Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s kindly, pink, whistling space creatures are back on the BBC as of today. Julia Raeside explains their enduring appeal.
When I heard the BBC was making a new series of The Clangers, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s classic children’s programme set on a small planet that is home to a kindly bunch of pink, whistling aliens, I was all ready to tut my disapproval and give it a wide berth. But the news is better than I could have hoped.
Partly written by Oliver’s son, Daniel, and executive produced by Firmin himself, the team at Factory animation house have insisted on using the old-fashioned stop-frame techniques and hand-knitted characters of the original series. Major Clanger and his family – how to describe them… they sort of look like friendly upright anteaters – spend their days fishing for space junk, knitting and drinking soup provided by the Soup Dragon, who lives beneath the planet’s surface. This reboot is every bit as magical as its predecessor and, at the launch event in central London earlier this month, the show was announced as “series three of The Clangers”. Quite right too.
In true Smallfilms style, Firmin and various members of the Postgate and Firmin families, all talented artists themselves, turned up at a posh London hotel and transformed it into the crafting equivalent of Wonka’s factory. Human-sized Clangers mingled with the guests – children and grown-ups – as Firmin’s daughters and granddaughters helped the children to make felt flower badges, painted tiles and modelling clay Clangers to take home. It was all they could do to wrestle us away from the craft tables when it was time to go and watch the first two episodes of the new series.
The spirit of that company, famous for producing children’s classics including Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog, lives on in this new series, for which Michael Palin provides the perfect narration. It’s an almost meditative experience, watching the small knitted characters going about their pleasantly low-stakes adventures, accompanied by beautiful music and an underlying message of kindness and tolerance.
The stories are as oddball and eccentric as the first time around and the new theme tune, played on a recorder, is so lovely it makes me teary (listen to it here: clangers.com – beware of the autoplay). All humans should spend 15 minutes a day absorbing a bit of Smallfilms goodness. It feeds the soul.
The Clangers might be on CBeebies (and there are 52 episodes on their way!), but whether you have children or not, go and have a look at television made the way it used to be, with care and time and love. It’ll put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. I’m series-linking as I type.
The Clangers launches on CBeebies this evening at 5.30pm.1964 Views
Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.