Brian Cant obituary: Charismatic Sixties children’s TV presenter

Brian Cant was the voice and face of children’s television for young people growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, presenting the programmes Play School and Play Away and as the narrator and voice of the characters in the animated shows Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley. With his friendly, child-like enthusiasm and playfulness, he brought delight to young viewers from the very beginning.

Cant was born in 1933 in Ipswich and educated at Northgate Grammar School for Boys. At the local Hippodrome he loved to watch music hall stars, such as Max Miller, and felt inspired to emulate them on stage. He had initially trained as a printer before his first experience of acting at Ipswich Theatre.

Moving to London to pursue his dream, he spent time working with the Mountview Theatre Club, an amateur group. Spotted by an agent, he was offered a role in repertory theatre and never looked back.

Play School was the first programme to be shown on the new BBC Two when it opened in April 1964. Cant joined the following month. Its combination of games, songs and the presenter made the format an instant hit, attracting up to five million viewers by the early Seventies. He recalled in a 1995 interview “…they wanted a programme aimed at the single child at home, so you were working eyeball-to-eyeball… whoever you were talking to, you had to make them feel that they were the only one, that you were doing it just for them…”

Brian Cant with Humpty and Chloe Ashcroft with Jemima on the tv show Play School (BBC)

Celebrating the programme’s 50th anniversary in 2014, Anna Home, former head of BBC Children’s, noted that “Play School was absolutely ahead of its time in terms of its content, production techniques and presenting style.”

When Gordon Murray sought a voice for his animated trilogy of Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley, Cant was the natural choice. He recalled the recordings of Trumpton, made in the bedroom of the show’s composer,…

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