Edward Judd, 1932–2009


Like the creations of the late Oliver Postgate, Edward Judd haunts my childhood imagination via the handful of very British science fiction and sf/horror movies he starred in during the 1960s. He did a great deal of acting before and after this—in the Seventies he was a very ubiquitous TV character actor—but it’s his run of genre films which remains notable. In these roles he was always the stalwart Everyman, usually with another older actor as co-star who supplies the requisite scientific explanations.

The first of these, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), was a Val Guest production which followed the success of Guest’s Quatermass films in visiting another space-born calamity upon the world, this time an unprecedented heatwave caused by nuclear tests which throw the earth off its orbit. The film opens with a Ballardesque view of the River Thames parched to a thin stream, and features some great shots later of Judd stumbling through an abandoned, dust-strewn capital. The location work in the Daily Express building on Fleet Street adds to the realism, as does a strong script and decent performances.

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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

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Occultism for kids

Ghost Box


Q: What do you get when you cross analogue synthesizers, samples from obscure public information films, the graphic design of Pelican Books, Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, CS Lewis, Hammer horror, the Wicker Man and the music from Oliver Postgate’s animated films for children?

A: the CD releases by artists on the Ghost Box label. Ghost Box describe themselves as “an independent music label for artists that find inspiration in library music albums, folklore, vintage electronics, and the school music room” which, if you’re familiar with the reference points, is exactly what you get. A rather wonderful blend it is too, some of the tracks on Belbury Poly’s The Willows (named after Algernon Blackwood’s stunning horror tale) are how I expected Stereolab to sound until I heard them and was rather disappointed.

Favourite of the Ghost Box releases I’ve heard to date is (perhaps inevitably) Ourobourindra by Eric Zann (the “artist” here is named after Lovecraft’s haunted musician from The Music of Erich Zann). The website description—”Eric Zann’s radios, oscillators and recordings conjure eldritch, echoing spaces and invoke the voices of the dead that whisper within them”—again is a pretty accurate summation of this atmospheric and sinister audio collage. “Sinister” is a term that can be applied to much of this music and the Ghost Box founders, Julian House and Jim Jupp, declare in a Wire feature this month that matters spectral are of particular concern, hence the label name. Ourobourindra works especially well in this regard, sounding like the product of someone working through a trauma caused by viewing the seance scene from Dracula AD 1972 at too young an age. This is one I’ll be playing on Halloween.

Ghost Box music can be purchased online here.

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The album covers archive

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Penguin book covers
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
The music of the Wicker Man
The Absolute Elsewhere