CBBC and Gen Z’s Cultural Memory 

The CBBC Channel is something of a cultural touchstone for everyone who grew up watching it – myself included. Its programmes created shared moments and experiences which can still bring us together years later. Childhood memories have strong emotional feelings behind them, and so it is no surprise that the BBC’s announcement CBBC would be moving online (albeit no earlier than 2025) brought about a wave of nostalgia amongst our generation. As such, let’s take a moment to ride that wave and reminisce on our childhood viewing.  

CBBC is a respectable channel because the shows it provides are varied and exciting for children, but are also of the high standard you would expect from the BBC. One of its biggest dramas, The Sarah Jane Adventures, was created by the showrunner of its parent show Doctor Who, Russell T Davies, and it is clear that he, alongside the actors, treated its alien-fighting storylines with as much respect and reverence as their projects aimed at adults. One of my personal favourite CBBC dramas, The Sparticle Mystery, was similarly written to a high quality by Alison Hume, who created a fascinating science-fiction exploration of what would happen if all the world’s adults disappeared. CBBC dramas like these are ultimately fondly remembered because they would stand up as good quality premises whoever they were aimed at – not a mean feat for a channel aimed at children.  

Of course, CBBC extended beyond drama, and it is many of its game shows, and comedies that our shared cultural references stem from. No one who saw it could forget Trapped, the show where a group of children would compete in a series of challenges to avoid being trapped in a creepy tower forever – children’s TV can be brutal sometimes! Moreover, the fact my first-year university flat-mates reminisced about the “a thousand pounds!” sketches from Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue clearly demonstrate the staying power of such shows in our minds, given there has not been a new series for eleven years! 

Perhaps most important for me as a history student was Horrible Histories. When I first saw it in the TV guide in 2009 there was little doubt I, a history enthusiast, would love it, but what was extraordinary was how popular it was across the country, from people like me, to those who would never have cared about history otherwise. It even gained an adult appreciation, becoming the first children’s show to win a British Comedy Award. It was further proof, if any more were needed, that CBBC was the home of quality British children’s television. 

I am sure the BBC will make shows like these beyond 2025. However, what will not continue are these shared cultural references. I would be surprised if students in the future are reminiscing about what they watched on BBC iPlayer as a child. Watching these shows after school encouraged the creation of shared memories which have lasted into adulthood, and it will be a shame if this type of cultural touchstone dies out.  

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Matthew Stothard

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August 2022
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