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Play School celebrates 50 years of children’s entertainment


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KATE Ritchie wants to take you on a trip down memory lane.

But it's not her Summer Bay roots she's celebrating, it's 50 years of Play School.

The Logie-winning favourite on the small screen will present the ABC documentary Big Ted's Excellent Adventure to mark the iconic show's golden anniversary.

"I didn't have to think twice about being part of the documentary," she tells The Guide.

"Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sentimental old thing anyway. I love a little bit of nostalgia.

"I have such a great respect for Play School as a whole. Fifty years of TV is an achievement regardless, and 50 years of children's television is incredible."

The preschool series is a viewing staple for Ritchie's toddler Mae, who turns two next month.

"There's a real purity about Play School," she says. "When I watch Play School with my daughter, in those 27 minutes the world feels as though everything is okay. Everything feels so safe and so secure, and that's invaluable."

Ritchie, who recently released a children's book titled I Just Couldn't Wait To Meet You, has a theory about why Play School continues to thrive after 50 years on air.

Long-running children's show Play School celebrates 50 years on air this month.Contributed

"My dear friend Alex Papps, who I worked with in the very early days of Home and Away, is one of the Play School presenters and we were chatting about why we're watching it 50 years on," she says.

"Play School has learned to change over those 50 years. It has reflected what's been going on socially... it's such an important part of our culture to see ourselves on screen.

"Play School always has remained current and up-to-date despite its simplicity."

Everyone from the Wiggles, Craig McLachlan and Mickey Robbins to past and present Play School presenters Benita Collings, John Waters and Justine Clarke will appear in the documentary.

"The magic ingredient is the hosts, and we all have our favourites," Ritchie says.

"My daughter's so engaged and loves having those hosts speak directly to her.

"There has been a lot of great casting over the years. In the industry when you talk about it, it's such a great honour to land a gig on Play School."

The ABC has also assembled a slew of well-known Aussies for a series of Play School Celebrity Covers.

Everyone from Molly Meldrum, Dami Im and Delta Goodrem to Guy Sebastian, Kate Miller-Heidke, Katie Noonan, Lee Lin Chin and Magda Szubanksi try their hands at singing, playing and presenting in episodes currently airing daily at 9.30am on ABC Kids and streaming any time on iView.

Big Ted's Excellent Adventure: 50 Years of Play School airs on Sunday at 7.40pm on ABC1.


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Home and Away can be a road to Play School as much as Hollywood

A foundation Summer Bay couple are now cornerstones of the Play School parenting set


It's been a long time since Frank and Roo were an item in Summer Bay, but the actors who played the young couple are still very much a part of Australia's TV landscape.

Alex Papps and Justine Clarke, who played the lovestruck couple, haven't appeared on Home and Away for a long time. Roo is now played by Georgie Parker, while Papps hasn't made even a cameo in almost a decade and a half.

“I was (last) there for one of Sally’s weddings and I think a sesquicentenary of Summer Bay," Papps told TV tonight.

"But even that’s going back to 2001 or something. I haven’t been approached since, but that’s ok. I suppose with the exception of Alf, and Georgie Parker as Roo, they are the only connection to the past for my character.”

The two actors are firm friends however and their screen chemistry has helped him in his Play School hosting duties.

Clarke is now one of Play School's most recognised hosts, having produced an array of best selling childrens music albums as well.

“Our friendship has been constant since I started on Home and Away. When I started Play School it was a lovely full circle moment to work together."

The pair also worked together for two episodes on the ABC drama The Time of Our Lives in 2013.

"The Time of our Lives episode I did was with her, and we hadn’t done any dramatic acting together since Home and Away,” he recalls.

The two have combined once more to help celebrate the iconic kids show's 50th anniversary.

Papps has been a regular host on Play School since 2005, presenting around 12 episodes a year - each of which will get repeat airings over the course of 7 years.

“No-one really tells you how to do it, is the honest truth. The most useful piece of direction I got back at my audition was to imagine I was having a conversation with one child. That was spot on and it gives you an insight into the unique ‘Play School voice’ which is different to any other kid’s TV presentation style.”

Papps only undertook formal training at WAAPA (the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts) after he had wrapped his memorable role as Frank in the early '90s. He still remembers Home and Away fondly.

“I’m lucky to have a history with something that goes that far back and that people still think of fondly. It hit me the other day that it will be 30 years since we did the Pilot, next year,” he laughs.

Alex Papps headshot in the Home and Away years.

Big Ted’s Excellent Adventure: 50 Years of Play School will be narrated by Kate Ritchie,another Home and Away veteran.

The special will include anecdotes from many Australians who grew up watching the show, as well as presenters past and present, including Benita Collings, John Waters and Clarke.

Big Ted’s Excellent Adventure: 50 Years of Play School airs 7:40pm Sunday on ABC.


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I thought Kate did it very well. She would make a great presenter on Play School, it would be fun seeing her and Alex paired up. 

Seeing Benita, John and Noni again was great. John was so funny, amazing he was there well into the 1990's, some of his jokes and comedy would  not go to air these days. Being born in 1982, I was right in the golden Benita,John and Noni era, as well as Alister, Philip,George and others. I also was a semi regular viewer in the 90's, when I home sick from school (was very comforting when I was stuck at home for 2 weeks with chicken pox when I was 10) when we had the delights of Monica Trapaga,Simon Burke and Colin Buchanan, but still had Benita, John and Noni. I also helped babysit my neighbours young children in the later 1990's when I was thick into my teenage years, and still a casual viewer, it helped with the stress of VCE, and was sad when Benita was let go when the 2000 revamp happened, she could of stayed for ages longer. Did not really watch it after the revamp as I was busy with more grown up pursuits, but they showed the older episodes well into the mid 2000's.

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