CBeebies TV Channel

From the moment Nat posted in his news that he'd recorded some bedtime stories for television, we predicted that it would be a real treat to actually watch him reading a story, rather than merely listening to him on tape or CD. And so it turned out - pure delight!

The first evening Nat read a story from a series specially commissioned for CBeebies, about the Odd Job Dog, Bones, called Bones and The Missing Newspaper Mystery.

Seated with one elbow over the back of a wooden garden bench, and with a look-alike of the closet-DIY dog lying in his kennel in the background, Nat begins..

As soon as Mrs Crisp, Bones' owner leaves for work on her bicycle, Bones brings out a sign and hangs it above his kennel;

Odd Job Dog

No job too big

No job too small

Very soon Bones' neighbour, the dachshund Frank arrives with a perplexing problem. With Nat using the voice of a wise old gent, Bones begins to think through the problem. After rummaging around in his Mary Poppins-style toolbox, he produces just the right equipment and materials to solve the mystery.

The second evening we listened to The Magic Sky, written and illustrated by Lucy Richards and published by Egmont Children's Books.

I absolutely loved this one! Couldn't stop grinning from the moment Nat asked (with parental frown!) whether I was ready for bed yet, to when he wished me "Nite nite"..

When he introduced the title and asked, "Would you like to hear it?", I nodded eagerly. At this point Nat, sitting in a round green chair complete with pink and orange cushions, leaned forward onto his knees, clasped his hands together and began to tell this enchanting story of Rory, the polar bear who didn't like going to bed early.

Through a series of "When will we see the Magic Sky?", (uttered in six totally different and delightful ways by Nat) we counted down the bedtimes. Rory spent the intervening days, toy penguin tucked under his arm and green striped scarf about his neck, learning to swim with his dad, exploring with his mum or playing with his friends, until he finally got to see the Magic Sky - or the Northern Lights to you and me.

As Rory passes from being very excited to weary impatience because he's "getting bored with waiting", Nat's facial expressions are a picture!

Our third bedtime found us in Australia. It's Lovely When You Smile was written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Charles Fuge.

Now this is my absolute favourite! Not only for the very simple storyline and beautiful illustrations, but for Nat's tone of voice - very soft and gentle. Uh! He's sitting up to a picnic table this time, dressed in a stripey top with the sleeves pushed up and with two toy kangaroos at his elbow.

Little Roo is normally very bouncy, but this morning he's feeling grumpy though he doesn't know why. Mum, as Mum's do, tries every distraction method she can think of, including tickling, tossing him in the air and chucking a pile of leaves over him. All this is to no avail, though she does eventually succeed quite by accident - literally!

Nat was able to use a couple of his Aussie accents here;

"I think I can see a smile this time? Just a bit of a one?"

"Ya don't! I'm not smiling.."

and I loved his facial expression of a child's disapproval at an embarrassing and errant parent!

"What a mess. What a mess!"

Jasper's Bath, written and again beautifully illustrated, this time by Anne Currey and published by Oxford University Press, was our fourth helping as I settled down once more on my bean bag..

I loved this one too - maybe this is my favourite?! Nat is back in the green chair, dressed this time in a dark brown shirt to go with his black trousers, and with the glow from a couple of night lights on the floor. He's telling us about Jasper, a rhinoceros in Africa who is just a little bit selfish. Even though Jasper has everything he could wish for, he'd rather keep it all for himself. Eventually though, he learns what it's like to be on the receiving end of someone's inconsiderateness, and comes to his own conclusion that sharing isn't so bad after all!

As I write this I'm still chuckling at the memory of Nat's facial movements, especially the deep scowl he uses for Jasper. But it's his Whiskers the Rat characterisation that made the most impact; imagine Nat's wrinkled nose and scrumpled up face as he puts a high-pitched, nasal voice to him..

"Can I just paddle my feet at the edge.. here?"

Or "No! Being charged isn't really very nice!"

To "Selfish beast! Huh!"

Finally, and with withdrawal symptoms gathering and separation anxiety looming, we finish this delightful week with another helping of that Odd Job Dog, in Bones and The Stranded Chickens.

At No. 16 Greenacre Road, Mrs Crisp has once again departed on her bicycle. Just as Bones is dozing in his kennel after the rain, Lightning the pigeon delivers an SOS message. It's from Patti at the chicken shed, in Watery Lane.

When Bones arrives, toolbox an' all, he can see the problem immediately; Patti and her work mates are surrounded by floodwater.

Bones manages, in his own inimitable way and with several long pieces of wood, a saw and some glue, to knock them all up pairs of stilts so they can make it to dry land. (I feel it might have been much more practical to have made them a raft, but never mind..!)

Nat uses a Yorkshire accent (I think!) for Patti;

"Stilts! 'E's made uz some stilts!"

and his mannerisms and expressions of indignation and disbelief as Mrs Crisp exclaims uncertainly to Bones that she must be seeing things, as she's just seen chickens walking on stilts, are something else!

In conclusion

Even though Nat had to sit (with the exception of a twitch of the elbow or a shrug of a shoulder) quite still for these stories, which ranged from 3 ½ to 5 minutes long, it was truly an education to see just how much liveliness and expression he managed with facial movements alone! The stories were paced beautifully; slow, gentle and intimate. And the sheer warmth of Nat's manner drew you in to complete captivation.

Now, in my humble opinion, Nat really should be asked to do a voice (or all the voices!) for a feature-length animation of some sort. And beautiful though some of these bedtime story illustrations were, you didn't actually need pictures. His voice alone made the stories vivid, colourful and so full of life.

It's because the recordings stand alone purely as audio, I think it's yet another missed opportunity for BBC Worldwide that they don't seem to make the CBeebies Bedtime Stories available in that format - or in any format come to that. How lovely for a young child to be lying in bed, snuggled up under the duvet, with Nat's voice playing inches from their ear - works for me..!


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