If you are of a certain age his was the voice that carried you through your childhood. Whether it be in front of the camera in Play School or as narrator on Camberwick Green, Trumpton or Chigley, the late Brian Cant was the epitome of what is was to be a children’s television presenter – warm, friendly and engaging.
Brian Cant was working as an actor for BBC Schools when he heard that auditions were being held for a new children’s television programme. Play School (1964-1988) was a series aimed at pre-school audiences and was to be shown on the new BBC2 channel. At his audition, Cant was asked by the show’s creator, Joy Whitby, to get into a cardboard box and pretend to ‘row out to sea’. He fished from this cardboard boat and caught a wellington boot full of custard. He was hired as a presenter and stayed with the programme for 21 years, becoming a firm favourite among fans with his voice being heard over the famous opening titles to the show.
His work on Play School lead directly to his working on a new animated series from Gordon Murray, Camberwick Green (1966). The Trumptonshire Trilogy also featured Trumpton (1967) and Chigley (1969). Cant provided the narration for the series’ as well as singing all the songs. These three programmes have all become iconic, cult favourites thanks mostly to Cant’s soothing voice.
Later he became a co-host of Play Away, a sister programme to Play School that was aimed at slightly older children. Play Away was the slightly naughtier sibling that felt a little bit more anarchic to the more serene Play School. It played host to rising stars of British television including Tony Robinson, Anita Dobson and Jeremy Irons.
Then, in 1980, Cant presented the cult classic Bric-A-Brac. Cant played the shopkeeper in a dusty, old Bric-A-Brac shop where he would focus on a different letter of the alphabet in each episode. The show often made use of alliteration and tongue-twisters to help it’s young viewers learn to read and write.
More shows followed including Dappledown Farm and Jay Jay The Jet Plane, as well as appearances in Doctor Who and presenting The Great Egg Race. Alongside his early television roles, Cant also appeared in the films The Sandwich Man (1966) and A Feast At Midnight (1995) in which he co-starred with Christopher Lee.
As a cult figure of entertainment, Cant parodied his role as a narrator in The Organ Gang as part of This Morning With Richard Not Judy from Lee and Herring. He also made an appearance in the music video for Orbital‘s DVD The Altogether.
In 2010 he received the special award from Children’s BAFTA in recognition for his services to children’s television over the decades. And, although diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1999, he continued to make fleeting appearances on television, most recently in the daytime drama Doctors.
Brian Cant’s legacy is one of nostalgia as witnessed as the news broke today of his passing. Twitter is awash with fond memories and reverie of his work. To a generation of children he was the babysitter, the uncle and the friend who made everything feel better. His distinctive voice a trigger to the vaults of time when life was simple and television made a difference.
BRIAN CANT – 1933-2017