Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oliver Postgate, RIP

I was saddened to hear of the death of Oliver Postgate and touched by the (well-deserved) extent of the coverage. With artist and puppeteer Peter Firmin, he created several of the most memorable and best-loved children’s TV programme, including Noggin the Nog, Bagpuss and, best of all as far as I am concerned, The Clangers. These pink mice-like creatures, voiced by Swannee whistle, inhabited a small blue planet, burrowing into its crust through craters (covered with dustbin lids to protect them from meteorite strikes), subsisting on blue string pudding and soup produced at the moon’s core under the supervision of the Soup Dragon, and forming an inclusive community with variouswaifs and strays, including the Iron Chicken, mischievous froglets, animate musical notes, and a sentient cloud. Postgate was a gentle but principled subversive, and a marvellous storyteller:
... because we didn't have the money for elaborate equipment we had to rely on the basic hand-writing of animation, laboriously pushing along cardboard characters with a pin. Thus we were thrown back on the real staple of television: telling and showing a good story, carefully thought out and delivered in the right order for stacking in the viewer's mind. Come to think of it I must have produced some of the clumsiest animation ever to disgrace the television screen, but it didn't matter. The viewers didn't notice because they were enjoying the stories.
(More here)

The Clangers was a fine science-fictional ecological fable, conveying its message without ever becoming preachy. Many of its stories featured disruptions to the delicate ecology of the Clangers’ little world that were healed by cooperation and application of some common sense, and it used in its opening sequence the iconic picture of Earth’s lonely blue island of life, taken from the Apollo 8 command module as it orbited the Moon.

Readers from outside the United Kingdom who want to know more can find examples of his work here (including a clip from a Doctor Who episode in which the Master, the Doctor’s nemesis, appreciates the Clangers).


Blogger PeteY said...

I couldn't agree more. The Clangers warped my little mind (a bit more), and helped make me the man I am today. Thanks for pointing out the sentient cloud - Hoyle influence presumably.

December 09, 2008 10:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pogle's Wood was the one that did it for me. I remember being absolutely enchanted with it, even when I could barely understand what the images were all about.

Sad indeed - and sadder still to think that there's a whole generation now that wasn't brought up on this stuff.

December 10, 2008 9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree entirely. I bought a video of some episodes some years back. They worked their magic with my kids. The feature that surprised me most after all these years was how avant garde the music was.

December 11, 2008 9:06 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

The music was by Vernon Elliot, who composed most if not all of Smallfilms' music. The 'soundtrack' for The Clangers is available on CD.

And for the terminally nostalgic most of the programmes made by Smallfilms are available on DVD, either from mainstream outlets, or from here:


It seems that almost anyone over the age of thirty in Britain has felt a small but important part of their childhood flake away...

December 12, 2008 12:05 am  

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