Look and Read

Look and Read

"Look and Read" is a BBC television programme for primary schools, aimed at improving children's literacy skills. The programme presents fictional stories in a serial format, the first of which was broadcast in 1967 and the most recent in 2004, making it the longest running nationally broadcast programme for schools in the UK. The series remains popular among school children, and has also gained a cult following among those who have grown up with it.



The first programmes for schools in Britain were broadcast in 1957. Early material was mostly aimed at secondary school pupils and seen as a convenient method of demonstration in subjects such as Science and Geography. In the early 1960s, there was a lot interest in the medium as a way of educating children with certain learning difficulties and in 1962 the BBC produced "Television Club" which presented stories in a drama serial format. The success of this format made some look into the possibilities of using the technique on programmes for primary school children.

The "Merry-Go-Round" serials

Claire Chovil, a former teacher and children's radio producer, began to research the possibility of bringing stories to television which would meet teachers' requirements to assist them in providing children with word recognition skills. She persuaded the BBC to allow her to produce two experimental serials for their schools programme "Merry-Go-Round". Each episode of the serials would contain a limited vocabulary allowing teachers, who were given notes for the series, to present specific lessons with each episode in mind. The story in each episode was divided into two instalments by a teaching segment which gave the children material to read and animated instructions on how to read it. Following the success of the two serials, "Fishing For Fivers" (1965) and "Tom, Pat and Friday" (1966), "Look and Read" began production in 1966.

Programme format

Although originally produced for the series "Merry-Go-Round", "Bob and Carol Look for Treasure" was broadcast as the first "Look and Read" story in the spring of 1967. The serial took the format, which the programme would continue for many years, of each episode's story being divided into two instalments with an educational section in the middle to teach children the relevant material. Teachers were also provided with story books, or "pupil pamphlets", for each serial, from which they could provide their pupils the story as well as exercises and games. The plots of the stories were written to appeal to children, initially inspired by adventure serials, and often featured puzzles for the characters to solve using their reading skills, which was also reflected in the material given to pupils. Each serial was also written with a limited vocabulary in mind, each of the keywords paced through the piece a certain number of times so they held a certain relevance above other words.

During the 1970s the programme began to bring in many new elements for a new generation of viewers. Popular new educational songs were introduced which would remain until into the 90s as well as the character Wordy (see below). In the 80s and early 90s the plots also started to contain contemporary issues such as pollution. Towards the latter part of the 90s the programme began to steer away from some of the elements of the past by, in some, removing songs and combining teaching elements with the story segment of the programme. The producers also began making use of the internet as a teaching aid for the programme, allowing children to access games and material through a dedicated website, although the BBC have since removed the sites due to dwindling use, to the dismay of some teachers. [ [http://www.tes.co.uk/section/story/?section=Archive&sub_section=Online+Education&story_id=386656&Type=0 TES - Teaching jobs, resources & ideas from the Times Educational Supplement ] ]


For the 1974 serial "Cloud Burst", the new producer Sue Weeks created the character Wordy. A large orange character with letters on his body, the character featured in teaching section of the programme, introducing himself as Mr. Watchword, or "Wordy" for short. The character, voiced by actor Charles Collingwood, was knowledgeable about all aspects of grammar and words and taught the audience the way to use and recognise words. With its high-pitched voice and distinctive appearance the character has since become one of the most remembered aspects of the programme. The character appeared for the last time in the 1992 story "Sky Hunter II".


Some of the most memorable moments of the programme were its educational songs. Each story had its own individual theme tune, many of which are well remembered among fans of the programme. Each teaching segment also featured many songs with cartoons, featuring characters like Dog Detective, which were used regularly over the show's history. Many of the songs were written by composers such as Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb and Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and most were sung by Derek Griffiths. Among the most popular were:
*"Bill the Brickie", which shown a brickie "building" words out of bricks, demonstrating the use of morphemes.
*"The Punctuation Song", which featured Mr Big, representing capital letters, and Mrs Full Stop.
*"I'm An Apostrophe", which demonstrated the various uses of the apostrophe. It went "I'm an apostrophe, come and take a look at me, I'm not a comma, I'm not a full stop, don't put me on the line - I go at the top!"

*Probably the most popular, though, was "Magic E", a song used to demonstrate silent E and the change in pronunciation of preceding vowels — for example, "cap" becomes "cape" with me, "tap" becomes "tape" with me". The song's simple lyrics about changing the words with "magic E" were memorable and simple to learn. Although the song was intended as an innocent song for children it was also open to parody due to the double meaning of the phrase "Magic E" in relation to the drug ecstasy. Many who remember the song refer to it, in humour, in this contextFact|date=October 2007. The BBC's own "Cult" web page on the programme does not refer to that song with the phrase "Drop That E!" - this is the title of a different song. However they do include the comment "it's about spelling. Honest." [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/lookandread/intro.shtml BBC - Cult - Classic TV - Look and Read ] ]

Cult popularity

Due to a retro revival of the programme, "Look and Read" is now the focus of some dedicated websites and some of the older serials have, in recent years, been repeated on BBC children's channel CBBC.

List of "Look and Read" stories

"Look and Read" specials

External links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/lookandread/index.shtml "Look and Read"] at bbc.co.uk
* [http://www.lookingandseeing.co.uk/site/Look_and_Read Looking and Seeing]
* [http://www.trembirth.demon.co.uk/lookread/ Look and Read Fan Site]
* [http://www.bebo.com/lookandread Bebo site]


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