From yesterday’s Times:
Goodbye Bob the Builder, hello Bitz the girl engineer. The BBC’s pre-school channel CBeebies is launching several female-led animations after its controller admitted that gender imbalance was often worse in cartoons than mainstream television.
Women have been given more prominent roles across the BBC in recent years, but the longer turnround times of animated series have hampered the drive to diversify children’s programming.
Kay Benbow, who steps down this month after seven years at the helm of CBeebies, said that she was proud of promoting female stars such as Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the host of Stargazing, and Rachel Yankey, the England footballer who presents Footy Pups.
However, she acknowledged that her network’s cartoons had been male-dominated for too long.
To redress the balance CBeebies is launching Bitz and Bob, about an engineering-obsessed eight-year-old girl and her brother. “She’s the problem solver,” Ms Benbow said. “We’ve female engineering consultants on board.”
Shobna Gulati, the Dinnerladies actress, will voice the character of Kari in Treasure Champs, an animated series about generosity, empathy and honesty.
Space in the schedules has been cleared by axeing some male-led animations. Old favourites Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam are no longer shown on the channel.
Diversity campaigners have criticised CBeebies for featuring too many male names in the titles of shows, such as Mr Tumble and Mr Bloom’s Nursery.
The outgoing controller said that this was an unintentional consequence of the sensitivities around female honorifics. “I have a view that it’s easier with men, because Mr sums up a man, while women are defined by their marital status,” she said.
CBeebies, launched in 2002 to provide programming for under-sixes, is watched by 2.3 million children a week.
A growing proportion of its audience accesses CBeebies’ shows online through apps or on-demand services; CBeebies is the second most visited iPlayer channel after BBC One.
This drift to on-demand viewing may eventually make the CBeebies digital channel superfluous, Ms Benbow conceded.
“I’m very well aware that some parents simply download a playlist,” she said.
The responsibility for running CBeebies will pass to Cheryl Taylor, the CBBC controller, as part of a shake-up of the corporation’s Salford-based children’s division.
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