It may be less well known than its more outgoing stablemate Peppa Pig, which now has its own theme park somewhere in Hampshire, but I bet if you asked most parents who actually watch both the programmes with their toddler, they would say they get more fun from Ben and Holly.
As long as you’re not one of those televisual zealots who seem to have a real problem with progammes being made purely for entertainment of children, then the programme is great.
Addressing the argument over children’s television, why should young children be the only ones who are not allowed to be entertained by the medium?
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of programmes with an educational value, because there are. Dora the Explorer, notwithstanding some of its faults in later episodes, employs teaching techniques, and CBeebies, in particular, has an educational undertone in many of its programmes which, if utilised properly, can be an aid to development.
As long as there is an adult sharing the experience with the child, then I don’t see any harm and quite often there is potential for a lot of good.
Learning through play is a significant part of early years education, so with parental guidance, many of the pre-school shows can contribute to that.
I suspect Ben and Holly may be the first place where many pre-schoolers learn the basic principles of how a windmill works. (Elf Windmill – one of the many classic episodes that also demonstrates that things don’t always just appear on the breakfast table by magic.)
Anyway, let’s put all this to one side and look at some of the things that make Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom so great for children and adults. For the unaware, the Little Kingdom consists of elves and fairies (Ben is the former, Holly, the latter). In a nutshell, elves love hard work, fairies love getting the magic to do it all for them.
Here are some of the main plus points:
Nanny Plum. Unarguably the real star of the show. Parents will warm to Nanny Plum (played by Sarah Ann Kennedy) because she looks after the fairy children of King and Queen Thistle. She is also charged with the housework in the Elf Castle. The fact that, wherever possible, she employs magic to do her work for her, means that stay-at-home mums and dads feel an instant affinity with, if not admiration for her. Plus, her simmering romance with Uncle Redbeard, the Elf Pirate, blends a mix of the social divide of Romeo and Juliet together with the long unrequited mutual desire that was the mainstay of Moonlighting. One tip: don’t ever let them actually get together, we all know what happened when that occurred with Maddie and David (although Bruce Willis subsequently did alright out of it).
Gaston the Ladybird. A ladybird that barks. Genius. With the added advantage that he allows Ben Elf to fly on him, a useful plot device for many of Ben and Holly’s adventures. Gaston also gets very upset when Nanny Plum inadvertently assumes he’s female – a snippet of insect gender information there to keep the education evangelists happy.
King Thistle. Firstly, when asked what his full name is by a retired witch, he says it’s ‘King Thistle, King Thistle’. Secondly, he’s a bumbling royal who mostly means well, but often gets things wrong and can’t resist grumbling under his breath. Remind you of anyone? Thirdly, he’s played by Ian Puleston-Davies, who also plays Owen Armstrong in Coronation Street. I know which character I prefer.
Elf horns. I challenge any parent who has watched more than three episodes of this show to deny, with a straight face, that they have ever blown on an imaginary horn after hearing the catchphrase ‘and I’m an elf’.
Subversiveness. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you can’t help but feel there is something mildly subversive about the show. It could be the bolshiness of Nanny Plum, it could be the propensity of most fairies to cheat and use magic at the first available opportunity, or it could just be that the frogs appear to be burping rather than croaking.
The supporting characters. As with most quality shows, it is the supporting cast who make it so good. Holly’s little sisters Daisy and Poppy are possibly the most malevolent child twins to appear on our screens since Chloe and Radcliffe in the League of Gentlemen. Don’t be fooled by their sweet voices, they’re bad. The show accepts that little children can be a nightmare and makes that a matter for fun and jokes. Then there are Ben’s parents. The dynamic between Mister and Mrs Elf reminds me of Bob and Thelma from Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.
Big Bad Barry. A large fish who terrorises the pond. Episodes featuring Big Bad Barry have led to the best line ever in the show -‘it’s mutiny on the Bunty’ – and the worst joke (which Nanny Plum tells to get out of the fish after they are eaten up). I like to think that he is voiced by James Earl Jones under a pseudonym.
If you haven’t watched Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdeom, you should. It can normally be found on Nick Jr or Five. To be blunt, it’s better than a lot of grown up shows.
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