Wednesday 10 December 2008


Oliver Postgate who died yesterday, aged 83, was the writer, narrator and co-creator of some of the most memorable and beloved children's programmes of the '60s and '70s.

With model maker and animator, Peter Firmin, he founded the animation studio, Smallfilms (operating out of a disused cowshed at Firmin's home), which made such classics of our childhoods as Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog, Pogles' Wood, Clangers, Pingwings and Bagpuss featuring "an old, saggy cloth cat, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams" whose exploits were voted the nation's favourite children's show in a BBC poll.

The consistent pleasure of the Smallfilms' series was Oliver Postgate's cosily reassuring - almost wistful - style of storytelling. Here he is narrating the Clangers episode, 'Music of the Spheres'.

Enjoy the nostalgia trip...

Oliver Postgate once said of the little universes that he created with Peter Firmin...

"They're surreal but logical. I have a strong prejudice against fantasy for its own sake. Once one gets to a point beyond where cause and effect mean anything at all, then science fiction becomes science nonsense. Everything that happened was strictly logical according to the laws of physics which happened to apply in that part of the world."


Read Oliver Postgate's articles for The New Statesman.

You can read The Times obituary here and, in the same paper, Libby Purves contributed an interesting article 'From Jumblies to Clangers: A Fine Lot of Nonsense'.

Other obituaries appeared in The Independent; and The Daily Telegraph.

You can read an interview with Oliver Postgate about the Clangers on the BBC's Cult TV, DVD & Lovely Stuff.


Boll Weavil said...

Oliver Postgate (like Ivor Wood) was at the forefront of a series of imaginative writers and animators who have consistently made quality childrens TV in this country for half a century.Just watching that episode of 'The Clangers' is a reminder that these programmes are no less enjoyable or believable to us, as adults, as they were thirty years ago when we were kids.

SISTIVI : Merchandise from a childrens television programme that you own and display proudly. Enquirers are always greeted with ''It's worth a lot now you know' said rather too heartily and quickly for it to be the only reason why you acquired it at great cost from Ebay

Brian Sibley said...

Isn't it interesting how evocative those surviving (or ebay recovered) items of merchandise from our childhood are? If only we could as easily recapture youth itself...

Brian Sibley said...

GILL comments...

Actually a comment on a comment!

My mother, a woman of much wisdom always maintained that youth was a state of mind. She often said, "I am very young, I have just lived a lot of years."

Almost up to the day she died she wanted to know new things, was prepared to change her mind, was excited by new ideas and so on. She maintained this stance through breast cancer and resultant major surgery and aplastic anaemia during which she had to have almost daily blood transfusions and was in a lot of pain.

Moral? Think young!

Diva of Deception said...

I was sad to read about the passing of Oliver Postgate - but knew that if I came here Brian would have a suitable Obit. for us to read.

The Postgate voice was one of the most memorable from my childhood and it's sad to think that young children today aren't able to hear it on a regular basis as we were able to do.

Anonymous said...

I never thought a Charlie Brooker column would bring a tear to my eye. (Full-on crying, yes, but from laughter...)

I do believe he's summed up my feelings on Oliver Postgate's passing perfectly.

"[...] here was a man capable of effortlessly breathing gallons of soul into even the most basic of artificial lifeforms. A saggy old cloth cat. A steam engine made of paper, puffing cotton wool balls for steam. A tribe of miniature pink aliens on the moon."

I recently went to see Jan Švankmajer's 'Alice' in a beautiful, but rather beaten up, old cinema in Oakland, California. (The Egyptomania-styled 'Speakeasy'). I was in an audience of sweet - but rather self consciously knowing and ironic - artists and assorted hipsters. While I love Švankmajer's animation - no one else could make a pencil sharpner attacking a shoe seem both sarcastic and witty at the same time - I was struck by how, as a full length narrative, Alice eventually goes on a bit. I suppose that's the point: that the dolls are lifeless, the White Rabbit is stuffed and has glass eyes. They don't have an interior life, only the appearance of one.

Švankmajer used as much ingenuity and as crude an animation technique as Postgate to reduce the illusion of life to a simple hypnotic process. (When the camera goes round the back and you see the mechanism working the Mad Hatter automata, it's a single gear that works his jaw, raises his hand holding a tea cup...)

The remarkable thing about Oliver Postgate's cartoons is the warmth and complexity arising from very simple bits and pieces: how he managed to create ongoing stories, with lots of characters all interacting, mostly just using his voice. It was much more like radio of the TV, where the viewer filled in a lot of the blanks.

It's quite easy to believe that the Clangers are still up in space pondering the Universe, that - in a dusty side street in Rochester, perhaps - Bagpuss and the mice are still fixing things that people have lost.

It's quite common to say that something is magical. Postgate's cartoons had real properties of magic.

Brian Sibley said...

TIM - Thank you for this tribute. Your comparison between Postgate and Švankmajer is very apt and I couldn't agree with you more...

I also think of the Clangers as still being up there in space just as I'm sure Ivor the Engine is still running on a little branch line somewhere in the Welsh valleys.