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Date: 09/12/08

"...And May Flights Of Soup Dragons Sing Thee To Thy Rest"

Photo of Oliver Postgate with a Clanger

Oliver Postgate
Animator and author
b. 12 April 1925, d. 8 December 2008

I'm not quite sure why I reacted so strongly to the news of Oliver Postgate's death. He was 83, and had had a great run. So why did I find myself in tears?

I could be all high-falutin' and say that it was recognition of the passing of one of the great talents of 'The Golden Age Of Children's Television'. That would explain part of it; but I suspect that it was mostly because another part of my childhood has gone from the world.

My first encounter with Oliver Postgate's work was probably at about the age of four or five, when Pogle's Wood appeared as part of the Watch With Mother strand on BBC1. Later, I was enthralled by The Clangers, but Noggin The Nog and Ivor The Engine passed me by somewhat, and by the time the legendary Bagpuss came along I was too old, too cynical and too worldly-wise to find any charm in it. My loss, I suspect.

The productions of Postgate and his Smallfilms partner Peter Firmin always had high production values for such low-budget, do-what-you-can-with-what-you've-got programmes, and one could only admire the quality of execution, and be utterly charmed by the stories and the way they were told.

Some might think them (and Postgate's narration of many of them) as being too cosy or gentle, but despite the dear-at-a-penny-a-ton opinions of the self-regarding cretins who have ruined children's television in this country over the last thirty years, what children want are good stories imaginatively told. With Smallfilms's output, this was invariably what they got.

What they also got (though probably didn't know or care about at the time) was an undercurrent of subversion. Postgate came from a long line of radicals, and this often found its way into his work. Without being all Mark Lawson about it, The Clangers were a sort of model Utopian-socialist society, and their swanee-whistle speech gave such a natural rebel as Postgate scope for slipping in lines which would give today's po-faced MBA television executives the vapours. In the following clip, listen out for the first line of 'dialogue' (at about the 55-second mark):

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Yes, the Clanger says, "Oh, sod it! The bloody thing's stuck again!" When the first Clanger soft toys were produced many years later, guess what the Clanger said when you pressed his tummy?

Thank you, Oliver, for your imagination and sense of fun.