One of the earliest TV shows I remember watching when I was very small was Play School, a show for toddlers that worked so well it is easy to see its influence in many modern children’s TV shows. Each episode usually featured a couple of presenters, normally one male and one female, and quite often the male presenter would have been Mr. Brian Cant.
Play School may not have been Brian’s first TV role (he appeared in an episode of Doctor Who story “The Dominators” and also appeared in other old shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Dangerman) but it is certainly the role he held for longest. Play School was to be one of the launch programmes for BBC2, and Brian auditioned for it, got the job and presented (and wrote) it for 18 years!
Appearing on a kids show meant that the more serious roles Brian had been playing started to dry up, so instead he embraced childrens television and went on to be involved in many classic shows.
First there was Camberwick Green, then Trumpton and Chigley, to which Brian lent his voice. These three shows may have been made in the late sixties but they were repeated thorugh the seventies and well into the eighties, and still hold up well today. The design of the cars and so on may have dated a little, but the stories are just as appealing to children as they always were.
Play School also led to Play Away, which Brian presided over with a host of other guest presenters. Play Away was originally intended as a kind of weekend Play School, aimed at older children, but it soon turned into a comedy sketch show for kids, full of naff jokes and slapstick humour.
One feature of Play Away was they often featured a sequence of short one line gags based around a theme. For example, “I’m a bean, I’m a bean, what kind of bean am I?”, was the question asked by a presenter dashing about the set. “A runner bean”, they would quip. Another presenter would then come on, jumping up and down on the spot, repeating the first line. No prizes for guessing what kind of bean they were meant to be.
Some later kids shows Brian made in which he appeared on screen were Bric-A-Brac and Dappledown Farm. In Bric-A-Brac he played the owner of a kind of junk shop, who went round finding things that began with different letters of the alphabet, whilst Dappledown Farm saw him playing the role of a farmer on a farm full of puppet animals.
Brian pretty much disappeared from our screens after this, but did return briefly in the late nineties to voice “The Organ Gang“, a small segment on Stewart Lee and Richard Herrings’s sunday morning comedy show “This Morning With Richard Not Judy”. The Organ Gang were a group of body parts, such as Barry Bladder, Beryl Brain and villain of the piece the Vile Bile Duct.
Brian works mainly in theatre now, with the odd bit of voice over work. He recently brought Play Away back to the stage in a new show (called Still Playing Away) which was intended for adults who would have seen Play Away as children.
To finish off then, here’s a clip from Play Away that features the very memorable theme tune, some very bad jokes (especially the pair of knickers one) and also features actor Jeremy Irons as one of the guest presenters!