Chris Philpot TV Production & Digital Marketing

Grand Slam: The Welcome Return of The Slammer

Originally published on my personal blog on the 8th of November 2013.

It's a universal truth that each generation believes the children's programming that they grew up with was the best ever made, and that the shows so enjoyed by subsequent generations are utter rubbish. Even when on paper young and old can enjoy the same programme – kids' TV flagship* Blue Peter, say – we scoff at the eras that aren't our own.

I'm especially guilty of this trait, looking back on '90s children's programming through a pair of spectacles with a distinctive rose-coloured tint to their lenses, whilst admonishing the programmes that are accompanying my niece and nephews through their childhoods. There is (at least) one exception to this rule, though. It's a programme which has made a welcome return to our screens after a three year hiatus: The Slammer. And why is it so good? Because like all good kids' shows, it refuses to treat children like children.

I would have missed the news that The Slammer was returning to our screens (every Friday at 5:30pm on the CBBC Channel, so I gather) save for a tweet from Greg Scott; the occasional Countdown warm-up man and face of cult late night premium rate quiz show Quizmania guest starred in today's first episode of the new series.

If you're new to the programme, The Slammer is set in fictional prison H.M. Slammer, where the inmates are a mixture of variety acts and celebrities of some repute. Each episode begins and ends with a farce comedy storyline that feels very similar to semi-controversial Saturday morning kids' show Dick and Dom in da Bungalow. As well it might, given that it is produced by the same man (Steve Ryde) and stars much of the same supporting cast (Dave Chapman, Ian Kirkby and Melvin Odoom).

These skits bookend the main part of each episode: the freedom show. Remember those talented inmates? During the freedom show they compete for their very own get out of jail free card by participating in a variety show, watched keenly by a crowd of children. Once all the acts have had their turn in the limelight, the kids decide whose performance was worth of parole by way of a retro clap-o-meter.

As I eluded to above, the format empowers children as well as making them laugh, and features enough gags that will go over youngsters' heads to make The Slammer worthwhile family viewing. Mum and Dad will also appreciate the presence of some ‘vintage’ celebrity prisoners; previous series have boasted the likes of Keith Harris and Orville, Lionel Blair, and even a musical performance from Showaddywaddy!

Catch up with The Slammer on iPlayer, and see why I reckon it's the best children's show the BBC have made in decades. Even if you're still sceptical, it's only 30 minutes long, which isn't much of a sentence. (Sorry, it's no longer available to watch on demand.)

*Should this read “ship's flag”?