Watch with Mother/See-Saw

Watch with Mother was, from 21st April 1953, the umbrella title for a strand of pre-school programming on BBC television. It initially comprised of Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men, shown in a 4pm slot for fifteen minutes, three days a week. By September 1955, it had expanded to five days a week, with a different programme each weekday - Picture Book on Mondays, Andy Pandy on Tuesdays, The Flowerpot Men on Wednesdays, Rag, Tag and Bobtail on Thursdays and The Woodentops on Fridays. This pattern would remain in place for the next ten years.

In September 1957, Watch with Mother moved to an early afternoon slot. During the mid-60s, it would move to the mornings during the summer months, although from September 1963 for two years there were two slots per day - morning and afternoon. Watch with Mother had a short break in summer 1966 when it was replaced by a simulcast of Play School which was also airing on BBC2.

Watch with Mother was given a shake-up in January 1966 - Picture Book came to an end, the existing programmes switched to different days, and some new series began to appear in the schedules, starting with Camberwick Green (the first series to be made in colour, though not yet shown as such), and then Pogles' Wood. As the remainder of the 60s progressed, several more new series were introduced, such as Bizzy Lizzy, The Herbs, and more visits to Trumptonshire in Trumpton and Chigley, while more of the old favourites were retired.

An additional morning slot for Watch with Mother was reintroduced throughout the spring and summer of 1972 - when it was dropped in September, a new weekend morning slot was added.

New programmes in the 1970s included Mr Benn, Fingerbobs, Bod, The Flumps and the much-loved Bagpuss. By 1973, the Watch with Mother title had become to be seen as outdated, and so was phased out. There was no longer a specific name for this slot until 1980, when it became known as See-Saw. BBC1's captions would show pictures of the various shows' characters rather crudely superimposed onto an picture of a see-saw (see some examples on this Twitter thread).

A new generation of programmes were added to the strand in the early 1980s, such as Postman Pat, Pigeon Street and Chock-a-Block. However, many of the old favourites from the 1970s, and even the 1960s, were still being shown, with Camberwick Green not concluding its final repeat run until November 1985, almost twenty years after its debut.

In fact, over the years, many of the programmes produced for the Watch with Mother and See-Saw strands enjoyed numerous repeat runs, even though often only 13 episodes made of each programme. Mr Benn wins the award for being the longest-lasted Watch with Mother show, with repeats continuing as late as 2000, nearly thirty years after its debut showing in 1971.

In April 1985, the afternoon airing of Play School was replaced by a strand of See-Saw-like programmes, such as Bertha and Mop and Smiff, some of which would later go on to be repeated in the lunchtime slot.

Finding itself squeezed by the introduction of a full daytime television service on BBC1 in 1986, See-Saw was moved permanently to BBC2 on 22nd June 1987. By the start of the 1990s, the See-Saw title had been dropped, with children's programmes now generally falling under the Children's BBC banner. On 16th September 1991, the slot was expanded to 20 minutes, and would now comprise of two or three different programmes, many of which were repeated from other timeslots.

The lunchtime children's programme, now under the heading of CBeebies, finally came to an end on 20th December 2002, with a repeat of Teletubbies Everywhere. However, with hours of children's programmes now broadcast throughout the morning on BBC2, not to mention a whole CBeebies channel available to digital viewers, the idea of a specific short slot for a programme for younger viewers around lunchtime now seemed archaic.

Below is a chart which lists the scheduled broadcasts of Watch with Mother/See-Saw programmes between April 1953 and September 1991, week-by-week, produced using data gathered from the BBC Genome website. Red type indicates a broadcast on BBCtv/BBC1, green type a broadcast on BBC2. Debut broadcasts are highlighted in bold (except for some of the early series where the first run dates are uncertain).


Watch with Mother at BBC Genome
See-Saw at BBC Genome
Watch with Mother Wikipedia entry
Off the Telly
BFI Screenonline
Whirligig TV
Television Heaven (Internet Archive)