Story Of Children's Outdoor Games Told By BBC

08/12/2009 17:07 | Updated 22 May 2015

As we lead up to Christmas and children pen their five-page list of demands from Santa, parents often worry how they are going to afford the high-tech gadgets their offspring crave.

But children's supposed happiness wasn't always so centred on expensive toys; children's play in Britain was once a free and adventurous activity full of imaginative games. Whether the kids believe it or not there was a time before the era of Xboxes and Wii's - and it was just as fun.

British children's play between the 1900s and the mid-1950s was a secret world of adventure and imagination that blossomed in the nation's streets, back alleys and playgrounds.

Great fun was to be had from simple games like hopscotch, skipping and street football. With the toy industry in its infancy and few home comforts, children spent more free time outdoors than at home.

Rich children sometimes craved the freedom enjoyed by the children of the poor, contrasting to the present day when the poor crave the flash toys of the rich.

Even the danger of war helped play by opening up exciting new worlds for poorer city children in the countryside and the creation of mock-war games. Nowadays children stare at a screen to get their war game fixes, even board games are being made into films, such as Battleship.

Things have changed for various reasons including the enormous increase in road traffic leading to more dangerous roads, fear of strangers on the streets- partly triggered by the Moors Murders, and the coming of television into almost every home in Britain.

The new fashion for TV and video games took over everything else as children's most popular activity. Now children aged nine and under are the main torchbearers of the nation's centuries old skipping and chasing games.

Just last week Conservative leader David Cameron's announced an initiative to banish the killjoys and restore a little fun to childhood. Many are now claiming children are too wrapped up in cotton wool and are missing out on all the education and social skills earned from playing outside amongst other children.

Charles Chilton, 92, can remember when the street was a safe place where children could act out their fantasies free from adult control. With little cash to buy what toys were available, children simply made their own, he told the Daily Mail: "We'd carve our own rough-and-ready cricket bats from planks of wood that stung our hands if we were lucky enough to hit a hard ball."

If you fancy reliving days gone by and remembering more of the wonderful games British children once played a new two-part documentary on BBC Four called Hop, Skip and Jump explores the story of childhood play and is a stark reminder of how times have changed. It's bound to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in any parent - even if it's only of all your grazed knees.

More about children's games today on BBC 4 at 9pm - Hop, Skip And Jump: The Story Of Children's Play.

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