For children of the Seventies, Play School was a necessary evil, which had to be endured in order to watch the TV programmes you wanted to see that followed it, like Hector’s House and Top Cat.
Scheduled to tie in with school kids’ home-time, Play School felt like another lesson. It was the kind of children’s programme, which adults think children will like: a forced jolly mix of songs and silliness, all attempting to disguise an obvious educational agenda. However, kids are not so easily fooled. They can recognise a lesson even if it is dressed up in stripy dungarees and a big smile.
In an attempt to hide the medicine, Play School employed five resident toys, which were presumably there to evoke associations with playtime. There was Big Ted, Little Ted and Humpty, all of whom were decent enough coves; Jemima, who was a drippy tittle-tattle; and, worst of all, Hamble.
Everyone hated Hamble. In an age, which regularly saw Idi Amin, Bernard Manning and Mary Whitehouse on our TV screens, Hamble was more universally reviled.
Has there ever been a more unlovable doll than Hamble? Her dead-eyed, psychopathic expression; her puffy, pasty face; her mumsy hair. Hamble provoked feelings of loathing but, in me, she also triggered fear. As a child, when I looked into Hamble’s blank visage, I did not see a comfortable reflection of myself staring back; did not see someone recognisable with whom I could relate; instead I saw poverty. And it was frightening.
Hamble, with her grubby, bare feet, and her misshapen home-knit clothes, and her look of hopeless resignation that the world she lived in would never get any better, reminded me of the kids in my class who came from the other side of town; and who always had nits; and who had their school milk subsidised; and who wore outsized secondhand uniforms handed down by their older siblings, of whom there were many.
In the 1970s, the most obvious social divide was still along lines of class, and Hamble represented a class that, at that time, my family was fighting tooth and nail to escape.
© Beery Sue
Beery Sue finds the reflection in the mirror too close for comfort.