Clangers: The Complete Scripts – Oliver Postgate and Daniel Postgate

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.

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Original Radio Scripts – Douglas Adams

The very first broadcast of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was on the 8th March 1978 so this coming Sunday it will be 42 years since that date and as anyone who has read H2G2 will know 42 is a very important number, it is after all The Answer.

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That is, the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Knowing that to be The Answer leads to the next problem. What is The Question? That unfortunately the great supercomputer Deep Thought couldn’t tell us.

My copy of the scripts is the first edition and was published by Pan Books in 1985 by which time Hitch-Hikers had become a massive success as a series of books, a play, a couple of records, a video game, a TV series, and even a towel, but for some reason it had taken seven years for the original material to be available as a book. I remember the impact those initial broadcasts had, there had been nothing like this before and I, along with many others, was hooked. The book contains all the scripts up to that point so the original six part series first broadcast in March and April 1978, the Christmas special from the same year and the second five part series first broadcast in January 1980. They were so amazingly popular that by the end of 1984 the first series had been repeated five times, the Christmas special six times and the second series had already had four repeats in as many years. Douglas died on the 11th May 2001, aged just 49,  having extended the book series to five and later on these extra three books would (in a reverse of the original process) be converted to radio scripts but what we are concerned with here is Douglas Adams own work rather than the later adaptations even though these were wonderfully done and largely utilised the original cast. But why The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy?

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I have deliberately put this blog into the ‘Book Tales’ category rather than a review because frankly there are plenty of reviews of H2G2 and me adding another would be pointless and probably impossible so I would rather look at how this highly improbable phenomenon came to exist in the first place. Although clearly the book would be very enjoyable with just the scripts each episode is also followed with footnotes that explain what was going on during the production or some interesting facts about some aspect of the script itself. They also include a list of the music sources for each episode where you can check and go “oh yes of course it was, why didn’t I recognise it the first time”. The signature tune for example is from Journey of the Sorcerer by The Eagles, apparently many of the people who wrote in asking what it was were surprised to find that they already had the album it came from. Surprisingly large amounts of the other music used is by Hungarian composer György Ligeti. It is these extra nuggets of information that make this book so much fun. As for the included text Geoffrey Perkins wrote in his introduction.

These scripts include numerous alterations, amendments and additions, often made during recording, which helped to make a little more sense of the whole thing and gave us something to do while we were waiting for Douglas to come up with the next page.

and

Douglas is the only person I know who can write backwards. Four days before one of the Hitch-Hiker’s recordings he had written only eight pages of script. He assured me he could finish it on time. On the day of the recording, after four days of furious writing, the eight pages had shrunk to six.

This he explains is that Douglas was a perfectionist and if he spotted something that could be improved he would do that rather than create the next new part. Douglas himself freely admits in his foreword that he was a champion procrastinator and could come up with excuses for not writing far easier than he could come up with the actual ideas themselves.

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His inability to get things written on time is a constant theme of the footnotes, with scripts frequently being delivered to the actors whilst they were actually recording the episode. These would often be typed by Douglas on ‘snappies’ small booklets of quite flimsy perforated paper with carbon paper between them so he could dash out and hand them new pages of script as they were working. This led to a belief amongst the cast that he was reduced to typing the scripts on lavatory paper as his small office was next to the toilets at the studios. It all got a bit critical with the final episode of the second series, Jonathan Pryce was cast to play the Ruler of the Universe but when he arrived for the recording Douglas hadn’t actually written that bit yet so he played Zarniwoop and the voice of the Autopilot instead. The Ruler (who didn’t know he was) was ultimately played by Stephen Moore who also played Marvin the Paranoid Android along with a couple of other characters. More delays with this episode meant that it was still being edited twenty minutes before it was due to be broadcast but in a studio three miles away from where it needed to be to get on air. They made it but only just…

At the end of the first series, i didn’t really expect with any confidence that anyone would want me to do any more, so I brought the story to a very definite close. This then caused me huge problems getting the story going again for the second series. At the end of the second series I knew I would be asked to do more and deliberately left the ending open so that the next series could get off the ground straight away. Of course, we never did a third series.

Douglas Adams 1985

Happy 42nd birthday Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’ll raise a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster to you on Sunday with a shot of That Old Janx Spirit to chase it down and I will definitely make sure I know where my towel is.

If none of that last sentence makes any sense then go and read the scripts, or the books, or both it doesn’t really matter which but go and read them, then you too can aspire to being a hoopy frood, you’ll thank me for it…