For those of you familiar with the BBC children’s TV classic originally broadcast from the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s there will probably be a feeling that something is wrong when you see this book is the full scripts. But surely, you will reasonably ask yourself, the Clangers only spoke in whistles, how can there be scripts? Well yes the Clangers did only speak in whistles but all the whistles were fully scripted in English and swanee whistles were used to mirror the inflection and length of the words. Take this example from series one, The Visitor which can be watched here and compare to the start of the script below.
I was seven years old when Clangers first appeared on TV with the first episode broadcast on 16 November 1969 just four months after man had first walked on the moon via Apollo 11 and it seems therefore appropriate to be reviewing this brand new book as Artemis I has reached the moons orbit, the first time for one month short of fifty years since the last Apollo mission that a craft capable of taking humans back to the moon has been there. Oliver Postgate was inspired to create Clangers by the Apollo programme, his tiny production company had previously made The Pogles and Noggin the Nog for BBC children’s television but both of these were in black and white so not appropriate for the launch of colour TV in Britain at the end of the 1960’s. Instead Smallfilms Ltd were tasked with creating something new that would embrace colour, beyond that nothing was specified by the BBC but Postgate decided that as space was clearly a major topic at the time he would have a go at a space based animation and make it super colourful.
Smallfilms was very small, just Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin working in a converted pig shed at Oliver’s farm, Postgate wrote the scripts, was the narrator and voiced most of the characters in Smallfilm’s various productions whilst Firmin was the artist and model maker and between them they did the animation of the stop motion work. The book includes all the scripts from the original two series along with the special ‘Vote for Froglet’, As previously stated the first series started in November 1969 and ran on until early 1970, series two started on 18th April 1971 and finished later that year, both series consisting of thirteen episodes at that appeared to be that for Clangers. In 1974 however Postgate and Firmin were being interviewed on BBC radio and an idea was hatched to produced a special episode to try to explain elections to the children watching the show and so ‘Vote for Froglet’ was made in just three days and shown on election night.
The book also includes instruction as to how to knit your own Clanger and is extensively illustrated with stills from the programmes and behind the scenes images of Oliver and Peter at work on the show, it is a complete delight for anyone who grew up with Clangers in their lives and the show was repeated over many decades so there are a lot of us out there.
There was unfortunately no room for sentimentality over the legacy of what they were producing. When Clangers came to an end the sets were put on a bonfire and various other bits just buried as space was needed for the next project ‘Bagpuss’. In his introduction Oliver’s son Daniel recalls his sister Emily occasionally finding bits whilst working on the family vegetable patch. Sadly Oliver Postgate died in 2008 so all the additional material (beyond the actual scripts and production notes) has been written by Daniel. Peter Firmin just a few months short of his ninetieth birthday in 2018. Those wondering about why actor and writer Michael Palin and astronomer Maggie Aderin-Pocock wrote forewords, well Palin was a fan from the start and was also the narrator of the relaunched Clangers in 2015, whilst Aderin-Pocock claims to have been inspired to take up astronomy due to watching Clangers as a small child. The book was crowdfunded via unbound,com and is book number 383 by them. I was one of the people that invested in the initial project.