‘The cameras were held together with Meccano’: how we made Bagpuss
Firmin As Emily: A Tale Of Talent
Oliver Postgate and my father, Peter, were the brains behind the creation of kids' TV shows such as Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog under the company Smallfilms. Oliver took charge of crafting the stories and providing voiceovers, while my dad took on the task of creating puppets and artwork. The filming of The Clangers took place right inside our barn, and just behind that was Oliver's studio, which was previously used as a pigsty. Whenever I was a child, I would frequently overhear the most peculiar and unusual sounds emanating from that area.
As stated in the blog, my mother Joan has skillfully crafted the clangers. She served as an artistic director for my father, who designed the Bagpuss puppet by utilizing a clanger structure. The movement of the puppet is realized through the use of brass balls and sockets, which creates an exceptional creaking sound. Unfortunately, the manufacturers who supplied the fur for Bagpuss made an error and dyed it a vibrant shade of pink instead of the desired marmalade-colored hue. Interestingly, despite this setback, people still adore the character's unique appearance, charming demeanor, and endearing voice provided by Oliver.
When I was seven, my family's shop window doubled as our living room. As the youngest of six sisters, I was asked to pose for a photo as the little girl, and was rewarded with a bag of candy. To dress the part, my mother made me a Victorian-style dress and I wore some unattractive fake leather shoes from the 70s. Additionally, my mom created a rag doll named Madeleine, who was inspired by the design of the Polly Dolly case that we used for storing our nightgowns. Originally, the wooden character that would later be known as Professor Yaffle was meant to be a man with a stovepipe hat named Professor Bogwood. However, when the BBC instructed the creators to focus on animals instead, he was changed into a woodpecker.
Every single one of the 13 episodes was created using stop-motion animation. The technique involves making small and gradual movements to the puppets and using 16mm cameras that were assembled with Meccano. After finishing school, I would go back home, savor my Mum's cake, and relish my moments watching Bagpuss. Even now, I could recite the show's opening lines, which goes: "An old and droopy cloth cat, kind of slack at the seams, yet Emily adored him."
Back in the day, a show for kids won the top spot for being the most well-liked. One time, my father received an impressive award for his exceptional contributions to children's media, so we took Bagpuss with us when we went to the Baftas. These days, Bagpuss resides in the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge found in Canterbury. However, I still come across him once in a while. Bagpuss has this uncanny ability to make people feel like they're back in their childhood days. A lady who was looking at him in amazement caught my attention as I visited him earlier today. I asked her if she'd like to hold him, and tears streamed down her face instantaneously. I informed her that this type of reaction was nothing new to me.
Sandra Kerr: Voice Of Madeleine And Janiemouse In Music
I had the pleasure of meeting John Faulkner while performing on the folk circuit. Our musical collaboration led us to work on the music for a BBC children's TV show called Sam on Boffs' Island, with the help of writer Michael Rosen who suggested us. We were later contacted by Oliver, who requested our musical talents for a new series about an old cat named Bagpuss who resided in a shop window. We gathered various instruments like the fiddle, mandolin, English concertina, Appalachian dulcimer, guitars, and the classic spoons and headed over to Oliver's home at Red Lion House by car. After arriving, we put our instruments aside and headed out to explore the nearby Pogles' Wood, which served as the inspiration for the TV series of the same name.
We created 49 songs for the TV show Bagpuss. Our collaborator, Oliver, would provide us with bits of scripts or lyrics and ask us to write a song about a specific topic. For example, he might say, "Can you create a tune about mice who are sailors on a ship?" We would either come up with a new song or alter a traditional melody to suit his needs. One particular scene where the mice rowed in a ballet shoe was particularly amusing, and we couldn't stop ourselves from laughing during the performance, which is audible on the soundtrack album. Although the town band was supposed to be a loud and obnoxious noise, it was so hilariously dreadful that we ended up snickering into our kazoos.
In the living room of Red Lion House, John, Oliver, and I captured the vocalizations of mice. We sang at a leisurely pace. This allowed Oliver to accelerate the recordings and imitate the squeaky voices of the rodents while keeping the lyrics intelligible. Oliver, God bless him, was always trying to take the fall for the mouse that hit the wrong notes.
When I gave voice to Madeleine, the rag doll, and John portrayed Gabriel, the toad, Oliver instructed us not to use comedic tones. He urged us to use our natural voices instead. I was surprised by how refined my voice sounded during the performance. Even today, I have friends who refer to me as "Mad the Rag," which I am content with until the end of my days.
Famous musicians such as Belle and Sebastian and Radiohead hold a great admiration for Bagpuss, and it seems that many parents also share this sentiment as they note how much their own kids enjoy it. Unlike modern-day shows, Bagpuss has a unique sense of delicate and personal touches. As it turns out, the creators, Oliver and Peter, never lost their childlike spirit. Going back to Oliver's old home, he felt as though something was off, so he decided to crawl around on the floor like a youngster. This allowed him to see the place from a child's perspective and quickly made it feel like home. It's no wonder why he was able to create such a memorable and cherished character like Bagpuss.