.

Muriel Young with Pussy Cat Willum

Muriel Young with Pussy Cat Willum

Milestones and Notable Dates

Small Time began the day after Independent Television’s Opening Night in London

on Thursday, 22nd September, 1955. At 12.15pm on Friday, 23rd September, 1955 the very first Small Time programme was broadcast: Johnny and Flonny, a glove puppet series, with Paul Hansard. The following week, Monday saw The Big Black Crayon with Rolf Harris and Jean Ford, and on the Wednesday was Toybox with Susan Spear.

There were no Small Time programmes on Tuesdays or Thursdays until Tuesday, 8th November, when The Little House That Stood On The Hill joined the 12.15-12.30pm line-up and on Thursday Snoozy The Sea-Lion made the complete original Monday to Friday set.

Full details of these and all the other Small Time programmes are given here.

From Monday, 28th November, 1955 the slot was moved back a little to 12.08pm and ran to 12.20pm, according to the TV Times. But this initial lunchtime transmission was short-lived because from Monday, 9th January, 1956 Small Time was moved to a 4.05-4.15pm slot.

But soon we were to lose our five slots a week, because from the week commencing 20th February, 1956 Small Time was down to a Tuesday and Thursday 4.30-4.45pm slot only. A few months later, in May 1956, Small Time disappeared completely and the only remnants that were left could be seen on Tuesdays when Rolf Harris appeared in the Children’s Hour from 5.00-6.00pm, and on Thursdays when Snoozy The Sea Lion had a fortnightly run at 5.27pm in the same programme. Only Snoozy remained from June 1956 however, and lasted as the programme became Jolly Good Time with Jimmy Hanley in September 1956 right the way through to September 1957.

On Monday, 16th September, 1957 at 4.30pm the Small Time 15-minute slot was back. The programmes were hosted by Mr. Happy, the controller of birthdays; the script was written by John Myers; and Mr. Happy read out birthday greetings before presenting a different Small Time programme each day, Monday to Friday. This format lasted until Christmas.

Wednesday, 13th November, 1957 saw the very first episode of The Adventures Of Twizzle.

No Small Time programmes were broadcast between January and April 1958, but The Adventures Of Twizzle were shown on Tuesdays in the Jolly Good Time show with Jimmy Hanley between 5.00 and 5.30pm.

In April 1958 Oliver Postgate joined the team with Mr Happy, and from Monday, 14th April Small Time was running in the 4.45-5.00pm slot with a different programme each day.

Monday, 8th December, 1958 saw the debut of Muriel Young reading the tale of Little Rocky, while Thursday, 11th December, 1958 saw the very first edition of the long running series The Musical Box, though without Wally Whyton until 12th August, 1959. This first edition was compered by Jill Adamson. Rolf Harris hosted the programme from 21st April, 1959.

Small Time didn’t settle into its 4.45-5.00pm slot until Monday, 14th September, 1959. Although the programme continued to run five days a week from Monday, 14th April, 1958, after Christmas on Monday, 29th December, 1958 it was moved back to the lunchtime slot of 12.47-1.00pm – and if that’s not enough musical chairs, on Monday, 5th July, 1959 it was moved forward again to a 5.05-5.15pm slot! Throughout the rest of its life it did settle at 4.45-5.00pm, apart from a very short period between Monday, 28th December, 1964 and Monday, 1st February, 1965 when for the first month in the life of Crossroads, the new ATV soap serial, Small Time was designated a 4.20-4.35pm slot.

On Friday, 16th October, 1959 Patrick Boyle told the very first Tum story which was followed by Muriel Young talking to Pussy Cat Willum, a glove puppet devised and animated by Janet Nicholls. This started regular birthday chats following the Small Time programme, and over the years Pussy Cat Willum appeared with Liz Shingler, Bert Weedon and Wally Whyton as well as Muriel Young. The other “soon to become famous” puppets who started life here before making it big in the Five O’Clock Club were Ollie Beak, voiced by Wally Whyton; and Fred Barker, voiced by Ivan Owen.

Monday, 28th December, 1959 heralded the introduction of that little engine from the Welsh valleys, Ivor The Engine, while a couple of months later, Tuesday, 23rd February, 1960 saw the launch of Torchy The Battery Boy.

Tuesday, 27th February, 1962 gave us the first adventure with Sara and Hoppity. Who can remember that theme song?

“Sara Brown has a toy as naughty as can be,

He’ll start to sing if you wind up his key.

He’ll sing and he’ll dance all over the floor

And when he stands still you wind him some more.

Dear old Hoppity, naughty Hoppity, there is no toy more naughty than he.

Dear old Hoppity, clever Hoppity, he sings diddle-lee-dum and he sings diddle-lee-dee!”

In September 1962 one of Children’s TV’s greatest glove puppets, Basil Brush, was born on ITV in Small Time. He appeared with his friends Bert Scampi and Spikey in The Three Scampis. His voice was created by Ivan Owen.

From Monday, 27th September, 1965 Pippy The Telephant made regular appearances.

The final week of Small Time began on Monday 19th September, 1966 and the line-up of programmes looked like this:

Mon: Kuff.

Tues: Twizzle.

Weds: Musical Box.

Thurs: Pippy’s Party.

Fri: All At Sea.

Then from Monday, 26th September, 1966 away went the Small Time header along with all the regular programmes, and into the 4.45-5.00pm slot came Playtime, where Gwyneth Surdivall and Jennifer Naden invited the younger viewers to join in the singing, dancing and painting in their magic park. This programme ran from Mondays to Thursdays leaving Friday free for The Adventures Of Twizzle into 1967. By 1968 Playtime had gone and was replaced with Hullaballoo. Various other programmes filled this slot, including Ivor The Engine, until Rediffusion became part of Thames Television in July, 1968.

The Small Time Directors

Jim Pople, Tig Roe, Marjory Ruse, William Freshman, Roger Jenkins, Prudence Nesbitt, Bill Perry, Bimbi Harris, Peter Moffatt, Sheila Gregg, John Rhodes, David Boisseau, Eric Croall, David Gardner, Don Gale, Richard Sidwell, Ronald Marriott, Richard Gilbert, Raymond Menmuir, Michael Currer-Briggs, Peter Yolland, Harry Sloan, J. Murray Ashford, Marc Miller, Glenn Lord, Adrian Brown, Richard West, Angela Holder, Bob Gray, Tania Lieven, David Conyers, Bill Turner, Adrian Cooper, Grahame Turner, Mary Beales, Hugh Munro, Fred Sadoff, Peter Croft.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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27 responses to this article

BARRY MASON 30 September 2014 at 5:04 pm

Does anyone know if any of the Pussy Cat Willum episodes of Small Time with Wally Whyton can be seen on the interner?

Russ J Graham 30 September 2014 at 5:28 pm

Being (largely) live, no copies are likely to have been made in the first place, let alone survived to the present day, sadly.

Colin Berry 30 November 2014 at 8:34 pm

I once discovered the Small Time theme tune when listening through a disc at the BBC, but can no longer remember the title or where I found it. It was a simple tune, somewhat repetitive, and played I think on an xylophone. It was generally used for the studio productions involving Muriel Young. Any thoughts ?

Ian Fryer 5 January 2015 at 6:40 pm

Would all the regions that took Small Time have broadcast exactly the same one? It sounds likely if the links were done live throughout the life of the programme, but it would be interesting to confirm.

Alan Keeling 31 January 2015 at 8:15 pm

Small Time was dropped in ITVs Midland region for a few years in the very early 60s, so kids TV commenced at 5pm. From Autumn 1964, whilst other regions continued with Small Time, ATV entertained kids with their home produced Tingha & Tucker Club, until 1972.

Jackie Rhodes nee Moran 27 May 2015 at 4:26 pm

I was the ‘Jackie’ in ‘Jackie and Gillian’ in Small Time. We are sisters and still around although Gillian is quite poorly now. We did our progs once a week for about two and a half years from 1957 to 1959. The first ‘lot’ had the overall title of ‘Come Out to Play with Jackie and Gillian’ and then we did a long series of ‘Around the World with Jackie and Gillian’ when we pretended to be visiting different countries. Gillian wrote most of the songs which we performed, either accompanying ourselves on the piano, or guitars. Heavens it was all a VERY long time ago!

Susan watling 26 August 2015 at 10:29 am

does any one know where is pussey cat willum puppet is he in a museum some where would love to see him as loved him as a child thank you

Arthur Harris 9 December 2015 at 9:00 pm

Can anyone remember the opening song on Musical Box? I seem to remember it went something like “The clock it ticks, the clock it ticks, time again for the music box. With Willum and me and a friend or 2 who’ve come along just to sing for you”.

Arthur Harris 9 December 2015 at 9:03 pm

Make that the clock it ticks, the clock it ticks……

Felicity Dunstall 30 December 2015 at 10:30 am

How brilliant to find this site….
I’m now 66 and suddenly found myself thinking of all the programmes my friends and I used to watch on an elderly neighbours tv.
I particularly thought of Snoozy the sea lion , and wondered who the lady was that talked along with him. I thought it was Joan Hickson but couldn’t find anything on her bio on Wkipedia…. Does anyone know?
Thanks

John Finlay 8 January 2016 at 8:16 pm

Does anyone remember The Pingwings, an Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin production? It involved stop- frame animations of a family of knitted penguins, made I think on the farm where most if not all of “Smallfilms” were filmed.

Ian Borrowdale 22 January 2016 at 11:32 am

I have owned the original TV Pussy Cat Willum puppet since about 1977. I bought it from an antique dealer in Leicester which I believe is where its creator, Janet Nicholls was from. I feel it should really be in a museum but not sure which is the best place for it.

Russ J Graham 22 January 2016 at 12:32 pm

The Museum of Childhood in London has a small television and radio section: http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/

Also, the National Media Museum in Bradford has a small children’s television section: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/

Susan watling 9 April 2016 at 2:28 pm

Can u please tell me where I can find the pussey cat willum original puppet have been trying to track him down for ages thank you having my 60th birthday this year and would emu best present ever.

Susan watling 9 April 2016 at 4:13 pm

message 22 jan 2016 hi I would be very interested to purchase pussey cat willum from yourself.as a child I loved him on TV and have been wondering where he is.i have some small cards and one of his books and would love him for my collection.thank you.

Susan watling 15 April 2016 at 3:03 pm

Yes the museum of childhood would be the best place for pussey cat willum as there are so many lovely toys there from the past and he would look,great there and would be seen my many

Ian Borrowdale 16 April 2016 at 10:52 am

Hi Susan, if you are interested in Pussy Cat Willum you can email me at ianborrow [at] aol [dot] com

Susan watling 24 April 2016 at 9:28 pm

Hi Ian your email doesn’t seem to be working – can you email me pls – susanwatling [at] icloud [dot] com

Steve Garratt 20 May 2016 at 7:00 pm

I remember clearly, the theme tune and words, to Wally Whyton’s Music Box…
“The clock it ticks,
The clock it tocks,
Time again for the Music Box,
It’s Willum and me,
And a friend or two,
All come along,
For to sing to you,
Willum and me,
And a friend or two,
All come along,
For to sing to you….”

Steve Garratt 20 May 2016 at 7:11 pm

I also remember, the late great Oliver Postgate, as a Lighthouse Keeper, in Friday’s Small Time’s “All At Sea”.
Strangely, over half a century on, I have this little tune still in my head, played to the scene of a puppet grasshopper playing a flute.

Joy Wotton 12 July 2016 at 12:03 am

abcde
Goodbye from Willum and me
fghij
See you another day
klmno
It’s time for us to go
pqrst
The cat says fiddle-eye-dee, fiddle-eye-dee

Sarah smith 13 August 2016 at 8:52 am

Hi. Does anyone know who ‘mr happy ‘ was played by ?’my mother got one of his birthday mugs in 1960 . She spent years ( pre Internet) trying to find more info about the show and since her death the mug has passed to me. Would love to know more about it

philip wilshaw 6 October 2016 at 5:08 pm

hello i was wondering what happened to pussycat willum did the lady who was looking for him manage to buy him or did he go to live in the museum of childhood ?

Steve Rogers 17 January 2017 at 1:13 am

I’d be interested to know where Willum ended up. He would have been a great plushy! I’m 59 and remember Muriel and Wally, Bert Weedon, Twizzle, Torchy, Sara & Hoppity, Fred Barker & Olly. Great characters all. I was lucky to have seen Small Time.

Alan Thompson 14 June 2017 at 10:51 am

I do recall Jackie and Gillian on Small Time. We had a TV for the first time in September 1957 for my Mum’s 35th birthday. I recall the opening song was something to the effect of “What shall be sing, what shall we play…” Jackie if you’re reading this I’d like to know if I have remembered correctly! I am sorry to hear Gillian is poorly and wish you both well and thanks for the programmes you presented all those years ago. You made a little boy in Walthamstow very happy! I later became a producer for the BBC. Incidentally, Granddad five times over

Mandy Fraser 3 October 2017 at 1:04 pm

I was am so pleased to find this website. I wanted to check I remembered rightly that at a very early age I watched a programme with Gwyneth and Jenny. The information here has brought back so many memories. Am I right that they used a spinning wheel to pick out postcards with happy birthday messages on it?

Jeremy Morfey 21 August 2018 at 10:11 pm

John Finlay 8/1/16 – The Pingwings has been released on DVD by the Dragons’ Friendly Society.

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