Belfast Telegraph

A playful farewell to children's TV legend: Brian Cant

By Ian Malcolm

It's sometimes said that "old TV presenters never die, they just fade away". Sadly, they do die and we've just lost one of our finest - the great Brian Cant.

Brian was no Dimbleby or Whicker, but he didn't have to be - as a host on Play School and Play Away he will be keenly missed by a generation of Sixties and Seventies kids who grew up with his smooth, mellifluous tones coming from the big ol' box in the corner of the living room.

Like millions of others, I sat entranced as Brian took us 'weans' through the legendary Play School windows to another world where milk bottles (remember them!) clinked around a production line and flowers came into bloom at amazing speed through the wonder of time-lapse.

I wanted him to come to Lurgan and play cricket with me in the back garden. I don't know if he played cricket, even, but he looked like he'd have been a gentle off-spinner, kindly tossing up deliveries that I could hit for six every time.

Play School was the calm, rational side of BBC children's broadcasting in those days, but its spin-off Play Away seemed to give Brian the chance to be more himself - a little bit edgier, a little bit zanier. He always reminded me of my Uncle Sammy - fun, outgoing and, yes, a little bit zany! To have them both playing cricket with me would have been a dream realised.

Brian, who died aged 83, was also the voice of animations Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley.

I'll remember them for his distinctive tones and the sweet little plinky-plinky tunes (which I now lovingly recreate on my ukulele).

TV personalities come and go, but I guess that children's presenters stay with us forever, as they were trusted friends during our formative years, people who come to mind when some little trigger (a milk bottle, say, or a time-lapse flower) sets off a flood of childhood memories.

That happened to me about 20 years ago when I was waiting for the AA man on the M1 hard-shoulder near Belfast. For some reason I wrote a poem about Brian Cant.

As Brian slips through the heavenly arched window, I wish him well on his journey to that great Play School in the skies.

Brian Cant's Not Dead

Stranded on the hard-shoulder of life's grim motorway,

I know you'll pull up in your gaily-coloured playbus,

And take me on a trip of windows arched, round and square.

My guide to factories, farms and exotic animals,

With names like aardvark and wildebeest.

And Big Ted will exchange knowing glances with Jemima

As Humpty stares vacantly into the empty spaces of young minds

Waiting to be filled with a myriad things to do.

We never realised milk bottle tops

And blunt-ended scissors

Could be such fun.

Yet where did you find your gummed paper squares?

That's why the memory never ended

As you romped through our age of wonder.

And maybe it's why you still live on,

The secret of our eternal youth.

Your Playbus will drive forever, on the roads of our memories

And past the static checkpoints of our dreams,

With paper-chain tow-rope always at the ready

To pull us free from the shackles of today.

And it will never really matter, whether it's raining or it's dry,

You'll always have time for endless play

In the living-room of our souls.

Ian Malcolm

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph