The Leeds legend kept BBC news from being boring for generations of children

Before 1972, there was no information program for children.

You may have watched At national scale on BBC1 with your family or, if you were allowed to stay up late, ITV News at ten. The language of adults and the sometimes complicated questions, even simplified for the news, seemed alienating for young children.

In 1972, a 31-year-old journalist from Leeds called John Craven stepped in to edit and present a television program designed to keep children up to date with the major stories of the day. On April 4 of that year, the first edition of John Craven News aired in the afternoon… and it still continues today.

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From his childhood in Leeds to his News and country file fame is John’s story.

John Raymond Craven was born in Grimthorpe Street, Headingley, in August 1940, to parents Willie and Marie (née Noble) Craven. When John was two months old, Willie, who ran a grocery store on Kirkstall Road, joined the army as an auto mechanic.

Willie served in Singapore but was captured when he fell into Japanese hands. He spent three and a half years of hell in sickeningly brutal Japanese POW camps and worked on the infamous death railway from Thailand to Burma. When Willie met John and Marie at Leeds station, his father was so weak he could barely carry his five-year-old son the short distance from the platform to the taxi rank.

Grimthorpe Street, Headingley, where John Craven grew up

As a child, John, who attended Leeds Modern School, earned a little money delivering newspapers for a newsagent on the corner of Ash Road. He would also collect cushions from Headingley Cricket Ground and return them to the ticket office for pennies.

John left school at 16 and started his first writing job for the Yorkshire Copperworks company magazine, Stourton. He then became a junior reporter for the Harrogate Advertiser before joining the Yorkshire Post as a freelance correspondent.

His career as a TV presenter began at BBC Newcastle before moving to the regional news program points west in Bristol. Her children’s television career began on a children’s talk show titled Research before being offered a six-week trial of a children’s newscast.

Apparently Jonathan Dimbleby had been offered the gig for the first time, but had already landed a job on ITV This week. Thereby John Craven News was born. ‘Keep it short, simple and interesting’ was John’s mantra, enabling children to understand previously inaccessible UK and world news.

John Craven in the days of Newsround
John Craven in the days of Newsround

Do you remember watching John on television? Let us know in the comments below.

John, 81, said: “They [TV executives] decided to create a children’s newsletter because research has shown that children hate the news. They were tired of being told by their parents to shut up when the news [was] upon which builds enormous resistance to it. Our job was to try to break down that resistance in those six weeks.”

Rather than leaving program leftovers from other BBC news outlets, Newsround took advantage of all of the BBC’s journalistic resources. It was the launchpad for Channel 4 News main presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, BBC entertainment correspondent Lizo Mzimba and many others.

The program has never been shy about delivering upsetting news, even as it has dealt with difficult topics such as bullying, mental health and racism in ways appropriate for its elementary school audience. Newsround, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is now watched by around 2 million children at least once a week.

John, who has presented 3,000 Newsround episodes, said: “Today the importance of Newsround is greater than ever. At the beginning, there were only three television channels. There was no cell phone or internet. it was important that they received the information and the truth in a way they understood.

John Craven in 2021
John Craven in 2021

“It’s even more important now because there are so many outlets kids can go to for information. And often it’s fake news, or it’s fake news. And at least when they watch Newsround, the teachers or their parents, or whoever is there with them knows they are getting the truth.

“It’s so important that they have a program that they feel is theirs, that is for them and that tells them the truth.”

John remained on the show as main presenter until 1989 when he left to country file, which he still presents today. The father-of-two, who now lives in Oxfordshire, has also presented other programs including the game show beat the brain.

In 2000, John was awarded an OBE for service to rural and children’s broadcasting. In November 2011, he received a special award for News of the British Academy Children’s Awards.

John published his autobiography From headlines to hurdles in 2019.

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Edward L. Robinett