Look and Read

Look and Read is a BBC Television programme for primary schools, aimed at improving children's literacy skills.[1] The programme presents fictional stories in a serial format, the first of which was broadcast in 1967 and the most recent in 2004, making it the longest-running nationally broadcast programme for schools in the United Kingdom. The series remains popular among school children.

Look and Read
GenreChildren's, educational
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Running time20 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Original networkBBC One, BBC Two
Original release9 January 1967 (1967-01-09) 
29 March 2004 (2004-03-29)



The first programmes for schools in Britain were broadcast in 1957. Early material was mostly aimed at secondary school pupils and seen as a convenient method of demonstration in subjects such as science and geography. In the early 1960s, there was a lot interest in the medium as a way of educating children with certain learning difficulties, and in 1962, the BBC produced Television Club which presented stories in a drama serial format. The success of this format made some look into the possibilities of using the technique on programmes for primary school children.

The Merry-Go-Round serials

Claire Chovil, a former teacher and children's radio producer, began to research the possibility of bringing stories to television which would meet teachers' requirements to assist them in providing children with word recognition skills. She persuaded the BBC to allow her to produce two experimental serials for their schools programme Merry-Go-Round. Each episode of the serials would contain a limited vocabulary allowing teachers, who were given notes for the series, to present specific lessons with each episode in mind. The story in each episode was divided into two instalments by a teaching segment which gave the children material to read and animated instructions on how to read it. Following the success of the two serials, "Fishing For Fivers" (1965) and "Tom, Pat and Friday" (1966), Look and Read began production in 1966.

Programme format

Although originally produced for the series Merry-Go-Round, "Bob and Carol Look for Treasure" was broadcast as the first Look and Read story in the spring of 1967. The serial took the format, which the programme would continue for many years, of each episode's story being divided into two instalments with an educational section in the middle to teach children the relevant material. Teachers were also provided with story books, or "pupil pamphlets", for each serial, from which they could provide their pupils the story as well as exercises and games. The plots of the stories were written to appeal to children, initially inspired by adventure serials, and often featured puzzles for the characters to solve using their reading skills, which was also reflected in the material given to pupils. Each serial was also written with a limited vocabulary in mind, each of the keywords paced through the piece a certain number of times so they held a certain relevance above other words. They used Alphakids mostly when words appeared.

During the 1970s the programme began to bring in many new elements for a new generation of viewers. Popular new educational songs were introduced which would remain until into the 90s as well as the character Wordy (see below). In the 1980s and early 1990s the plots also started to contain contemporary issues such as pollution. Towards the latter part of the 1990s the programme began to steer away from some of the elements of the past by, in some cases, removing songs and combining teaching elements with the story segment of the programme. The producers also began making use of the internet as a teaching aid for the programme, allowing children to access games and material through a dedicated website, although the BBC have since removed the sites due to dwindling use, to the dismay of some teachers.[2]


For the 1974 serial "Cloud Burst", the new producer Sue Weeks created the character Wordy. A large orange character, vaguely resembling a 'golfball' type element from a contemporary typewriter of the age, with letters on his body, the character featured in the teaching section of the programme, introducing himself as Mr. Watchword, or "Wordy" for short. The character, voiced by actor Charles Collingwood, knew all about grammar and words and taught how to use and recognise them. With a high-pitched voice and distinctive appearance the character has since become one of the most remembered aspects of the programme, and last appeared in the 1992 story "Sky Hunter II".


Some of the most memorable moments of the programme were its educational songs. Each story had its own individual theme tune, many of which are well remembered among fans of the programme. Each teaching segment also featured many songs with animations, featuring characters like Dog Detective, which were used regularly over the show's history. Many of the lyrics, such as the 'Clue Song' with Dog Detective, the Karate Chopper and 'Bill the Brickie', were written by Patricia Farrington, who also created the characters. Music for the songs were composed by Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb and Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and most of the songs were sung by Derek Griffiths. Among the most popular were:

  • "Bill the Brickie", which showed a bricklayer "building" words out of bricks, demonstrating the use of units of words or morphemes.
  • "The Punctuation Song", which featured Mr. Big, representing capital letters, and Miss Full Stop Lollypop, representing as in her name, full stops.
  • "I'm An Apostrophe", which demonstrated the various uses of the apostrophe. It went "I'm an apostrophe, to shorten words you say to me; I'm not a comma, I'm not a full stop, don't put me on the line - I go at the top!"
  • A popular song was "Magic E", originally written in the mid-70s for Words and Pictures to demonstrate the silent E and the change in pronunciation of preceding vowels — for example: "cap" becomes "cape" with me, "tap" becomes "tape" with me. The song's simple lyrics about changing the words with "magic E" were memorable and simple to learn.[3]

Cult popularity

A retro revival of the programme has made Look and Read the focus of some dedicated websites, and some of the older serials have in recent years been repeated on BBC children's channel CBBC.

List of Look and Read stories

#TitleOriginal airdates
01a"Bob and Carol Look for Treasure: The Lost Treasure"9 January 1967 (1967-01-09) – 13 February 1967
Two children, Bob and Carol, search for clues to find a hidden treasure.
01b"Bob and Carol Look for Treasure: The Stolen Treasure"20 February 1967 (1967-02-20) – 13 March 1967
Bob and Carol must follow clues left by the robbers of the treasure.
02"Len and the River Mob"15 January 1968 (1968-01-15) – 25 March 1968
Len Tanner, a young dock worker, begins to suspect that his boss and workmates are members of an infamous gang of thieves known as "The River Mob".
03"The Boy from Space"21 September 1971 (1971-09-21) – 30 November 1971
Helen and her brother Dan spot a light in the sky one night that they decide to investigate. Upon discovering a meteorite they meet a young alien child, who they name Peep-Peep. When the alien boy and his father are kidnapped it is up to the two children to follow a trail of clues to find their new friend.
04"Joe and the Sheep Rustlers"16 January 1973 (1973-01-16) – 27 March 1973
Joe, a shepherd boy, and his friend Jill decide to investigate the theft of some sheep from Castle Farm, and discover it to be the work of the villainous Beasley brothers, Ted and Denis.
05"Cloud Burst"24 September 1974 (1974-09-24) – 3 December 1974
Whilst playing with a toy plane, Jenny Barber and her brother, Tim, meet a scientist, Ram Pandit, who is working on a secret invention. When Ram is kidnapped apparently by the mysterious Man on a Motor Bike who is working for rivals trying to get information on his work, it is up to the children to find them and stop his invention from falling into the wrong hands.
06"The King's Dragon"11 January 1977 (1977-01-11) – 22 March 1977
Billy West, a fisherman's grandson, discovers some threatening messages made up from newspaper cuttings. When he and a local journalist go to investigate, they discover that they are targeted at an archaeologist working at a local castle whose life is suddenly under threat because of the long lost local treasure; King Harold's golden armring known as "The King's Dragon".
07"Sky Hunter"19 September 1978 (1978-09-19) – 28 November 1978
Whilst on a boating holiday, three friends, Jackie, Butch and Trevor, must help stop the illegal theft and trading of birds in the area.
08"The Boy From Space (1980)"15 January 1980 (1980-01-15) – 25 March 1980
A reworking of the 1971 tale (above)
09"Dark Towers"22 September 1981 (1981-09-22) – 1 December 1981
When Tracy chases her dog into the mysterious Dark Towers, she becomes involved in a race to find the old house's hidden treasure.
10"Fair Ground!"11 January 1983 (1983-01-11) – 22 March 1983
Ozzie Watson loves the fair that comes to town at Easter, but when a series of disturbances and crimes occur there it is up to him to solve the problem.
11"Badger Girl"18 September 1984 (1984-09-18) – 27 November 1984
Three city children go on holiday to the country. Whilst there they meet various people out on the moor, some of whom are involved in pony-rustling. It is up to them to work out who is involved and how to stop it.
12"Geordie Racer"12 January 1988 (1988-01-12) – 22 March 1988
Richard "Spuggy" Hilton loves spending time at the local pigeon lofts. When he discovers secret messages being received by pigeon, he suspects Baz, a local pigeon trainer, of being involved in a series of local robberies. Spuggy and his friend Janie must link the clues to try to solve the case.
13"Through the Dragon's Eye"19 September 1989 (1989-09-19) – 28 November 1989
Three children, Jenny, Amanda and Scott, are painting a mural on a school wall. When a dragon in the painting winks at them they are pulled into the land of Pelamar. The children are asked by this magical world's inhabitants to help them gather together different parts of the mysterious "Veetacore" in order to save their home.
14"Sky Hunter II"14 January 1992 (1992-01-14) – 24 March 1992
A reworking of the 1978 tale (above)
15"Earth Warp"11 January 1994 (1994-01-11) – 22 March 1994
Three children, Martin, Amina and Jenny, befriend an alien named Ollie who they must help in his task of saving the local Southbeach from being destroyed due to pollution.
16"Spywatch"15 January 1996 (1996-01-15) – 25 March 1996
When Norman Starkey returns to the village where he was evacuated to during World War II, he recalls the adventures he had with his friends Dennis, Mary and Polly.
17"Captain Crimson"14 April 1997 (1997-04-14) – 9 June 1997
Jeff is a comic book artist whose most popular creation is the superhero Captain Crimson. When Jeff's son Tom and his friend Amy make up the ending to one of the comics, it causes Captain Crimson to appear in the real world, forcing the two friends to find ways of hiding the hero whilst he goes on a series of adventures.
18"The Legend of the Lost Keys"12 January 1998 (1998-01-12) – 23 March 1998
Whilst on holiday, twins Mark and Lisa discover that their Uncle George is the guardian of an ancient box, which is a gateway to the world of Heritron. When the box is stolen by scientists, George worries that the evil leaders of Heritron are trying to break through to Earth and it's up to the twins to help get the box back.
19"Zzaap and the Word Master"16 January 2001 (2001-01-16) – 15 February 2001
Josie and Peter get transported into an educational computer game at their school. Once inside they discover that the game is being controlled by the evil Victor Virus who is intent on finding a way to take over the world. The children, assisted in the real world by Simon and Frances, must stop Virus by completing the various levels of the game.
20"Shadow Play"1 March 2004 (2004-03-01) – 29 March 2004
Whilst on holiday, Ben discovers a Victorian diary written by a girl named Hester. He finds out what growing up was like in the 19th century and, as the story goes on, he becomes progressively more involved in Hester's situation.

Look and Read specials

#TitleOriginal airdate
01"LRTV"24 April 1995 (1995-04-24) – 19 June 1995
A magazine style series designed to improve writing and communication skills.
02a"Spelling Strategies"10 January 2002 (2002-01-10) – 24 January 2002
A series involving three animated characters named Eye Spellit, Ear Spellit and Brain Spellit, who teach reading, writing and spelling skills.
02b"Spelling with the Spellits"10 September 2002 (2002-09-10) – 7 February 2003
A second series with the Spellits.


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