One Hall of Fame Logie, about 2,250 episodes shot, 92 presenters and 25 toys — those are the quick numbers on Play School, ABC’s enduring and seminal preschooler show first aired on July 18, 1966 - exactly 50 years ago.
Among the current hosts of the series are Justine Clarke, Jay Laga’aia, Andrew McFarlane, Alex Papps and Miranda Tapsell. WHO asked them to reflect on their Play School experience by answering some burning questions.
Which window do you prefer?
Jay: With the windows, I am very partial to the arched window. It was something that I was attracted to when I was young in New Zealand and we had a New Zealand version of Play School, so it has also been part of my life growing up, too.
Andrew: I never had a favourite, to be quite honest. It would surprise me just as much as the audience when we had to do the voiceover for it. I don't have any particular Freudian love of the round or the diamond or the arched, but the arched window might have a little bit of a pull on me because, look, you're going to go to a magical kind of land any one you choose, but the arched always reminds me of somewhere like Centennial Park or somewhere in New York or somewhere like, ‘Wow, I'm going to follow that pathway, I'm going to find out what's on the other side.’
Alex: I've always had a soft spot for the arched window and I have no explanation for that. Well, that's the one that I remember tending to home in on.
Miranda: Arched window all the way! All the way. It's very controversial if anyone says otherwise to me!
Do you have a favourite toy or toy sketch to act out?
Justine: Anything that involves Humpty.
Jay: I try and spread the love around as far as the toys are concerned, but my favourite character has to be Big Ted. He makes a statement purely by being there. He’s the quintessential Aussie. He spends most of his time without a stitch of clothes, but he’s cool with that.
Andrew: I kind of have a soft spot for Scrap. I think his name is fabulous because he's a patchwork dog. Even his ears are little socks, I think. He has buttons for eyes and there are some crochet parts for his underbelly and the little, but I'm not sure what's on his tail, if that's another sock, but he's that sort of puppy. And he also has got a fabulous expression on his face.
Alex: Look, one shouldn't have favourites, so I will probably never tell you who occasionally I have maybe more of a soft spot for than the others! It still doesn't fail to impress me that I get to work with those four iconic characters, not to mention the others, but Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima and Humpty, you know, they have a pretty powerful collective and individual presence.
Miranda: Humpty was the first toy that I met, so now I feel I have an association with Humpty. It's not that I don't get on with Little Ted. Big Ted's been a bit aloof with me. I haven't had many episodes with him. I'd like some more, but I think he's the one I've now got to get to know. But Humpty was very welcoming and I felt very comfortable with him. He and I are tight.
Are you crafty? Made anything you’ve kept?
Justine: Sometimes I could cheat and take the craft elements home with me and assemble them with my kids. Everything would already be cut out and ready to paste together. It was such a time saver and it made me look good!
Jay: The art department are fantastic because I am a tinkerer at heart and so everything they create for the show, they allow me the freedom to add bits and pieces to the construction as we block through every scene. I have also learned to draw upside down because of the angle of the camera.
Andrew: I always put my hand up to make a caterpillar out of an egg carton if I can. I think that's pretty good. I'm pretty good with a brown bag koala bear on a ruler. He's one of my fortés.
Alex: My first craft segment was to make fruit fridge magnets, just cutting out fruit shapes with different coloured sponges and things, and they all had a little magnet on the back, and I made a little lemon, so I've got that somewhere. There's a picture that I did of an owl sitting in a tree that I gave to my grandmother some time ago, and I've got a whale on my fridge that wasn't actually made by me. It was made by one of the Play School designers and I just took a shine to it and asked if I could have it on my fridge, so there's this massive whale fridge magnet on my fridge.
Miranda: That’s my one weakness on this show. I'm very bad at the craft, so I go, oh, I hope the song comes along soon because I can then smooth it all over! I can't believe that in my audition, they asked me to draw a dinosaur upside down and I was so bad when I was trying to practice it beforehand. I was sending my pictures to all of my friends and they were in fits of laughter, going,’ What is that? That is definitely not a dinosaur,’ and they starting making memes out of it and it's like, ‘OK, this is really mean now!”