Play School presenters past and current share memories of the iconic show

Alex  Papps says Play School encourages children to celebrate who they are.
Alex Papps says Play School encourages children to celebrate who they are.
Benita Collings believes the show's one-on-one connection is  powerful.

Benita Collings believes the show's one-on-one connection is powerful.

Missing link: Simon Burke. Photo: Luis Ascui

Missing link: Simon Burke. Photo: Luis Ascui

Stories to tell ... Don Spencer with other presenters on set celebrating Play School's 50th year. Photo: Supplied

Stories to tell ... Don Spencer with other presenters on set celebrating Play School's 50th year. Photo: Supplied


Honesty, integrity and love. These are the values that make Play School so beloved by its audience and also by its legion of talented presenters over half a century.

We asked some of the presenters to explain why it holds such a special place in Australian television - and to name their most memorable moments. 

Don Spencer (1968-96)

Play School in one sentence? Play School is a program of integrity for children under five that takes the time to engage the curiosity of children to educate them in an entertaining way.

Your most memorable gaffe? I once had to do a segment about tiny turtles and describe the way they pop their heads out of their shells. The rehearsal went brilliantly with each of the four turtles poking their head out. During the segment, none popped their heads out so I had to ad-lib as I tried to entice them out of their shells. When the show finished, we decided to find out why the turtles didn't appear. We discovered that all the turtles had died during the segment due to the heat from the studio lights. So not only did I feel like a fool, I felt like a murderer...

What makes Play School so special? Play School is timeless because of the formula and the effort taken to communicate with children watching the show. It is not based on commercialisation of products. It's a program lovingly scripted to be informative for the young viewers.

Eddie Perfect (2015-present)

Eddie Perfect, the new host of Play School, on the set in Ultimo, Sydney. 16th February 2015 Photo: Janie Barrett

Play School in one sentence? Imaginative play for every single Australian child.

Your favourite presenter? I always loved John Hamblin for his warmth, his lively mind and his mischievous nature.

Your most memorable gaffe? I actually love the moments that go wrong. Play School is scripted, but for me there's nothing more exciting than being "in the moment" when things go wrong. Often our mistakes make the most interesting moments.

What makes Play School so special? Play School will always be relevant to each new generation of children because, at its heart, it's a show that engages directly with a child through music, storytelling, and turning everyday household items into wonderful, imaginative craft.

Alex Papps (2005-present)

Play School's Alex  Papps

Play School in one sentence? Play School encourages the children to celebrate exactly who they are and to develop their sense of self, creativity, imagination and respect for others through play.

Your favourite presenter? All the presenters were like friends. John Hamblin's mischief and great clowning always made me laugh.

Your most memorable gaffe? I wouldn't take back any of the funny little mistakes that happen from time to time. I think people appreciate those moments. Life is imperfect. So is Play School.

What makes Play School so special? People have come to trust Play School. They know that their child will be entertained. But they also trust that they will be exposed to values and themes around co-operation, tolerance, inclusion and regardless of background or circumstance, Play School invites everybody inside to play. Play School embraces the very unique and short-lived time in a person's life when nobody expects anything of you other than to live entirely in the moment and to be wholeheartedly yourself.

Miranda Tapsell (2016)

Don Spencer on set at Play School celebrating its 50th year.

Play School in one sentence? Having fun and playing games

Your favourite presenter? I loved watching Play School every day and loved anyone who came on, but I was particularly ecstatic when Noni (Hazlehurst) would come on. She just had such a warmth and playfulness that I really attached to as a child.

Your most memorable gaffe? One I would take back was when I upset Little Ted when I called him Big Ted. I'll never live it down!

What makes Play School so special? The magic of Play School is trying new things. As children we go on that journey with the presenter, so whether it's making something you've never made before or learning about the way other people live their lives – you can't deny the impression it makes on you. The ever-changing world was less scary for five-year-old Miranda, because Play School made her brave.

Benita Collings (1969-99)

John Waters and Benita Collings from Play School.

Play School in one sentence? To encourage a child to explore the world around them, and use their imagination to play and learn.

Your favourite presenter? I wish! In those days no television, only radio!

Your most memorable gaffe? When something I was making that had always worked in the rehearsal, however when the program was being filmed, it just wouldn't work, and I did drop "the magic word", so filming stopped! Not my most "engaging" moment.

What makes Play School so special? Its original premise of "imagine, learn, wonder, feel". The program has always kept that in mind plus the presenters talking to the camera as if it is "a child", not children. That one-on-one connection is very powerful, and the child really believes you are talking to them.

Zindzi Okenyo (2013-present)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Zindzi Okenyo arrives at the Sydney Theatre Company 2015 Launch on September 4, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images) Zindzi Okenyo, getty images

Play School in one sentence? A wonderful delight.

Your favourite presenter? I loved Trisha (Goddard), because she was brown like me! She also pulled really great funny faces.

Your most memorable gaffe? Probably in my audition when I had to make a clay dinosaur and the legs just kept falling off! I think my hands were shaking because I was so nervous!

What makes Play School so special? It is simple in its approach to craft, play and storytelling. The tone is never condescending and the show doesn't try to be "cool". The show is approached with heart and warmth and we all genuinely love children so it makes it really enjoyable to connect in that way.

Simon Burke (1988-2007)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15:  Portraits of Australian actor Simon Burke, who will be starring in The Production Company's remake of La Cage Aux Folles, in Melbourne on November 15, 2014. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Fairfax Media)

Play School in one sentence? People with games, and stories to tell.

Your favourite presenter? I'm the missing link – I am the first Play School presenter just young enough to have watched it – no one before me had and no one after me hasn't. I remember loving Benita with all my heart and so it was very exciting that my very first episode shot in 1988 was with her.

Your most memorable gaffe? When I was singing The Kangaroo Song to Noni (which ends with "Goodness Gracious what big feet") and she said: "Well, you know what they say about big feet Simon?"

The greatest honour? Ten years ago, being asked with Justine Clarke to accept Play School's Logie Hall of Fame Award on behalf of the scores of presenters who have worked on the show over the years.

What makes Play School so special? Knowing its audience, both children and adult. Endless helpings of integrity and love.

Michelle Lim Davidson (2013-present)

Michelle Lim Davidson - Playschool

Play School in one sentence? Play School encourages children to interact, participate, learn and play in a safe and loving environment.

Your favourite presenter? My sister and I grew up watching Play School. I don't remember having a favourite presenter but I remember having a favourite toy; Jemima of course.

Your most memorable gaffe? During the record of an episode I was on all fours pretending to be different animals. I got a bit confused and started singing the cow goes "quack quack".

What makes Play School so special? At its simplest form it is two people taking time to be with one child. It has an honesty and integrity that is unique and special.

This story Play School presenters past and current share memories of the iconic show first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.