Storyteller to a Generation

I have a confession. I got rather tearful last week when I heard the news that Oliver Postgate had died.


To Mr Postgate and his fellow weaver of dreams, Peter Firmin, I owe some of the happiest moments of my childhood. I vaguely remember Pogles’ Wood, I remember being thrilled when Noggin the Nog was broadcast because by the early Seventies it was at best an occasional treat and I loved the Clangers and Bagpuss.


They must have made a deep impression because by the time I headed off to university I had a band called ‘The Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ.’ Don’t ask, as they say.


The genius of Messers. Postgate and Firmin was to create worlds that were happy, safe, welcoming, wryly amusing, moral and just a little subversive. The episode where The Clangers find a television set that has dropped out of space and watch appalled as first they’re treated to an incomprehensible but clearly and comically pompous speech by a dignitary in uniform and then the caterwauling of a sixties pop group, is delicious. In another episode after a spaceman has planted a flag on their planet only to depart in haste the narrator’s comment to the effect that ‘he must have lot of other planets to visit before tea’ seems in retrospect to have been a gentle dig at the superficiality and hubris of the space race. I also rather cherish the discovery that Major Clanger wasn’t above using bad language. His whistle as he kicked a stuck door in yet another episode was apparently nearly censored by the BBC.


Beyond the humour there was a sense that in Postgate and Firmin’s universe justice prevailed, things were put right, mended, restored to their rightful owners. I wonder what sort of legacy that has left within my generation. I have a strong sense of justice. I hand in things I find in the street so that they can find their way back to someone who may miss them. I have a strong desire to mend things for those for those whom, for reasons beyond their control, have found their worlds broken.


These may be values instilled by my parents. They were certainly values nurtured and reinforced by Bagpuss, the mice, Jones the Steam, Tiny Clanger and Noggin the Nog.


Still, while I was aware that a fair few of my friends held the small worlds made by Smallfilms in equal affection I was still taken aback by the outpouring of sadness and nostalgia at Oliver Postgate’s passing.


While I am the last person to want to sell Mr Postgate’s achievements short I wonder whether this isn’t also a reflection of a phenomenon that has passed with the golden age of television.


Noggin the Nog, Pogles’ Wood, The Clangers and Bagpuss appeared at a time when television sets were becoming ubiquitous in British living rooms. Meanwhile in the 1960s and 1970s there were just three television channels; BBC1, the ITV network (which began broadcasting in September 1955) and BBC2 (from April 1964). Channel 4 didn’t launch until 1982 and Sky didn’t become the recognisable multi channel television Hydra that we know today until 1989.


Programmes could be an event and through television the nation shared experiences as it had never done before and, with the exception of a few major sporting and news events, arguably hasn’t done since. Half the country would tune in to watch Morecambe and Wise at Christmas – indeed in 1977 that was probably literally true as the duo reportedly drew an audience of 28 million.


For those of us growing up in the 60s and 70s we only had so many television programmes. Only Postgate and Firmin could claim so many, such well loved creations. Between them they had half the nation’s children sitting at their knee.


Give us a child until the age of seven, said the Jesuits, and he is ours for life. Well Bagpuss and The Clangers, The Pogles, the Nogs and Ivor & Co. had us until the age of seven and it appears that they have us for life.


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