Oliver Postgate, 1925–2008


The Clangers (and a Froglet).

Lots of eulogies for Oliver Postgate doing the rounds just now, somewhat inevitable when his Smallfilms productions for the BBC furnished the imaginations of generations of British children in the Sixties and Seventies. Smallfilms’ films matched their name, being short animations created on minimal budgets by a trio of Postgate (writing, narration), Peter Firmin (artwork and animation) and Vernon Elliot (music). Postgate’s voice was the single constant across the disparate stories. For anyone of a certain age his distinctive tones carry that punch of primal recognition common to all things which make a strong impression during childhood.


Noggin the Nog.

I watched everything Smallfilms produced but being a space-obsessed Space Age kid my favourites were always The Clangers, a family of hooting, pink creatures who shared a moon-like planetoid with a Soup Dragon and (in an orbiting nest) an Iron Chicken. Being equally obsessed with Norse mythology, however, I also enjoyed Noggin the Nog, which never seemed to get repeated very often, probably because the early films were made in black and white. Oliver Postgate seemed to like dragons; as well as the Soup Dragon, Noggin had a very traditional Ice Dragon with a pile of treasure while the otherwise non-fantasy Ivor the Engine—tales of a small Welsh steam train—included a tiny dragon among the cast of characters, perhaps derived from the national emblem of Wales. Postgate and Peter Firmin reworked some of these stories into book form and my favourite books in our school library were the Noggin the Nog ones and Tove Jansson’s tales of the Moomins. The Clangers aren’t as alien as they first appear when you know that their true identity can be found in the 1967 tale of Noggin and the Moon Mouse.

Needless to say, YouTube has numerous opportunities for us to sate curiosity or indulge nostalgia, including BBC 4’s 2005 documentary about Smallfilms. The Guardian gathered a few choice examples as an addendum to their obituary page.

Lengthy Times obituary
The homespun genius of Oliver Postgate
See Emily play | The BBC meets the girl from Bagpuss

Previously on { feuilleton }
Occultism for kids

2 thoughts on “Oliver Postgate, 1925–2008”

  1. Sad news indeed.

    The books of Noggin the Nog inspired me to write poetry as a child. I didn’t get to see the animations until more recently when we bought the full set on video. We also have Bagpuss (I find Bagpuss a bit melancholy but my husband likes it), The Clangers and Ivor the Engine (which i did see on TV the first time round, and loved it). What a great legacy Oliver Postgate leaves behind him.

    Incidentally there’s a very large sculpture outside Heidelberg railway station which somewhat resembles the Iron Chicken, even though it’s supposed to be a horse.

  2. I was 12 by the time Bagpuss started so it never made as deep an impression as the earlier series. The conscious tone of nostalgia and sentimentality probably didn’t appeal either; Bob Godfrey’s Roobarb was more exciting.

    That horse does look rather chickenesque. There’s a nice description of its symbolic values here.

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