Nick Triani reflects on a time when children's TV was laced with innocent endeavour but primed to excite the most fervent imaginations of our youngest.
When Radiohead‘s video for ‘Burn The Witch’ was released earlier this year, it not only struck a chord with me as being their best piece of music for awhile, but the clip harked back to an era of my life, an innocence of pre-adulthood that I’ve been quietly sharing with my four year old son. Let me explain. It has been much commented on that ‘Burn The Witch’ not only shares similarity in plot to the pagan ritualism of cult movie The Wicker Man, but aesthetically and visually pays deep homage to the children’s TV creations of producer Gordon Murray.
but the clip harked back to an era of my life, an innocence of pre-adulthood that I’ve been quietly sharing with my four year old son
Gordon Murray created a trio of children’s TV shows for the BBC in the mid 1960’s, starting with Camberwick Green, then Trumpton and the lesser known Chigley. When my parents first got a TV set in the late 1960’s, lunchtimes were illuminated by Murray’s creations and characters; Windy Miller, PC McGarry and the gossipy Mrs Honeyman – not to forget the Firemen of Trumpton (particular favourites of my son’s). This was an idealized world, an England of the past where manners and decency in the community were emphasized. It’s also (mostly) a dated patriarchal worldview free of racialization and where mother supplies the comforting bosom. The gentle stories narrated by the legendary children’s TV presence Brian Cant, and the wonderful folk melodies that soundtrack these series still take me back and offer glimpses of a childhood I am remembering through watching my own child grow.
This was an idealized world, an England of the past where manners and decency in the community were emphasized. It’s also (mostly) a dated patriarchal worldview free of racialization and where mother supplies the comforting bosom.
But Murray’s universe, in my view, was superseded by many strange and wonderful children’s series of the time. The extremely surreal Ludwig from the mid-1970’s, “a mysterious being obsessed with classical music” deadpans creator Peter Lang. Equally batty was the excellent Roobarb, narrated by the late great Richard Briers; the almost Freak Brothers style animation on reflection gives one the feeling that creators Grange Calveley and Bob Godfrey really might have been taking something a little stronger. The fuzzy soundtrack is an all time fave (and much sampled). These were prime time oddities, aired before the BBC 1 evening news. File alongside the equally psychedelic Crystal Tipps and Alistair and Captain Pugwash featuring characters such as Master Bates and Seaman Stains! Eco friendly furry creatures The Wombles recycling on Wimbledon common, narrated by Bernard Cribbins and soundtracked rather fantastically by soft-pop guru Mike Batt. The mid 1970’s young children’s TV was socially conscious as well as a fertile ground for the genuinely weird. These series still offer safety in viewing for young children with an emphasis on slow, simple storytelling.
Scandinavia has also enchanted its children with some magical TV; the Pippi Longstocking series from the late 1960s being one example, whilst the animated Moomin series from the 1960s adds the surreal cavet that it was actually made in Japan (just the kind of logic that chimes brilliantly with Moominland). In America, despite a staple diet of the more brash Looney Tunes and Disney, the technicolor-like brilliance of Sesame Street, The Monkees and Banana Splits added wacky wonder for a child starved of cultural nourishment (as I was). My son has also advanced his English skills off the back of Jim Henson’s informative simplicity.
The mid 1970’s young children’s TV was socially conscious as well as a fertile ground for the genuinely weird.
My childhood Guru
The guru of my childhood’s children’s TV was Oliver Postgate, responsible for some seriously weird and eccentric series. Pogles’ Wood, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine, Clangers and Bagpuss were all warm, gentle and at times magical. Ivor The Engine was my favourite, as Wiki notes: “Ivor The Engine relates the adventures of a small green locomotive who lived in the “top left-hand corner of Wales” and worked for The Merioneth and Llantisilly Railway Traction Company Limited. His friends included Jones the Steam, Evans the Song and Dai Station, among many other characters.” Postgate narrates with a thick Welsh accent. Nothing much happens, it’s slow, but a delight. The moral compass is strong but gentle with some of the storytelling inspiringly mischievous. Ivor The Engine emphasises a serious sense of community.
And here’s the rub: Rewatching many of these series with my son has plugged me into a past I’d almost forgotten, a subconscious little me that really exists and that I’d forgotten about. Not only did these series help me form traits that I still carry to this day (manners, a caring for others, a sense of community) but they helped firment a vivid imagination that has mainlined directly into my own creative juices. Substantially, there’s a little child still in all of us, and rewatching the likes of Trumpton, The Herbs and Clangers has helped me connect and find common ground with my four year old son. So much Children’s TV in the 2000s onwards is loud, brash and knowingly tipped towards adult sentiments that rediscovering these gems from a former age have not only rekindled memories of youth, but afforded my son entry to worlds that are perfectly imagined for small children, a safe place to be, to get lost in and to nourish the soul. I still sing my son to sleep with the ending song from Auntie Beeb’s Andy Pandy, a sweet lullaby passed down from one grown up kid to the formative other.
Rediscovering these gems from a former age have not only rekindled memories of youth, but afforded my son entry to worlds that are perfectly imagined for small children, a safe place to be, to get lost in and to nourish the soul.
Five golden wonders of children’s TV
These have been regular viewing staples in the Triani household