BACKSTAGE

HOPE COMES INTO THE PRISONS Fulton’s plan: improve the con’s lot—and chances

Peter C. Newman July 1 1961
BACKSTAGE

HOPE COMES INTO THE PRISONS Fulton’s plan: improve the con’s lot—and chances

Peter C. Newman July 1 1961

THE CASE AGAINST Romper Room: a mother wins

ENTERTAINMENT

The classroom, where, as Maclean's reported last year, some schoolteachers use hooks that have commercial sponsorship (and approach) is not the only place where young children are subjected to salesmanship with “official endorsement." Five days a week thousands of pre-school youngsters from coast to coast sprawl in front of their TV sets and gaze entranced at an electronic baby-sitter called Romper Room. Its format: an hour-long locally produced melange of games, songs, stories, "conversation," prayer and commercials. Its cast: children recruited from the area and a usually very attractive, very patient teacher. Each private station offering the show obtains its franchise from a Baltimore firm and must push the Romper Room line of toys.

In Winnipeg, Romper Room's format was overhauled recently, thanks mainly to the efforts of Mrs. Daphne Overhill, a 29-year-old housewife who has two young daughters (the five-year-old, Kirstie, plays chess and is starting to beat her mother), teaches music, paints, and reads developmental psychology. Here's how Mrs. Overhill launched a onewoman assault on Romper Room, and won a major victory:

Though Romper Hoorn had been produced in the Winnipeg area since before Christmas I didn’t see it until mid-April. My immediate reaction was astonishment anti horror at the deliberate blending of advertising and program content.

The teacher—a Miss Roma—delivered commercials of all kinds. RomperRoom-trademarked toys and plugs for other products riddled the program. I soon discovered this was standard procedure.

On May 9. for instance. Miss Roma referred to a circus she had attended the night before, led the children in marching while they played Romper Room rhythm-band toys, trotted out some live dogs so she could give a plug for a pet shop, then called a halt so children in the studio—and at home, of course—-could enjoy milk and cookies, the brands of which she named.

l ater, Miss Roma urged children to visit a local toy shop where they could place their names in a wishing well, and. if they were lucky, win a prize. The store handled Romper Room toys.

At guest time. Jay North ("Dennis the Menace") appeared. He referred to his television sponsor and the circus at which he was appearing.

Popular support of the program— the Winnipeg station claims 60 to 70 per-

cent viewership—was no excuse for its continuation, I felt.

I wrote the producer of the Romper Room show but received no answer. I polled my neighbors; their reaction ranged from utter indifférence, to amusement at my outrage, to the feeling that nothing could be done to regulate private broadcasting, to, at best, mild irritation. Some parents hadn’t looked at the show, even though their children watched it regularly.

Next I sent letters to the Board of Broadcast Governors and the Winnipeg Tribune. Ann Henry, the Tribune's TV columnist, published the letter. (She had already blasted the program the previous December.) The letter induced some mothers I knew' to take a second look at the program, and decide it was not such good viewing after all.

The BBG said it tried to solve advertising problems by insisting that a station announcer deliver the commercials. They asked me to monitor the show and report changes, if any, in two weeks.

There were no changes. I wrote to the BBG again and got in touch with the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, asking them to investigate Romper Room’s misuse of teaching authority. My letter to the BBG included sample Romper Room formats. I also wrote to station CJAY-TV again but didn’t get an answer.

Finally, on May 12 the BBG informed me the station had agreed to change the Romper Room format. “The commercials will not be given by the teacher,” they said. Four days later a male announcer appeared for the first time on the show.