The story behind some of the most popular children’s television characters is explored in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The exhibition is entitled The Clangers, Bagpuss & Co and is the first major retrospective of Smallfilms, the production company which was created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. Smallfilms was based in Kent and all the filming took place in a barn and an adapted pigsty.
This setting allowed Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin to create imaginary worlds that would captivate children for the next 50 years. The sheer ingenuity of Smallfilms is illustrated by the original puppets, archive footage, sets and storyboards, photos, scripts and filming equipment.
Visitors will be amazed with Oliver Postgate’s stop-motion film camera, adapted using a small motor and bits of Meccano. For all the mechanical ingenuity, it was the quirky and inventive stories in programmes like Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine that captivated millions of children all around the world.
With modern animation employing hundreds of workers, Smallfilms illustrated what could be achieved on a low-budget with Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator) undertaking many different roles. It was the ability to control all aspects of the filming that enabled the concepts to be bought to life. Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog began in 1959, followed by Pingswings in 1961, Pogle’s Wood in 1966, The Clangers in 1969 and Bagpuss in 1974. Even when no new episodes were made, the shows were endlessly repeated. In 2015, a new version of The Clangers was produced that introduced the small aliens to a new generation.
Of all the series, it could argued that Bagpuss was the most popular coming top of a 1999 BBC poll to find the favourite children’s programme. The old cloth cat and his entertaining friends have pride of place in the exhibition which even features the dress worn by Emily who owned Bagpuss in the programme. Emily was played by Emily Firmin, the daughter of illustrator Peter Firmin.
A trip to the wonderful V&A Museum of Childhood is quite nostalgic for grown ups and this small but fascinating free exhibition is sure to bring back happy memories for many visitors. In the times before computer graphics, it was the ingenuity of the animators like Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin that created small imaginary worlds that were watched by millions. Smallfilms may have been a very small enterprise but they conquered the world of children’s television for decades.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the V&A Museum of Childhood website here
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