I’ll level with you. I’ve watched a lot more CBeebies than my daughter has.
On knackered Saturday mornings, I’ll switch on the TV and she’ll sit and play happily with some toys while I stare, bleary-eyed, at some CGI adventures or a bunch of posh drama school grads making really big facial expressions.
My daughter will nod off or get a nappy change and I’ll absorb a few more episodes of something I’ve never seen before but immediately understand. Once or twice I’ve taken her to nursery, come home and flicked on the telly for background noise, only to accidentally leave it on just a little “too long”.
So, based on my skewed viewing of what is clearly an amazing thing – an all-day, ad-free channel aimed at very young children – here’s a totally correct ranking, from best to worst, of all CBeebies’ output.
1) Hey Duggee.
The most joyous, life-affirming programme ever made. Duggee is the canine leader of a Scouts-esque group of cross-species animal children called Squirrels, who earn a different badge every week simply by having a delightful adventure. The animation is brilliant, there are lovely little inclusive details like one of the characters (a young crocodile) who is adopted (by elephant parents), and the tunes – particularly the banjo theme and Stick Song – are amazing.
2) Justin’s House.
This one’s the bomb. It’s a sitcom filmed on stage in front of an all-child live studio audience, featuring a robot, a monster and endless, always-welcome iterations of Justin Fletcher’s trademark “Gah!” move, where he looks behind him like he’s shut his bum in a cupboard door or something. Special mention to Steven Kynman, the silver-daubed actor who plays Robert the Robot and brings Alan Rickman levels of gravitas to being confused by a big ice-cream.
3) Shaun the Sheep.
Magnificent. Spun off from Wallace and Gromit, there are some 150 dialogue-free episodes, packed with Aardman Animation’s trademark comic timing and incredible stop-motion slapstick. Glorious stuff.
4) Old Jack’s Boat.
This stars the brilliant Bernard Cribbins as a sailor telling stories and it’s great. I want to see a late-night version though, Old Jack After Dark, where the ol’ sea dawg sinks a few rums and reveals the more messed-up hideousness he saw out at sea, and tells dirty jokes about having sex with mermaids and stuff.
5) Do You Know?
Maybe it’s due to how tired I am all the time or maybe it’s the infectious enthusiasm of host, Maddie Moate, but Do You Know? is gold. They did an episode on how they stick those big reflective bits on police cars. I had never, ever wondered how that worked, but I know all about it now (and it’s exactly as you’d expect, with a big sticker).
Swashbuckle is what Alan Partridge would present on UK Conquest if anyone could arrange it. As it stands, it’s a pirate-themed children’s game show (the fun type of pirates, the ones with big hats from olden times, not the Captain Phillips ones with machine guns), and is really good fun. A grown-up version would totally work and could form the basis of the best stag do in the world.
7) Catie’s Amazing Machines.
Rally driver Catie Munnings tries out totally awesome shit like driving diggers or racing wacky-ass boats. The theme tune is by The Darkness. It is excellent.
Justin Fletcher (yes, him again) helms a sketch show that’s a lot of fun – involving silly accents, silly costumes and lots of accidental sitting on things. Fletch is surely the hardest working man in showbiz.
9) Molly and Mack.
This charming Scottish show does what few other live-action CBeebies shows do, in that it features main characters actually doing some goddamn work, even if it’s a bit twee (Mack works on a toy stall in an impossibly charming market). The cast is great, the songs are good, plus the producers seem to have done a very clever thing where they get to recycle loads of footage by having everyone put their jackets on for the walk home, shot just from behind. Ingenious.
10) The Furchester Hotel.
Half the (puppet) cast of this British show are characters from Sesame Street – Cookie Monster, Elmo and more. It’s like when a big US film star appears in a UK sitcom and you assume it’s for some sort of dodgy tax reason. It’s really good though!
11) Waffle The Wonder Dog.
Waffle’s wondrousness stems from his ability to talk (with the voice of Rufus Hound, the most on-the-nose casting ever), but the casual nature with which everyone around him treats this gift really tears you out of it, realism-wise.
12) Topsy and Tim.
Topsy and Tim are delightful and if I was a child I’d really like this show, but their trouble-free existence, million-pound house and eternal summer, watched from my grey lacklustre hovel while perpetually stressed, riles me up no end. YOU’LL LEARN, TOPSY AND TIM. LIFE IS BLEAK AND HARD.
Sir Michael Palin’s narration is charming, the aural equivalent of a duvet, but the weird Dune-like mythology of the Clanger civilisation is baffling. Explain this to me: why do they wear body armour?
14) Postman Pat: Special Delivery Service.
It makes sense that they’d want to update Postman Pat – the original series was so very gentle and today’s audiences expect a bit more excitement – but the casual way people still ask Pat to courier some cauliflowers to a village fete enrages me. That would be really expensive. You’d either take the cauliflowers there yourself or sack the whole thing off.
15) Moon and Me.
This is new and is narrated in a go-to-sleep way by the always-ace Nina Sosanya of Nathan Barley, Teachers and W1A fame. It’s made by the same people as In The Night Garden, who decided to be less terrifying this time.
16) Tinga Tinga Tales.
Charmingly animated versions of African folk stories, Tinga Tinga Tales looks unlike any other cartoon on telly, as it is visually based on Tanzanian art. It’s really ace to watch, plus it has Sir Lenny Henry among its voice cast.
17) Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures.
Dinosaurs are great, but Andy’s repeatedly forgetting he has a time machine is infuriating. Every episode seem to contain some variation of “Oh no, I’ve eaten my boss’s sandwich. If only I had time to get her a new one. Wait… time ... Time! I have a time machine!” If you had a time machine, you would never think about anything else. It would be life-defining. Also, using it to fix a sandwich predicament is almost certainly irresponsible when it comes to the space-time continuum. It’s like none of these people have ever read Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound Of Thunder’.
18) Andy’s Safari Adventures / Andy’s Baby Animals.
The same, but not as good due to not having any dinosaurs.
19) Tee and Mo.
“Monkey” is one of the cutest words to hear a tiny little kid say, so watching the adventures of simian mum and son Tee & Mo with a toddler results in an endless, adorable stream of gurgled “Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!”
18) Our Family/My First/My World Kitchen.
I’ve not seen any of these, but am assured by my pal Mat, who has a slightly older daughter, that they’re great. “These are all good ‘this is daily life in our sometimes devastatingly complex families’ documentary-type shows,” he says. “There’s an episode of Our Family where you get to see two 5-6 year old sisters sticking pictures of their quite recently dead mum in a photo album while their visibly ruined dad helps. It’s more brutal than anything HBO has ever conceived. Real Shane-Meadows-does-CBeebies shit.”
19) Yakka Dee.
Part animated, part live-action, this is all about teaching kids new words. It’s really pleasant, and very upbeat, and one of those things where you go, “I bet editing is a fun job” because it’s all cut together so, like, snazzily.
Part live-action, part animated, this is all about teaching kids classical music. You’re not watching telly out of laziness, you’re providing your child with the education everyone on University Challenge seems to have had. Plus the credits say: costumes by Dave Smith, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, so there’s that.
21) Something Special: We’re All Friends.
Yet another corner of the Justin Fletcher entertainment empire, We’re All Friends features Fletch in comfortable outdoorwear travelling the country making friends and having nice days with people. It’s pretty hard to fault, although it’s so wholesome that it can make you feel a bit guilty, and long for the “ouch-my-bum” things he does on his other shows. Plus, TumbleTap? It’s an iPad, dude.
22) Let’s Play.
This is one of those shows where it seems like someone’s found a big box of wigs, thrown it at some actors and said “We need 80 episodes”. Yep, go for it.
23) Go Jetters/Octonauts.
These are both fine. One of them’s basically about pandas in a submarine and the other one is something to do with planes. I can totally see myself getting really into them when my daughter is bigger, somehow ending up with a Grandmaster Glitch back tattoo. Fun fact: the voice of Foz from Go Jetters is provided by the guy who played T-Shirt in The Adventures Of T-Bag years ago.
Biggleton is a town where everyone is a child, so all the props and sets are really big. It’s cute, even if there’s something slightly post-apocalyptic about it.
25) Sarah and Duck.
Sarah And Duck is like The King’s Speech – I haven’t seen it, but people tell me it’s good and I believe them, and I’ll probably watch it on a plane one day.
26) CBeebies’ Bedtime Story.
You’ll have read about this in HuffPost whenever someone famous is doing it – huge stars like Tom Hardy occasionally pop up, much to everyone’s delight. I hadn’t realised that’s a rarity. Both times I’ve caught the show, it’s been someone crap – like the dude from the Cillit Bang ad. Underwhelming.
Except when Rob Delaney’s signed in Maketon. Or Will Young read ‘Two Dads’. Or ... wait, have I got this ranking completely wrong?
27) Abney & Teal
I want to like Abney & Teal but I can’t. There’s a thing with the animation where it’s supposed to feel charming and hand-made, but it’s all a bit unsettling. It’s like the frame rate is too fast or too slow or too uneven or something, it’s really hard to put my finger on. But I don’t like it.
Some people really love Bing. I am not one of those people. The animation is really nice and pleasantly gentle, but Bing himself sucks, and Flop is so patient that it feels like he’s passive aggressively parent-shaming you, plus claiming concepts that already exist. “Drawing pictures: it’s a Bing thing” feels tantamount to theft. It’s fun hearing Oscar-winner Mark Rylance talk about having a wee before you go out, though.
29) Peter Rabbit.
Surprisingly crap. Read the books instead.
30) In The Night Garden.
Oh no. There’s a German word, unheimlich, that I’m not quite sure the meaning of but almost definitely describes In The Night Garden and its eerie weirdness. Whoever is inside Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy do amazing jobs at getting emotion and nuance across – if one of them’s sad because they didn’t catch a ball properly, they really communicate that – but the whole thing is terrifying.
31-39) Bitz and Bob / Apple Tree House / Magic Hands / Show Me Show Me / Patchwork Pals / Tinpo / Pablo / Katie Morag / Nelly & Nora
I have no idea what any of these ones are. I have a vague feeling Pablo is Irish, but I might be making that up. It turns out, when any given episode of anything is only ten or so minutes long, there’s a shitload of telly on every day.
Oh hell no.
Correction: A previous version of this article included Peppa Pig, which is not a CBeebies show. This has now been removed.