Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Show and tell - interview with Chris Jarvis

LOVED by pre-schoolers and their mums alike, CHRIS JARVIS has been a stalwart of CBeebies since its launch, alongside current Show Me Show Me co-presenter Pui Fan Lee. CATRIONA REEVES spoke to him about the pair’s live tour, The Chris and Pui Roadshow

CATRIONA REEVES: Show Me Show Me reminds me of the classic Children’s BBC show Playschool - is that intentional?

CHRIS JARVIS: Completely - Show Me Show Me is the direct descendent of Playschool, which led on to Playdays, and then Tikkabilla. It’s the longest show on the channel, and fulfils the remit of presenting a variety of items, giving more time to explore them. When I was a kid, there was only 20 minutes of pre-school programming a day - now they have a whole channel, with the variety that offers. But I still think that there’s a place in there for a show like Show Me Show Me.

Show Me Show Me is about showing, exploring and encouraging children to think about the world; because of course, everything is new to them. It’s a real challenge; it may look simple and daft, but the educationalists involved in the science behind it are amazing. My parents were teachers, and I find that side of things fascinating. CBeebies is truly a centre of excellence in the BBC; it’s chock-full of talent and knowledge.

CR: You and Pui have worked together since CBeebies was launched in 2002, first as the main channel presenters, and now on Show Me Show Me. Why do you think you work so well together?

CJ: Pui comes from a drama school and acting background - she was Po in Teletubbies - while I came from performing at Butlins - a great training ground - , via the Broom Cupboard [Children’s BBC’s tiny presenting studio in the 80s and 90s]. I enjoyed that, but felt that pre-school television was more in my comfort zone than interviewing popstars. I was really lucky to meet Pui, because she’s brilliant, and brings an entirely different set of skills, so it works really well together as a professional partnership.

CR: You’ve written quite a lot of songs for various CBeebies shows over the years. Is that something you particularly enjoy?

CJ: I’ve always liked songwriting, but in the early days of CBeebies it was done out of necessity because the budget was so small. I’m writing this year’s CBeebies panto at the moment, and the BBC Philharmonic are involved, which is really exciting.

I’m not the greatest musician, but I think it’s so important to have music and people playing instruments  and showing how they work, to light that spark in children. What we do on Show Me Show Me in general isn’t necessarily educational or informative, but it creates those poetic attachments to things. I wanted to play the piano in the first place because I saw Jonathan Cohen regularly on Playschool and Playaway when I was young.

CR: Parents might be a bit nervous about taking very small children to the theatre to see your show; is it challenging to create a live experience for that age group?

CJ: We assume that children coming to see us are coming to the theatre for the first time, and it can be quite weird, so we try and create a friendly environment. We keep the house lights up for the first part of the show, and it’s got a slow, gentle start to make them feel comfortable - it can be incredibly quiet in there. After about 20 minutes or so, when the children have seen us and the characters, the penny drops, and by the end the are all joining in.

This is our third proper year of touring a big stage show together, but we’ve had years of panto and live experience before that to learn about what keeps very young audiences interested. They don’t need big sets - they need new stuff to engage them every few moments.

After the first part, the show is very fast moving - we have 100 props, and all the toys from Show Me Show Me - but it’s not really noisy; it’s not a rock concert for toddlers. There are some quite sweet moments. There are things we can do on stage that we can’t do on TV, and vice versa, so it’s very interactive.

Children are very welcome to bring along a teddy or cuddly toy so they can join in as well - as long as they look after them; we don’t want any lost toys left behind!

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 22, 2012

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