Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oliver Postgate (1925-2008)

From the BBC website today:

'Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate has died aged 83, his family has confirmed. Mr Postgate, who lived in Kent, created some of the best-loved children's TV series including Ivor the Engine, the Clangers and Noggin the Nog. His work, screened on the BBC and ITV from the 1950s to the present day, was often in collaboration with the artist and puppeteer Peter Firmin. In a poll earlier this year, Bagpuss, a saggy pink cloth cat, was voted the best TV animal of all-time.

Mr Postgate's work was popular with generations of children who loved the strangeness of the characters and the warmth of his story-telling. The short animated films, which he would script and narrate, were created by Smallfilms production company, set up with Mr Firmin. The partners worked in a makeshift studio in a disused cowshed in Kent.

Bagpuss was invented in 1974 by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate. They established themselves as reliable purveyors of children's entertainment, in the days when there were just two channels and children's television occupied a privileged teatime slot on both. Describing the commissioning process, Mr Postgate said: "We would go to the BBC once a year, show them the films we'd made, and they would say, 'Yes, lovely, now what are you going to do next?'" "We would tell them, and they would say, 'That sounds fine, we'll mark it in for 18 months from now', and we would be given praise and encouragement and some money in advance, and we'd just go away and do it."


Only 13 episodes of Bagpuss were made in 1974, but were regularly repeated until 1987. Mr Postgate made his last film in 1987, complaining that children's television commissioners were no longer interested in what he had to offer. In October this year, the rights to many of his characters were bought by company Coolbai, which said it planned to introduce Bagpuss to a new generation.'

It's all very sad. I recently read Oliver's autobiography and it was, without doubt, the best book of its kind I have ever read. I am so glad that he got his life down in words as so many wonderful stories and anecdotes would have been lost otherwise. And what a fascinating life he led too, from a childhood in North London (and being part of a very well-placed family), to being a conscientious objector during the war, pioneering new techniques on TV and then getting involved in politics and the anti-nuclear movement. Amazing man. Of course, he is best known for his TV work with Peter Firmin and although the BBC may have stopped showing Bagpuss, he and his Clanger and Ivor the Engine friends continue to run on digital TV children's channels to this day. They are lovely programmes and it's reassuring that we can still hear his calm, reassuringly warm voice narrating them. That's what I'd miss the most I think.

It's a sad loss for us all. But at least his work lives on, much of it still delighting children 50 years after it was made. Postgate was proof, if proof were needed, that children don't need loud noises, gunge tanks, silly costumes, fart gags and disrespect for adults in their shows for them to be enjoyable. They can be entertaining, informative and imaginative. Above all else, Postgate and Firmin told wonderful stories. That's what we need more of.

Thanks Oliver.

9 comments:

Stuart Peel said...

Oh no ! These are the shows I grew up with, he deserves to be immortal for Bagpuss alone. And you're right about his voice, as reassuring as warm syrup. What a shame.

Uncle Deetou said...

I agree, his autobiography is really worth a read. Very sad day.... farewell to a gentle and kind man who shared his visions with us...

joelmead said...

I feel very sad about this. Lost some of my childhood…

chris hale said...

I grew up on Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog; cartoons very much of their time, gentle and inoffensive.

Mr. P may be gone but, as you say, we still have his work to watch and enjoy (much to our childrens' amusement).

Stevyn Colgan said...

Stu, Chris, Joel - My sentiments exactly. The world is a sadder place today.

Uncle Deetou - Welcome! Nice to meet someone who also enjoyed Seeing Things. What an extraordinary man, eh? I loved the home made washing machine ...

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I'm sad at the loss of Oliver Postgate, and thankful for the gift of imagination he had himself, and fostered in so many children and adults. His work has enriched my life.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Raph - Very true. And a very intelligent comment for a giraffe I thought.Thanks for popping by.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

ONe of my all time fave shows as a child, I even had a Bagpuss, sad news indeed.

Protege said...

Stevyn, I know nothing of Bagpuss and his creator, but my boyfriend, who grew up in England does and he was very sad about it too.