Bedtime Stories *****

CBeebies, iPlayer

IN every nation’s darkest hour there comes forth a hero. The man we have all been holding out for, Bonnie Tyler-style. The knight to make the day better, the warrior to put an arm around us and speak softly of peace and love and when we can all be together again. Lord, thank you for Tom Hardy.

Sorry, did you think I meant Boris Johnson? That’s the trouble with narrators – some are unreliable.

The Prime Minister did have a tale to tell on his return to work yesterday, but it was one we have heard so often in recent days (hold fast, keep going, not out of the woods yet, etc).

It was pretty scary, too, with mention of second spikes and maximum risk, and we could all do with a little less of the terrifying stuff, thank you. Still, good to see him back.

It was even nicer, though, to see Tom Hardy rock up once more in the Bedtime Stories slot on CBeebies last night. The Oscar-nominated star of Inception, Dunkirk, Mad Max, and The Dark Knight Rises, and soon to be seen playing Al Capone, proved a huge hit in his first stint as storyteller in 2016.

The title of “CBeebies’ most popular Bedtime Stories reader”, as bestowed by the corporation, hardly did the phenomenon justice. Children loved him, certainly, but they found themselves having to fight for a place on the sofa with everyone else who had fallen under the actor’s spell. The stories have been requested more than a million times on iPlayer.

Now the laurelled Mr Hardy is back, with his trusty canine companion, Blue the French bulldog, by his side.

Every night this week Hardy can be seen reading stories from a bench in his garden, with the film crew at a safe social distance. For these are tales specially chosen for lockdown times.

The first story, Hug Me, by Simone Ciraolo, is about a lonely cactus. Under The Same Sky by Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston looks at being far apart from friends, while Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton reassures children about trying new things. There are six stories in total, all ten minutes long and best watched before bedtime.

For a lot of parents Hardy’s return will be a boon. How do you explain to very young children what is going on out there? How can you reassure them that everything is going to be okay while bringing home to them the importance of washing hands and staying safe? One super smart three-and-a-half-year-old of my acquaintance calls the virus “the germs” (sounds like a great title for a movie). She tells her grandpa that she cannot wait to see him again after “the germs” have gone.

Sitting comfortably in the Spring sun, Hardy set the perfect tone from the off. “Hello, I’m Tom,” he said.

Oh we know Tom, we know.

Dressed in a check shirt and sporting a rough beard and slicked back hair (even movie stars cannot get to the barbers) he was the picture of calm, his voice a backrub for the soul.

“Now sometimes, on a day like this, I feel strong and I feel happy.”

Same here, Tom, same here.

“But on other days I just want someone to give me a hug.”

Read our minds, pal, read our minds.

There followed the wonderful tale of a tiny cactus called Felipe, “who just wants a hug too”. Hug Me had everything: beautiful illustrations, drama, laughs and tragedy (spoiler alert: Felipe befriends a balloon). Above all, it ended happily, and with a special message from Tom.

“It’s not always possible to be able to hug those we love, but you must always remember that they are always with us. In our heart.”

He paused for a moment. It was so quiet you could hear tears fall from a grandpa’s eyes.

Story over, Hardy bade us good night and said he would see us all again tomorrow for another tale. No Churchillian rhetoric, no soaring themes and grand arcs: just a simple, heartfelt message for complicated times.

The end.

CBeebies Bedtime Stories is on each weekday at 6.50pm on the CBeebies channel and is also available on BBC iPlayer.