The success story that is Play School started in Britain in 1964. It was a preschooler show at its most basic—save for one film clip an episode, there were few gimmicks and the entirety of the show was carried on the shoulders of the two presenters—never the same each day, and always one man and one woman. All they had to play with? Everyday junk (used for homemade crafts), the toys (really the only constant "cast" on the show), a short story (always after checking the time on a clock), and a film shown through "the windows". There would also be songs, and activities that children at home could participate in.
Astonishingly, the show actually caused a strike at the BBC. A regular feature of the show was a clock with a turntable underneath, on which a different set of objects would rotate past the camera each day. A union dispute over whether this constituted a prop or a special effect (and therefore which union was responsible for operating it) blacked out Television Centre for weeks!
In 1966, the format was adapted for Australian TV by The ABC. Both shows ran concurrently until 1984, when the British version was axed. The Australian version, however, has gone on to become so ingrained in the culture that you'd be hard-pressed to find any Australian person who hasn't watched the show at some point. Many of the show's presenters are well-known Australian actors, and the job is quite a challenging one. The show has changed very little over the years, aside from one revamp in 1999 that changed the "Windows" into a rotating prop. Notably, this is one of the few children shows ABC broadcasts on several Pay TV providers worldwide via the Australia Plus TV (Previously Australia Network and ABC International) channel.
There was also a Norwegian version called Lekestue that ran from 1973 until the early 1980s, and a Canadian equivalent, Polka Dot Door, which ran from 1971 to 1993 and spawned two spin-offs, Polka Dot Shorts and Giselle's Big Backyard.
This show contains examples of:
- Bishōnen: Jeremy Scrivener. (Australian version.)
- Cuckoo Clock Gag: The show featured "Cuckoo's Clock", with an oversized cuckoo which never moved.
- Has Two Mommies: The Australian version had an infamous episode containing an instance of this. The actual relationship status is not so much as mentioned, and the footage itself was concerned with a day at the fair. Of course, the Australian tabloid media was all over it.
- Hilarious Outtakes: One of the most popular clips seen on British blooper shows is Fred Harris, failing to get Big Ted to sit properly, eventually punching the toys while shouting "I'm an artist! How can I be expected to work with these amateurs, for God's sake?" in a silly voice.
- The Kiddie Ride: A miniature carousel ride based on it can occasionally be seen in Australia. Said carousel has also been exported to Singapore, Malaysia, and even back to the UK.
- Bizarrely, this was based on the Rocket Clock, despite the Rocket Clock no longer appearing on the show. A more compact version of the ride that did away with the Rocket Clock design did eventually appear many years later, but the Rocket Clock models are still much more ubiquitous.
- Long-Runners: Almost all versions ran for a considerable length of time, but the Australian version stands out at an astounding 50 years.
- Multi-National Shows: As aforementioned, numerous international versions spun off the original English version exist - the Australian one is the oldest and most famous, and others include New Zealand, Norwegian and Canadian versions.
- No Fourth Wall: The key to the show's success is due to the presenters' treatment of the audience as though they were actually there — therefore simulating a Real Life preschool or playgroup environment.
- Once an Episode: The Australian version memorably used to include use of a calendar, two clocks of varying novelty, looking through one of three windows, and reading a story. The UK version likewise had the clock, the windows (four windows in later episodes) and the story.
- One I Prepared Earlier: The show does this for arts, crafts and even cooking all the time, even using the trope name, although sometimes they seemed to do it to avoid the tricky part of the process...
- Open-Door Opening: The opening credits ends with the camera zooming up to a door that opens as the theme song sings:Open wide,
It's Play School.
- Retool: The Australian version of the show changed very little in 33 years of broadcasting, but all of a sudden in 2000 it underwent a dramatic makeover. Practically everything save for the toys and the Theme Song were changed. The UK version went through a revamp in 1983, with the windows becoming "shapes" on a spinning disk, then reverted to windows again.
- Rube Goldberg Device: At least one of the calendars was this, as are the opening titles for the 2010s version in Australia.
- Spinoff: The Australian version was popular enough to produce numerous spinoffs, including one starring host Monica with a variety of mostly puppet friends. Most faded into obscurity, but Bananas in Pyjamas, popular beyond imagination, originated from several ideas that appeared on Play School as well.
- Subverted Kids' Show: Not Play School itself obviously, but many years after her tenure on the show, one of the Australian version's most famous hosts recorded a reading of Go the Fuck to Sleep in the exact same style she used to use when reading stories on Play School. The Australian media reacted as much as you'd expect it to.
- That Reminds Me of a Song