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Unless you have been holidaying on the moon for the past few years, even those without children would not have failed to have seen or heard something of the Tweenies since they first exploded onto BBC1, in their green rocket ship, in 1999.
They first came to my attention during their advertising campaign prior to starting. Every time the trailer came on the television with these brightly coloured, dancing characters singing, what I now know to be, their theme tune, my son (who hadn't turned 1 year old then) instantly stopped whatever he was doing and sat transfixed to the television. So I noted when it was going to start, so we could watch it and see what we thought. Well, needless to say, we haven't looked back since. Bye bye Teletubbies (no love lost there) and hello Max, Judy, Doodles, Bella, Milo, Fizz, Jake and now Izzles.
Why are the Tweenies so much better than the Teletubbies? Well, don't get me wrong, I think the Teletubbies have their place, a bit of colour and silly antics for the very young, unfortunately covering up the very few educational aspects. The Tweenies however, in my opinion, have got it sussed, bumper-to-bumper fun and education all rolled into one!
The programme is based around a playgroup, with 2 adults, 4 pre-school children (how's that for adult-child ratio) and 2 dogs. Each episode is based around their day at the playgroup, the things they do and learn.
The Tweenies was the original brainwave of Iain Laughlin, the Scottish actor and playwright. He has experience with children’s television programmes through things like Playschool, Fingermouse, Playdays and many more, either through presenting, directing, producing or writing. The Tweenies is brought to our screens by his company Tell-Tale Productions and the BBC.
According to a BBC source around £9million was ploughed into getting The Tweenies off the ground, although I have no idea what the running costs involved are! Pretty high I should imagine, especially given the fact that, as far as I am aware, there has since been nearly 400 episodes made!
The eight characters are a combination of real people in costumes and animatronics’ puppets, with a second person controlling the head movements with a remote control. To enable the characters to look in proportion with their surroundings and each other many things have taken place. The man inside Max and Judy (yes it’s one person, that’s why you rarely see them in a scene together) is 6’ 4” tall and the people inside the 4 children are about 5’ tall. Also in the studio (the playgroup) all the surroundings are extra large to enable the younger characters to look proportionately small enough.
This explains why in the earlier episodes the 4 children are only hand puppets when out of the studio e.g. at parks, boat trips etc. While Max and Judy still have a person inside, as they are naturally more in proportion to their surroundings, other adults and children. Lately though only Max and Judy have taken outside trips, separately though of course ;-)
For the benefit of those uninitiated amongst you I will now give a brief description of the appearance and personality of each character.
MAX – Bright pink skin, balding on top, with some white hair.
Max is the older of the two adults who runs the playgroup the Tweenies attend, he’s approximately 60 years old. He is quite a chirpy chap, generally found in high spirits whistling a tune or two. The Tweenies tend to look to him as the fountain of all knowledge, taking any questions they have to him and he is usually the one to invent games and activities for them to do. You will often see Max trying to fix or build things around the playgroup, although not always successfully!
JUDY – Pale green skin, plum coloured hair, in a bun.
Judy is the other adult who looks after the Tweenies, approximately 30 years old, with a soft Irish accent. Judy is quite musical and plays a few different instruments. She is very kind and gentle, although firm when required. Judy is the one who encourages the Tweenies to be independent and use their own imaginations, as far as is possible. She is the one that the Tweenies are likely to turn to when they are feeling down or troubled by something.
DOODLES – Red and yellow fur.
Doodles is the large red and yellow male pet dog, more often than not found asleep dreaming about bones! He occasionally joins in on some of the Tweenies' adventures and activities, and is always there to lend a sympathetic ear when needed. He felt a bit left out and unwanted when Izzles first arrived and behaved rather badly. Although after a heart-to-heart (and a song) with Izzles he has agreed to be friends with her.
IZZLES – Very fluffy pale purple fur, with pale yellow patches.
A relative newcomer Izzles is a very bouncy and energetic female dog, whom first joined The Tweenies in January 2002. This initially put Doodles’ nose out of joint, as she was the centre of everyone’s fuss and attention. They have now reached an understanding and are the best of friends.
BELLA - Blue skin and yellow hair, with red ribbons.
Bella is the oldest (4 years old) and biggest and likes to assert this fact at every opportunity (don't we all know a child like that). Despite being bossy, Bella does occasionally help the others but often prefers to just boast about being the oldest (and therefore cleverest in her eyes) and likes to think she knows everything and finds it very difficult to apologise if she's in the wrong. Bella loves dressing up as a fairy every chance she gets and often insists on going first in any games the Tweenies play.
This description makes Bella come across as an unlikeable character, but she isn't really, she's just a very confident, bossy child and let's be honest no playgroup would be complete without one and it doesn't mean we don't like them!
FIZZ - Yellow skin and brown hair, with beads in.
Now Fizz is a real "girlie girl", although also 4 years old is slightly younger than Bella, loves pink, dressing up in pretty dresses, is quite ... shall I say ... concerned with her looks ... okay then she's vain (LOL) and has a lovely romantic vision of the world around her. She's quite sensitive to other people's feelings and is always willing to help if someone is struggling with something (usually Jake). Fizz occasionally falls out with Bella, as she sometimes stands up for herself against Bella's bossiness and Bella doesn't like that!
MILO - Purple skin and black spiky hair.
Milo is the joker in the pack at 3 years old, a real lad and a bit of a rebel; with his popular phrases like "Coooool" and "Fun-a-rooney". He represents those children that are good all round mixers. Although he does spend time with Bella and enjoys winding her up and Jake, because they are both boys, he also has a good relationship with Fizz. He relates well with the adults, Judy and Max as well. Milo is usually found to be in very high spirits, with bags of energy, but on the rare occasion he isn't in a good mood it affects everyone!
JAKE - Orange skin with yellow hair, Mohican style.
Jake is the smallest and youngest Tweenie at only 2 years old, with quite a sensitive nature. Due to being younger than the others there are often things they can do that he can't, especially catching a ball. The other Tweenies are, on the whole, patient with Jake and are willing to teach him new things. In almost every episode Jake comes across a word he can't say properly, but with repetition and encouragement he usually gets there in the end. Jake mixes well with everyone (I think he looks up to Milo quite a bit) and he seems to bring out the more sensitive side of others. Jake also has an alter ego “Dotman”, with a white super hero cape, with different coloured dots on it. He loves running around in this cape, being a super hero, shouting “Dotman to the rescue”!
As I said earlier these characters are all based in a playgroup, this includes an outside area comprising of a climbing frame and slide, sand pit and space to run about and play with a ball. Inside, again, there are much the same things you would find in any other playgroup; dressing-up clothes, various books, messy area (for creative times), home corner, building bricks etc. They even have a TV-cum-computer for their use as well! Each episode/day is structured into different times; Song Time, Messy Time, Telly Time, Story Time and sometimes Surprise Time. These I will explain in a minute.
In the playroom is a strange looking object with bright colours, flashing lights and different symbols. This is called the Tweenie Clock. Each symbol represents the different activities Song Time, Messy Time etc. When someone presses the centre of the clock, saying “Tweenie Clock, where will it stop?” the flashing lights spin round until they stop on one of these symbols, thus determining what the next activity will be.
Here follows a brief description for each activity: -
Every episode starts with Song Time, when the Tweenies sing and do the actions for one song, repeating it a few times, to give the viewer a chance to learn some (if not all) of the words and actions themselves. This song then sometimes sets the theme throughout. They sing a wide variety of different songs combining good old favourites like "I'm A Little Teapot" with more modern ones like "Five Little Men In A Flying Saucer".
This is where some or all the Tweenies go to the "messy corner" to make something, paint or draw pictures, going along with the theme of the episode. It may also be something they will use later in the episode for example finger puppets to tell a story at Story Time.
Occasionally the Tweenies will use their TV/Computer to learn more about a particular subject. For example; to watch a short film showing different fast and slow animals, or to do puzzles like choosing the odd one out from a set of pictures.
This is a time when all the Tweenies come together and sit on their beanbags, after all their activities, for a story. This is read by Judy or Max, or sometimes acted out by the Tweenies themselves, either with puppets or by dressing up.
Towards the end of each episode the Tweenies get together again and tell each other what they've done that day and what they have learnt from it, basically summarising what that episode was all about. This is sometimes followed with them singing the song from the start again.
This doesn't happen in every episode, but needless to say, it is whenever there is a surprise for the Tweenies or Max and Judy. For example dressing up to sing a song, or act out a story.
In addition to the more structured parts there are times when one or more of the Tweenies “drift off” as it were, into their own imaginary world, with the help of computer animation. Whether it is under the sea, into space, riding on a flying carpet or going to the beach, they are always sure of a good time!
There is the occasional episode that is completely away from the playgroup, although still concentrating on things experienced by real children of that age group e.g. Jake at home with the Chicken Pox (something my poor son could relate to recently) or Fizz at hospital having her arm x-rayed, after a fall. Sometimes these episodes can contain many clips from earlier episodes, while the Tweenie “reminisces”; although I feel these episodes still make for compulsive viewing for the child viewer.
As well as these episode some are based at places of interest e.g. pottery, meadow or canal, where many interesting things can be learnt.
Now you are as knowledgeable about the Tweenies as any sane person can be, I will try to explain why both my 3 and a half-year-old son and myself think they are "Fab-a-rooney".
I think the combination of fun, education and being true to life (to a point) is the magic key with this programme. Each of the four Tweenies are so much like real children (with the exception of their skin colour, but what better way to overcome the politically correct bit), displaying the same eagerness to learn and interest in the world around them, sometimes lack of understanding and inability to do things first time (without some practice), vivid imaginations and keen interest in dressing up and play acting. All this combined with the petty arguments/fights, bad behaviour, telling lies, tantrums etc. displayed by every pre-school child at some time or another. They learn valuable "life-lessons" like the consequences of being dishonest, picking on each other, disregarding rules and the benefits of helping each other, being patient and understanding of perseverance when trying something new or different.
Without realising it I feel that many children can learn so many of these things and benefit from seeing the Tweenies dealing with the same problems, as they have to face. Last year we bought our son a 3-wheeled scooter, he was really excited, until he discovered that he didn't know how to ride it and he quickly threw a strop and gave up (typical 2 ½ year old). I then reminded him that Milo had the same problem when he first got his scooter (as we saw in one episode) and that with lots of practice he managed to do it. With that my son jumped back on and continued to practice every day, until a few days later he could do it. It made him feel so much more confident in himself knowing that he wasn't the only one who couldn't ride a scooter first time, without practice.
In addition to all these "in depth" lessons, there are also so many other basic things that a child can learn with the Tweenies. The Song Time section is a prime example; learning the words and actions to popular songs and nursery rhymes provides no end of education on such things as; colours, numbers, body parts and many, many more. The Messy Time section has given my son and I loads of ideas of things to do and make, at home together on a rainy day. Through Telly Time my son has learnt how to tell the difference between big and small, slow and fast, where our rubbish goes when the dustbin men have taken it away, and why I don't throw bottles, cans and newspapers away with the rubbish (for recycling). The list is just endless and I could go on and on, but I'd never finish because he is constantly telling me something new he has learned from the Tweenies!
I personally find the Tweenies far more palatable than something like the Teletubbies, as Tell-Tale, like many other film and programme makers these days, have realised that a large proportion of the viewing audience are adults, watching with their children, so endeavour to include something (usually humour) to vaguely interest them too. The odd comment from Max, or even Doodles are, although not inappropriate, aimed at adults and therefore shoot straight over the heads of the children.
There is, of course, also the humour of seeing the characters in situations not too dissimilar from one’s many parents have been in themselves, with their own children!
The fun and games don't just end there though, as there are so many additional aids to the programme; website, magazine, videos, books not to mention the toys, bedding, bikes, scooters, in fact you name it, you can buy a Tweenies one! They have also released their own singles and therefore appeared on Top Of The Pops. And been on tour, appearing live on stage in places like Wembley Stadium (which was fabulous entertainment, for children and adults alike). The website reflects what was in that day's episode plus games to play, pictures to print off and colour in etc. The magazine follows the same format of Song Time, Messy Time etc. Also including things to cut out and do, pictures to colour in and always with some "Fab-a-rooney" (in a child’s eyes) free gift attached to the front.
I know the Tweenies aren't exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that any parent with children of pre-school age, who has actually sat and watched this programme from beginning to end, can't fail to notice the educational benefits, as well as the great entertainment, for our children. Yes, they might drive us up the wall at times, but personally I would far rather be driven up the wall by the Tweenies than the mindless rubbish of the Teletubbies, who can't even talk properly!
Now are you ready to play?
Watch the Tweenies on: -
BBC2 Mon-Fri 11am (repeats)
BBC1 Mon-Fri 3.25pm (Extra Song Time followed by new episode)
Cbeebies (new digital channel for pre-schoolers, see my opinion on it for further information) Mon-Fri 9am, 9.40am, 1pm, 1.40pm, 5pm and 5.40pm (repeats)
Tweenies Magazine – monthly £1.35
The Tweenies are currently on tour; if you are lucky enough to be able to obtain tickets then I would thoroughly recommend it. A group of us went last year to Wembley and it was thoroughly enjoyed by children and adults alike. Details about ticket availability can be found at www.bbcworldwide.com/tweenies/
More Tweenies information, fun and antics can be found at: -
My wife took our two year old girl to the concert in Manchester and said it was better than Madonna live!!!
princesssoapy 28.11.2001 16:35
Brilliant op! and sorry its taken me so long to find you on here! Love the Tweenies just like my 3 yr old son does! Thanks Amanda..
jambo6 13.10.2001 13:06
Never seen this and have hardly heard of it - do I live in a cave? Sounds great though (I like the TTs), and I'll probably be watching it in the near future as baby is due in 17 days - Scary. Cheers, Richard.