Alex Massie

Not just a soggy old cloth cat...

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You know you're getting old when the people who made the TV programmes you liked as a kid start dying. So, farewell, Oliver Postgate, creator of Ivor the Engine and, of course, the immortal Bagpuss. I suppose those of us born in the mid-1970s (post-Clangers then) were the last for whom Postgate's work was a central part of their childhood TV experience.I assume today's kids would be entraced by the subtle, wry joys of Bagpuss but I'm not sure I'd want to test that thesis. From the Telegraph's obituary:

The worlds constructed by Postgate and his long-time collaborator Peter Firmin were the products of a kindlier age, informed by Postgate's own utopian longings and encapsulated in his mild, avuncular narration.

His programmes were simple and uncluttered, yet stimulating and not unsophisticated. They eschewed the frenetic matiness of later generations of children's television, winning the trust of their audience instead by old-fashioned reliance on plot and characterisation and by an appeal to a child's instinctive belief in magic. In short, they did not treat television as a special art but as a three-dimensional extension of the story book...

Postgate's last great success was Bagpuss (1973) – in the words of its introduction, "just a saggy old cloth cat, but Emily loved him". This was the story of a toyshop whose inhabitants – among them the mice on the mouse-organ – mended broken toys with songs. Bagpuss himself, down to his yawn, was evidently a retired Indian Army cat, a piece of whimsy that watching parents could appreciate.

Part of the reason for the great affection in which the programmes were held was that they never patronised their audience; and on growing up that audience found them just as well-made as they remembered, and in turn shared them with their own children. To Postgate's delight, Bagpuss was voted the favourite children's television programme of all time...

Postgate had a cottage in Wales, but otherwise lived quietly on the Kent coast. A warm, unambitious man who was a little at the mercy of his fears and emotions, he had a strong sense of moral purpose and a loathing of the absurdities of modern children's programmes. Teletubbies, he considered, were "awful, post-nuclear jelly babies".

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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