The name comes from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860.
“Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.”
On the BBC, the Children’s Hour lasted from 5pm until 6pm, the time of day when the children might be home from school. During that hour, from 1922 until 1964, the BBC broadcast (on the radio: we didn’t quite have television in 1922) programmes that embodied the Reithian virtues of public service broadcasting: to inform, to educate, and to entertain the younger members of our families.
Thus it was that generations of children grew up with an hour of specially composed music, quizzes, serialisations of stories, and nature notes, providing a fresh, clean, wholesome auditory intake for their edification as they ate their Woolton Pie and prepared for a gruelling evening of homework.
(Among the schoolboy actors who took part in the series of radio adaptations of Anthony Buckeridge’s public-schoolboy Jennings novels for the Children’s Hour was Jeremy Clarkson… until his voice broke.)
The Children’s Hour came to an end in 1964 because the listeners had evolved elsewhere. They were listening to Radio Luxembourg instead, or watching television.
The idea, now, that children might have a specially reserved hour (and just one, out of the 24 available — they knew their place) is laughable. No longer, if you have restless children, clamouring for information and education, do you have to suffer the pages from Ceefax or the ignominy of the Little White Dot. There are whole channels dedicated to children, with a TV schedule “designed to follow the mood and energy levels of young children throughout the day.”
The Children’s Hour is now the Children’s Day. Sensibly, it ends at 7pm.
(But there’s always the iPlayer.)