Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Why I like Oliver Postgate.

Everybody I talk to about Oliver Postgate reckons he was on drugs. I think this says more about the chattering classes than dear old Oliver. They obviously don't understand what it is to have an imagination. Some of us - and I include myself and the late and great Mr Postgate - don't need drugs to think wonderful thoughts. A few years ago I read his autobiography, Seeing Things, and this confirmed my already high opinion of him. I'd grown up on Ivor the Engine and Bagpuss and can still remember the anticipation that the prospect of a new Oliver Postgate brought me and my sister late one Sunday afternoon when we visited our grandparents.

It all started for me with Pogle's Wood.

Mr and Mrs Pogle lived a wood in an old tree stump. Mr Pogle would go out and have some sort of adventure, whereupon they would wake up The Plant, a kind of talking tulip that grew outside their front door, by pouring farmhouse cider over his roots. The Plant would then tell them a story. The Pogles also featured in a children's newspaper called Pippin. Pippin wasn't just about Pogle's Wood. It included any Watch with Mother series such as Camberwick Green or Trumpton but Pogle's Wood was Number 1 in the hit parade for children's television programmes and Pippin was the name of the Pogle's son. In one story in this magazine, Mr Pogle came home on a model traction engine, which so dleighted me that I can still feel those rapturous feelings to this day.

Very often, my sister and I would attempt to recreate some of the Pogles' magic by building some sort of shrine in my parents garden. This would often take the form of windows and doors placed in a hedgerow and I was convinced that, in a future episode in Pippin, Pogle's Wood would soon adopt the internal combustion engine, an old-fashioned and eco-friendly way, of course.

I reckon that was the skill of all of Oliver Postgate and his collaborator, Peter Firmin. They understood exactly how to entrance their audiences and that entrance moment happened in so many different ways.

Who could not fail to be entranced by the following lines?

In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale...

These are the opening lines of Noggin the Nog. Fore maximum effect click here for a really captivating introduction. Again, an early steam engine featured in one of Noggin's adventures.

I thought Bagpuss was okay but this program was recently voted one of the nation's favourites of all time.

There's never any cynicism in a Smallfilms production, never any aggression and never any violence -- unless it's entirely justified against Nogbad the Bad. You get the sense that Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin had such fun in creating these iconic series that they could scarcely believe their luck in being commissioned to do this for a living. This feeling was confirmed when I read Oliver Postgate's autobiography. It was hard work and they probably never received the recognition they deserved but I have inspired a whole generation of animators and given a large dose of magic to children everywhere.

I was fascinated to learn that Oliver Postgate was a conscientious objector during World War II.

I was also intrigued by his proposals for a domestic heating system. This proved entirely successful and for someone with no formal engineering qualifications I think this is a remarkable feat. What is particularly interesting, however, is that the company who commissioned Oliver Postgate to produce this remarkable system didn't pursue it. They said there was no maintenance component that would make his proposals economically viable. When Oliver Postgate asked them what they meant by this, they explained that, as his system had no moving parts, there was nothing to wear out and nothing to be serviced and no real way of making any money from it. As a domestic heating system it really couldn't be faulted and therein lay the problem -- nobody would make any money out of it.

Oliver Postgate was a man ahead of his time. It seems to me that his clarity of thought as well as his prodigious imagination could offer solutions are more relevant than ever in today's world.

But for most of us he will be associated with a deep sense of nostalgia. His name conjures up feelings of happy innocence and harmless fun. I feel very tempted to buy some of the DVDs of his work that are now available, particularly the pilot film for The Pogles, which was and never ever shown on the BBC because executives felt that it was too frightening the children. Now that I am an adult I think I can probably cope with that and have a strong suspicion that reacquainted myself with Oliver Postgate's work will continue to inspire my own creativity.

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