Occasionally, I make the journey to Bethnal Green to the Museum of Childhood which is one of the best museums in East London. It is always quite nostalgic with lots of toys and games from different eras, however my visit coincided with the opening of a new exhibition about Smallfilms, the production company that made Bagpuss and the Clangers.
The exhibition is entitled The Clangers, Bagpuss & Co and is the first major retrospective of Smallfilms, the company created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. The small exhibition looks like it is in a barn and that is intentional because Smallfilms was based in rural Kent and all the filming took place in a barn and an adapted pigsty.
The remarkable aspect of Smallfilms was that Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator) did almost all of the work themselves without much outside interference.
This allowed Postgate and Firmin to create imaginary worlds that would captivate children for the next 50 years. The exhibition illustrates the sheer ingenuity of Smallfilms, one of the highlights is Oliver Postgate’s stop-motion film camera, adapted using a small motor and bits of Meccano. However, for all the mechanical ingenuity, it was the quirky and inventive programmes like Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine that captivated millions of children all around the world.
My first memories of Smallfilms was with Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog which became my particular favourites. When you watch the shows now, it is fascinating to notice that how the stories and the sets blend together to create self contained small worlds. It is this attention to detail that is illustrated by the original puppets, archive footage, sets and storyboards, photos, scripts and filming equipment.
For all their early success, it was in the late 60s and early 70s when Smallfilms achieved their greatest hits with The Clangers and Bagpuss. The strange whistling aliens and the old cloth cat became firm favourites with generations of children and the exhibition has plenty of the original puppets from the two shows.
Bagpuss and his entertaining friends have pride of place in the exhibition with even the dress worn by Emily who owned Bagpuss in the programme. Emily was played by Emily Firmin, the daughter of illustrator Peter Firmin.
If you want to look at animation before computer graphics then take a trip to the wonderful V&A Museum of Childhood and enjoy this small but fascinating free exhibition.
The Clangers, Bagpuss and Co at the Museum of Childhood – 19th March to 9th October 2016