A national treasure has been rediscovered languishing in storage in the Invercargill Public Library archive.
However, how the Play School clock, a mainstay of the children's television programme that shaped the minds of generations of preschool-aged Kiwis, came to be at the library is mysterious.
Library archivist Rebecca Smith said the circumstances had been forgotten.
"Nobody is 100 per cent on the details some kindergarten or preschool had it and offered it to the library."
But, no-one at the library including staff who have worked there since its arrival could say when exactly when it arrived or where it came from, she said.
Non-fiction librarian Jill Harper said the clock was donated to the children's library in the 1990s and she knew it had been used to display children's art.
Head of children's services Lyndsay Tautari said she had been unaware of the clock's significance.
"I loved Play School."
She said the plan had been to repaint the clock and use it as a display in the children's library.
That was a prospect that left history curator at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington Kirstie Ross recoiling in horror. The clock was "nationally significant", Ms Ross said.
"I would not recommend it being touched up or restored to original condition there's great social history around this object."
Te Papa has been home to the stars of the show, soft toy puppets Big Ted, Humpty and Manu, since 2004, while Jemima joined her co-stars three years later.
The toys met the museum's collecting policy and were a "significant acquisition", she said.
"They are part of pop culture, local television history and the experience of New Zealand children in the 20th century."
Missing is Little Ted.
The bear's head was blown off in an explosion on the last day of filming. Former presenter Jacqui Dean, now a National MP but then known as Jacqui Hay, was quick to deny any responsibility for Little Ted's fate this week.
"I had nothing to do with it."
The discovery of the clock was exciting, she said.
"The Play School clock was something we used every day."
The presenters were almost all professional actors.
They were required to memorise and perform two and half hours of script a week in the days before auto-cues.
All five shows were recorded without editing over two days, she said.
Sometimes shortcuts were used.
"It you look at the back of it you might find bits of sellotape and script," she said.
Sure enough, remnants of tape remain on the back of the clock.
Yesterday the words in those scripts came flowing back to former Play School presenter Ian Taylor.
"What time is it today? What day is it today? The big hand is on the three ... the little hand is on ..."
The Taylormade Media managing director said it was amazing the clock had not suffered the same fate as Little Ted.
According to TVNZ archivist Dolores Hoy, the last episode of the show was recorded on March 8, 1989, and it disappeared from New Zealand television screens in 1990 after a run of 15 years.
* Play School launched the careers of New Zealand actors such as Rawiri Paratene, Theresa Healey and Russell Smith. Other presenters such as Kristen Gillespie and Jayashree Panjabi went on to careers in television production.
* The show screened twice each weekday, in the morning and again in the early afternoon, at first on the NZBC. When South Pacific Television (later renamed TV2) began in 1977, Play School migrated across to the new network, where it finished its run in 1990.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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