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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

The hypnotic joys of the Night Garden

In the Night Garden is being cancelled, to the dismay of parents and children around the world.

"Igglepiggle iggle-ogg. We're going to catch… the Pinky Ponk." So begins another episode of In the Night Garden, a children's television show first broadcast by the BBC in 2007, and which sadly, it was announced last week, will now no longer be made. The programme, now past its hundredth episode and sold to 35 countries, has become a global phenomenon in three years, and like millions of parents around the world, I received the news that there will be no more fresh encounters with its gentle, charming characters, with great dismay.

Astrid is fanatical about In the Night Garden and demands to watch it at least 100 times a day. She indicates this desire by running the index finger of her right hand around the palm of her left hand. She picked up the gesture from the programme's title sequence. It begins with a child in bed. The child, who is different in each episode, traces a circle on the palm of his or her hand while drifting off to sleep. The scene cuts to a stop motion animation of a furry blue character called Iggle Piggle sitting in a one-man boat on a dark and foreboding sea.

In rich and mellifluous tones, the narrator Derek Jacobi, a veteran actor more accustomed to iambic pentameters and Shakespearean verse than children's rhymes, explains that this little boat is going round and round the child's palm. Iggle Piggle is also going to sleep and as his boat heads towards the horizon, its lone light mingles with the stars in the sky and the camera pans upwards. The stars blossom into big white flowers which part to reveal the night garden, a realm populated by a host of characters including Iggle Piggle. The sequence, which lasts just over a minute and is accompanied by a memorable, if soporific, tune, is one of the clearest and most elegant explanations of going to sleep for children I have seen.

Sleep looms large in a child's life. It happens at least twice every 24 hours, but it is pretty difficult to explain to a young child what it is and how it happens. You can go to sleep at the same time as your child, but you cannot go to sleep with them. It is a lonely expedition, one that the programme's title sequence explains through metaphor so effectively. The main problem with In the Night Garden is that it is just too good. Unlike Teletubbies, which was created by the same production company, this programme has a range of excellent conceits to keep parents interested as well as children. It toys with scale in ways reminiscent of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Its music and songs are so catchy, you find yourself singing them intermittently during the day. A chorus of birds called the Tittifers, who move in time to the music to give the impression they are playing instruments, are a surreal joy and never fail to raise a chuckle. The show can be watched across the Middle East on the Baraem children's channel with Arabic translation. I haven't seen this version as we watch it on DVD on the computer, but I'm intrigued by how the translators cope with the barrage of nonsense neologisms that make up so much of the show with the exception of the narration.

If parents find a children's programme annoying, they are much more likely to enforce the viewing guidelines set out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which discourage watching television for children younger than two years old and suggest limiting the time spent watching television to one to two hours for older children. Astrid is nearly 18 months old and, according to these recommendations, should be screen-free. It is so hard to do, especially when I look forward to a trip to the night garden almost as much as she does.


Published: October 5, 2010 04:00 AM


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