Written by Lizzie Catt

In The News

Fifty shades of kids’ TV

Apparently mums across the UK are losing their ovaries over Tom Hardy’s CBeebies story time. Come on, now, says Lizzie Catt, no one did this about Willie Rushton in the 80s.

Not actually proven to induce ovulation: Tom Hardy. Photo by Vanessa Lua, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

When watching CBeebies with my children, I ask myself many things. “Would the Furchester Hotel really survive in the age of TripAdvisor?” “How does Flop not lose his shit with Bing?” “When are Postman Pat and the Special Delivery Service going to be investigated by Rip Off Britain?”

I never thought I’d be asking myself, “Am I a prude?”

But it’s the Tom Hardy bedtime story thing. It’s getting really weird, isn’t it?

For the uninitiated, the CBeebies bedtime story is the last programme of the day on the preschool channel: a soothing, five-minute tale read by a special guest, designed to help little ones wind down. Last New Year’s Eve, CBeebies bagged an impressive signing for that night’s bedtime story – Hollywood star and certified hottie Tom Hardy.

“Ooh, that’s nice,” sighed mothers around the country, dishing out an unusually generous amount of pudding to ensure silence for the duration of You Must Bring a Hat.

Sensing it had a hit on its hands, CBeebies scheduled Hardy’s next bedtime story for Valentine’s Day, trailing the show with a clip of Hardy asking viewers, ‘‘You’re not doing anything Tuesday night, right?” and urging them to get tucked up in bed. That’s when it started to get a bit… odd.

I mean, I like looking at Tom Hardy as much as the next mother of small children, especially when he’s not playing a mumbling, spittle-flecked psychopath with a pubey beard. Tom Hardy wearing a cardigan, stroking a dog and reading a nice kiddies’ story is balm for the soul.

What it isn’t, however, is pornographic, not that you’d know it from the coverage. This Mother’s Day saw Hardy’s third CBeebies outing, reading a charming story called There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins.

From the panting headlines (the Daily Star wins it with the excellent ‘Tom Hardy’s Bedtime Stories melts mums in jaw-droppingly steamy special’), you’d think he’d read aloud from the Erotic Review while oiled up and re-enacting the pottery wheel scene from Ghost.

In actual fact, he was wearing two T-shirts, a shirt and a cardigan and clutching a cushion protectively to his groin, perhaps in pre-emptive terror at the howl of lust that went up on Twitter after he recited the line, “I’ll jump out in my underwear.”

“James McAvoy, David Tennant and Damian Lewis are probably, rightfully, at home sobbing and kicking the metaphorical cat, wondering if they didn’t wink and pout enough while they were reading their own stories.”

Much of the coverage has highlighted the tweeted lascivious glee of fans, inevitably deploying the word ‘gushed’ (noooooo!) and focusing on the effect that Hardy’s recitals of children’s stories have on reproductive organs, one woman declaring she’d ‘never ovulated so hard’ and another, worryingly, ‘ovaries exploded.’ I’m no healthcare professional, but if your ovaries are exploding, you should probably see a doctor.

Did I mention that he was wearing a cardigan?

It’s not like he’s the first dishy male actor to read a story on CBeebies; available on iPlayer right now is a veritable smorgasbord of mum crushes. James McAvoy, David Tennant and Damian Lewis are probably, rightfully, at home sobbing and kicking the metaphorical cat, wondering if they didn’t wink and pout enough while they were reading their own stories.

I’m not judging. Maybe it’s all that mums can be bothered with, a casual, passing perv before wresting the kids into bed and reading The Gruffalo for the 14 millionth time. I get it. It’s OK. It’s the TV equivalent of shoving in a few squares of Dairy Milk behind the fridge door so the kids can’t see.

Just imagine if he’d not been wearing that cardigan. Photo by GabboT (The Drop 32), via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

But eww, can we please not lower ourselves to the point where the Daily Mail feels justified using the word ‘gushed’ about us? Please? And maybe admit that baying libidinously at a children’s television programme is actually a bit creepy? I could be remembering things wrong, but I don’t recall my mum being encouraged to drool over Willie Rushton on Jackanory in the 80s.

My director friend Su has a theory about the raging popularity of the Fifty Shades franchise; there’s simply not much porn aimed at women, so when something a bit naughty came along, women bought the books then flocked to the cinema. Could this apply to Tom Hardy’s bedtime stories, too?

In an age where the whole celebrity world is a visual buffet of perfect female flesh and female pop stars seem to have abandoned trousers altogether in favour of singing in sparkly pants, the fact that women are having to shout, “Phwoar! I would!” at a man wearing four layers on a kids’ TV show is a bit tragic, really.

Are we so starved of sauce that we’re really leering, “He can tuck me in any day!” at somebody else’s husband reading a children’s story at 5.50pm? I’m not sure that’s a victory for female sexual empowerment. We can do better than that.


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Written by Lizzie Catt

Lizzie Catt is a freelance writer and editor, retired merrymaker and mother to two small children. She still has frequent stress dreams about being late for her A-levels.