Francis Wright's Weblog

YOU AND ME: The Story of Cosmo and Dibs

with 16 comments

Cosmo and Dibs first appeared on the screen in 1981. Over thirty years ago. You and me, me and you, Lots and lots for you to do, Lots and lots for you to see, Me and you, you and me … The music fades as the camera moves through the cluttered stalls of a street market. Behind one of the stalls are Cosmo and Dibs.

Dibs and Cosmo in the Market

The puppet characters Cosmo and Dibs were created by producer Richard Callanan for the popular BBC Schools’ TV programme YOU AND ME. They were on the screen for pre-school kids from 1981 until 1992. Inspired by the direct and down-to-earth approach of ‘Sesame Street’, each programme featured a four-minute sketch on just about anything that a child might identify with: sharing, eating,  arguing, bullying, sleeping, dressing up, being silly, having a row, make-believe, making poetry – the sky was the limit, as long as the sketch was relevant and useful to the target audience.

The scripts didn’t patronise: they informed, educated, and entertained – and the high quality of the writing deliberately saw the world from a child’s point of view. A successful group of sketches dealing with ‘Safety’ included the tricky subject of child abuse – making YOU AND ME something of a trail-blazer. It was welcomed by the charity, Kidscape, and featured on the national news. Songs and stories were always included, with an emphasis on cultural diversity – YOU AND ME was one of the few programmes of the time to do this.

Cosmo and Dibs and Harry Towb singing ‘When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ along.’

The enthusiastic production team was committed to the ethos of the programme in its new form. In previous years, YOU AND ME had been fronted by characters such as Crow and Alice, Mr Bits-and-Pieces, Duncan the Dragon, and Herbert the Handyman. The advent of Cosmo and Dibs took away the safely middle-class element of the show, introducing a rougher edge – an edge reflecting the world that a modern child might experience every day.

Documentary features brought along a wealth of subjects ranging from the colour and exuberance of the Notting Hill Carnival to the mud and hard graft of farming. Henry the Kangaroo – with his catchphrase ‘I’m looking for the words in my book again’ – introduced simple social sight words (Stop, Go, Bus, Train, Station, etc.) to Ellie and her Dad and the audience. Cartoon Henry was animated by Mike Hibbert, and voiced by Nigel Lambert.

The theme music was also given a facelift. Gone was the jangling that had always accompanied an array of animated building blocks. Instead, viewers were treated to a line of children (again animated by Mike Hibbert) dancing to a reggae version of the title song, re-recorded by UB40.

Dibs and Cosmo with Bill Owen, Jeni Barnett, Gary Wilmot and Indira Joshi

Now, the programme featured human presenters that were a cross-section of ethnic backgrounds. Among them were Jeni Barnett, Charubala Chokshi, Harry Towb, Larrington Walker, Liz Smith, Gary Wilmot, Annette Badland, Sheila Chitnis, Mike Grady, Isabelle Lucas, Michael Balfour, Michael Snelders, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Bharti Patel, Indira Joshi, Yasmin Pettigrew and Bill Owen. Clive Mason also joined the cast for programmes relevant to the deaf community.

Cosmo and Dibs themselves were puppeteered and voiced throughout by Frances Kay and Francis Wright. The puppets were made by Muppet maker and performer Tim Rose, and the scripts were written by members of the production team and cast. Over the years, producers and directors came and went. Richard Callanan remained with the show for its first three series, leaving to join ITV schools. His place was taken by Nicci Crowther, who later developed a successful career as an independent producer and film maker, working until her early death in 2008.

The Production Team, L – R: Christine Crow (assistant floor manager); Hilary Hardaker (production assistant); Nicci Crowther (producer/director); Francis Wright (with Dibs); Sue Aron (producer/director); Robert Checksfield (floor manager); Frances Kay (with Cosmo); Noreen Hunter (production assistant); Richard Callanan (series producer); Rory Mitchell (production designer).

Producer/directors Sue Aron, Adrian Mills, Diane Morgan, Pat Farrington, Claire Elstow, Julie Callanan, and Cas Lester were among the regular names to feature on the credits, while behind the scenes Jill Wilson, Noreen Hunter and Hilary Hardaker were the production assistants most often to be found either in the studio’s control gallery or office, armed with stopwatch or  typewriter as occasion demanded. The set, based on a street market in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, evolved steadily over the years under different designers: Mark Savant, Rosemary Hester, David Bevin and Rory Mitchell were among those who brought the market stalls to life.

Dibs with his teddy bear

Robert Checksfield was the studio Floor Manager most often to be heard relaying the director’s instructions to cast and crew. Assistant Floor Managers numbered Wendy Pedley, Gary Boon, Simone Dawson, Terry Pettigrew, Sally Bates, Christine Crow and Donna Rolfe among their ranks. The first series of twenty programmes was begun at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios, part of which overlooked Shepherd’s Bush Market. It was completed at BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, which became the show’s regular home for all but the last series.

Harry Towb, Bharti Patel, Clive Mason, Gary Wilmot, Larrington Walker and Jeni Barnett with Dibs and Cosmo

Changing times and changing trends dictated that YOU AND ME too would change. A sour letter from a school intimated that ‘our kids need therapy to turn on the telly’ – and suddenly everything had to be more ‘fun!’ Additional puppet characters joined Cosmo and Dibs for the last two seasons, and the street market disappeared in favour of a brightly-coloured domestic setting. In 1992, an independent production company took the helm, and at the dawning of the Age of Teletubbies an element of middle-class cosiness was brought back to the programme for its final airing.

Cosmo & Dibs on Child Safety: from the Times Educational Supplement

Cosmo & Dibs on Child Safety: from the Times Educational Supplement in 1987

© Francis Wright, 2011

The pictures are courtesy of BBC TV.  Note – Frances Kay’s debut novel ‘Micka’ was published by Picador in July 2010. The central character is, like Cosmo, a Geordie. Her second novel ‘Dollywagglers’ appeared in June, 2014. Published by Tenebris Books it is a bleakly funny futuristic work about puppeteers in a world devastated by disease and other nasty things.

Richard Callanan, creator of Cosmo & Dibs, and producer of their first three series, died on 13th May, 2015, aged 70. His was a remarkable talent. R.I.P.

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16 Responses

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  1. Cheers Francis,

    Nice to see the history preserved. We did good work!

    Richard

    Richard

    March 13, 2010 at 9:14 pm

  2. I used to love this series!

    I don’t suppose anyone has a picture of Henry the Kangaroo?? – he was atually my imaginary friend when i was about 3!!!

    Kate

    April 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    • Well, as you know, we’re on the case. I hope you are united with a picture of Henry very soon. Thanks so much for contacting us.

      Francis Wright

      July 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm

  3. Hello Francis & hello again Richard (Callanan),

    It’s so good to see that You & Me is remembered so vividly and with such obvious affection. I was the animator for the Henry the Kangaroo sequences and also for his successor ‘Sherbet the Robot’ (although to be honest Henry was my favourite by a wide margin). I also created the UB40 dancing children title sequence. That was quite a scoop for Richard to get one of the leading bands of the day to record the title sequence for You & Me! I believe that there’s an interesting story behind that – but that’s for Richard to tell!

    Animators inevitably fill their studios with hundreds of drawings and in years I worked with the You & Me team it probably ran into several thousand – the majority of these have long since gone into landfill, but I still have a few ‘cells’ of Henry and friends in my plan chest, so if Kate would like to get in touch I’m sure I can find a picture of her ‘imaginary friend’.

    It’s a great website Francis and so good to see that the work and dedication of the You and Me team hasn’t been forgotten.

    Mike Hibbert (Henry’s dad)

    Mike Hibbert

    July 26, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    • Glad you like it, Mike. Thanks very much for posting. I update things occasionally, if any more archive material pops up, or if there’s some news to add. Pay us a visit again.

      Francis Wright

      July 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm

      • Hi Francis,

        It was great to read your post, but I am so, so sad to hear about Richard. I don’t believe we’ve actually met, but I am (was?) ‘Ellie’ in the Henry the Kangaroo segments of the programme. Both he then Nicci directed the shoots, and I am still utterly in awe of their on-set patience!

        Following on from Mike Hibbert’s message, I was also wondering if there were any images of my long-lost co-star? Not that Henry and I ever seemed to be on set at the same time…

        Best wishes,
        Eleanor

        Eleanor

        December 1, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      • Hello Eleanor,
        How very nice to get this – you’re right, we’ve never actually met, but I remember you very clearly, as you and your dad were played back in the studio before we went seamlessly into the next bit of whatever we were doing with Cosmo & Dibs. Both Nicci and Richard were endlessly good to work with – which was really why the programmes were always such fun to do.
        I’ve answered your question about images of Henry by email, so check your inbox.
        Very good to hear from you, and thanks again.
        All the best,
        Francis

        Francis Wright

        December 2, 2015 at 10:01 am

  4. Absolutely loved Cosmo and Dibs as did my children and their granny. Is it available to buy as a dvd?

    Wendy

    July 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    • Many thanks for your nice comment – it’s always good to hear from those who liked and enjoyed C & D.
      They’ve never appeared on DVD – not even on VHS, more’s the pity – apart from the sketches that were licensed to a charity called Kidscape for use in child safety projects.
      Funny really – I’ve never quite understood why the BBC seemed so unwilling to cash in on the success of these characters and programmes. We made the shows for 11 years – which is really quite a long time.
      If anything ever does appear, I will trumpet the fact from the blogsite, you can be assured.

      Francis Wright

      July 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm

  5. Please I need to reflect on my early childhood re the 1979 to 83 era re. Duncan the Dragon . I used to be quite scared and I feel I have to face the puppet once and for all. Do you have any footage further pictures or anything? Is there a programme on you tube or something. I recall one where Duncan tried to help kids “across the road” he flew down and landed and said something like “heh kids its time to cross the road!!” Please I’d be so grateful if I can search this memory…

    Matthew Durlac

    July 19, 2011 at 4:45 am

    • Hello Matthew,
      Sorry, but Duncan the Dragon was before our time – long before. Even though he continued repeating after we’d started.
      Searching YouTube is really quite easy! Good luck, and all the best.
      Cheers!

      Francis Wright

      July 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    • Matthew it was not Duncan the Dragon which scared you but the lifestyle of uncertainty that you were living during the years cited by you. You felt insecure and Duncan the Dragon somehow reflected this for you at the time.
      Richard

      Richard H

      August 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm

  6. Hello Francis,

    I came across your photo of the You & Me production team (https://franciswright.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/youandme-unit-group-c-series8.jpg) – my uncle, Rory Mitchell (sadly passed away), was the production designer. I showed the picture to my mum and we were trying to figure out when this was taken – my guess is around 1984-5? Anyway, it’s nice to see some of the work he was involved with, it’s a great website.

    Andy Ward

    Andy Ward

    April 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    • Hello Andy,

      It was 1984. My co-performer Frances Kay (Cosmo) was expecting her youngest daughter, and it was producer Richard Callanan’s last series with BBC Schools. I hope you received my ‘normal’ email as well, as it had a little more detail.

      All the best, and thanks again for your nice comments.
      Francis

      Francis Wright

      April 8, 2015 at 8:24 am

  7. Hello!

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for creating such a brilliant and vibrant children’s show. I started watching this when I was a child in the 90’s and some of the episodes were fantastically informative and even helped me in some unsafe situations! I remember ‘it’s not rude to say no’, that was and IS such a great message for children. I loved the title sequence and music too of course.

    I would love to know some more information about it, and maybe if anyone can share their experiences from the show? That would be fantastic! 🙂

    Elise

    Elise Marshall

    June 23, 2016 at 11:46 pm

  8. Sad to hear the news about one of our presenters, Liz Smith
    (1921- 2016) who died on Christmas Eve. She leaves behind a remarkable legacy of work, and was always delightful.

    Francis Wright

    December 27, 2016 at 1:26 pm


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