Kate Parker, from Plymouth, has even more interest than those of us who hold the Clangers dear as part of our childhood in the revival of the classic children’s TV programme.
Kate, born Postgate, is the cousin of Clangers creator, Oliver Postgate, and is hoping the 21st century CBeebies version of the programme will aim more than just a little nod towards the original.
For those of us of a certain age, the Clangers will always live in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were a family of pink, knitted mouse-like aliens who lived on a little blue planet. Oliver Postgate did not just write and narrate the stories, he also played the swanee whistle – the Clangers’ voices. They were completely of their age.
The original Clangers aired between 1969 and 1972; the first episode was shortly after the historic moon landing. The family included Major Clanger, Mother Clanger, Granny Clanger, Auntie Clanger, Tiny Clanger and Small Clanger. They lived in holes in the ground, topped with metal dustbin lids that made a “clang” noise – hence the name. Living with them on their peaceful planet were the Iron Chicken and the Soup Dragon, who provided green soup from the soup wells.
The Clangers were hand-made in a shed in a garden in Kent, where Oliver lived. Oliver would write the stories and artist and co-creator Peter Firmin would be tasked with crafting the characters. The other big “stars” of their film company Smallfilms were Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, The Pogles, Pingwings and Noggin the Nog.
Kate is delighted that the Clangers will be getting a brand new set of fans when the programme is revived in 2015 – but she is also hoping the charm and simplicity of the original is not lost somewhere in outer space in this new UK-US collaboration. Oliver died in 2008 so the new series is written by his son, Daniel. Peter Firmin is also involved.
For Kate, the Clangers always reminds her of her cousin – and the place where he found his inspiration. “Oliver had a lovely sense of humour and he was obviously a little bit eccentric – you had to have a certain eccentricity to have an Iron Chicken on a blue planet! But then a lot of the family were quite eccentric.
“He was 23 years older than me and I remember visiting him in Kent. There was a shed out the back, where they made all their creations and did their filming. It was amazing. And then, behind the shed, there was a wood where Pogles’ Wood was filmed.”
Taking pride of place among Kate’s books is a copy of Oliver’s first edition autobiography, signed to her mother, Patricia. “She was poorly in a nursing home at the time and he sent her a signed copy, which was lovely.”
The autobiography reveals another link to Devon. It has quite a lengthy passage about Oliver’s years at Dartington Hall School in Devon, where he was sent as an evacuee pupil during the war; the progressive teaching methods did not appeal to him and neither did his time as an agricultural worker for Dartington Hall School founder, Leonard Elmhirst. A young Oliver sketched some ideas for labour-saving devices, but left in 1946 when it became clear that ownership of any ideas or inventions would be the company’s, not his.
Then, in the 1950s, Oliver turned his attention to writing stories and creating his little characters.
The good news for Kate is that the new series of the Clangers will, just like the original, be stop frame animation – but, we are told, there will be also some modern techniques.
“What was so nice about the Clangers and all the other creations was that they were made out of anything they could get their hands on really,” said Kate. “And there was never any nastiness or violence.
“There has always been a lot of interest in the Clangers and it’s nice that the show is being revived. But it wouldn’t be the Clangers if it was given the Hollywood treatment. The originals were filmed using the traditional stop frames, which is so much nicer than the computer-generated animated films of today.
“I used to sit and watch Bagpuss with my daughters, Nicki and Melanie. It was magical and had such wonderful stories. I think the modern shows and films made for children lack the charm of those days, so the last two generations have missed out. I really do hope that they keep it true to the original because let’s face it, that’s the appeal of the Clangers.”