Before the 'Swappie'...

Those of us who are old enough to remember going to the cinema on Saturday mornings can also probably remember why we did so. The BBC Saturday mornings line up prior to 1976 had been a mixture of bought in programmes, films, cartoon and some original programming. Then again, the mixture of the cinema's cartoons, bought in serials and old films wasn't a lot different - other than the ice lolly in the interval!

There had been various attempts by the BBC to make entertainment based programmes, such as Whoosh!, and Zokko! The latter was basically pre-recorded items linked with a pre-recorded soundtrack - the absence of any presenter was quite a radical idea in those days, but today this is common on many of the new channels that have come to us through satellite and digital television.

In 1976 the BBC took the bold idea to create a single programme for Saturday mornings aimed solely at children. It was the first time that the timeslot had been seen in a way that children would probably be more relaxed, and be more likely to only watch parts of the programme

Creating the New Concept

Rosemary Gill
, who had worked on programmes such as Blue Peter, came up with the idea of basing the programme around 'swapping'. The idea of a 'swap' could be seen as far more as just swapping physical items - the swap of information and ideas was equally important.

At first the programme was to have been simply a presenter in a studio linking items for three hours. Then someone had the idea to utilise the outside broadcast units that were already out on the road for sporting events. This would make the whole programme seem less London based and would create one of it's most popular items.

The BBC had run a live programme on Wednesday afternoons in 1975 called Z Shed. This programme was fronted by the then Radio 1 breakfast show host, Noel Edmonds. Although the Z Shed doesn't exactly spring to the front of the memory or find itself prominently in the history books, it did donate two things to the new Saturday morning show - the host and the idea of a live phone-in. The phone-in was to make the new show different from any other children's programme as it would allow the viewers to call in and interact with the show - whether it was to make a 'swap' or to talk to a celebrity.

So, the BBC went ahead with the new format, and decided to put a series of 6 programmes together. By the time that the new show called Multi-Coloured Swap Shop had found it's way into the Radio Times, it had become 'A series of 12 programmes'. That took it up to Christmas, then a further 8 shows were tagged on bringing the first series total to 20.

The Radio Times entry from Saturday, October 2 1976 didn't exactly give the ground-breaking programme a huge build up, but after the first programme had aired, we knew that Saturday mornings were never going to be the same again...

  Celebrating BBC Saturday Morning television since 1976