On a day the internet and blogsphere have been awash with tributes to the late great John Lennon it would be easy to join the throng and create a blog telling you all just how much influence his song writing and philosophy has had on my life.
But that just wouldn’t be true.
It’s not that I don’t admire the man or his music, because I do, but there is another great artist, who died on the same day in 2008, who really did influence my formative years with his artistry and vocal stylings and who I greatly respect and admire.
I am talking about the Animator and British children’s television legend who is Oliver Postgate.
Along with his business partner, artist Peter Firmin, their company ‘Smallfilms’ revolutionised children’s entertainment and animation in the United Kingdom. At a time when there were just 2 television stations and children’s programming was scheduled for the coveted ‘tea-time’ slot Postgate and Firmin brought us many delights including Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog , the Clangers and, for me the greatest of all their creations, Bagpuss. Which to my astonishment only ever had 13 episodes commissioned as the BBC thought that the puppets were ‘too old fashioned’ for those forward thinking children of the early 70’s. When in 1999 Bagpuss was voted the best children’s television of all time in a BBC poll I guess they must have realised their mistake.
By the time I was sitting watching that wonderful saggy old cloth cat whilst munching my tea, it was already on its 2nd or 3rd re-run, but for me it opened up a world of magic and possibility and I never looked at my toys in the same way again.
The power to unleash the imagination of a child is one of the greatest gifts on earth.
From as early as 1959 ‘Smallfilms’ were producing ground breaking animation techniques from their studios in Kent. Although in reality their first studios were a disused cow-shed in Firmins back garden they were able to produce a staggering 2 minutes of film per day, over 10 times the amount of any other studio at the time. As the production budgets were minimal, Postgate not only created the characters and scripts, but he also provided the voices for many of his much loved characters.
His was a gentle humour which at times bordered on the surreal. When taken to task for ‘dumbing down’ by using only whistles to give voice to ‘The Clangers’, Postgate was able to produce every single script meticulously written out with the words then whistled precisely .
It was this precision that earned him a censure form the BBC when one of the ‘lines’ was correctly translated as “Oh sod it, the bloody thing won’t open”.
Not at all fitting for tea-time on the Beeb.
But Oliver Postgate was more than just a children’s programme maker.
A look back at his life will show that, like Lennon, he was a great campaigner for peace.
In 1943, when called up for military service, Postgate was imprisoned in Feltham prison as a conscientious objector, and after serving out the war years as a farm hand he joined the Red Cross on Humanitarian service in the devastation of post-war Germany.
Throughout his life he was an active member of the campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND) and spoke at numerous rally and CND meetings up and down the country. In an interview shortly before his death the recounted the tale of one particular address he was giving. He felt that some of the younger members of the audience weren’t paying proper attention to ‘this waffling old codger’ and so switched to his ‘Professor Yaffle’ voice and it had an immediate effect on his audience who became much more focused and attentive.
For those of you unfamiliar with his work I strongly urge you to have a browse and seek some out, and for those of us who are already fans I urge you to revisit some of your favourite moments.
Whilst the influence of Oliver Postgate may not be as far reaching and news worthy as that of John Lennon, it is his voice that transports me to that magical place inside, where anything seems possible.
“And of course when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too”