upposing we look away from the Earth and travel in our imagination across the vast endless stretches of outer space. There we can imagine other stars, stranger stars by far than ever shone in our night sky, and other, stranger people too. People perhaps whose civilisation, skill and efficiency may be far in advanceof ours . . .’
Cue Tiny Clanger, struggling with a dustbin lid before she emerges hooting and whistling onto the surface of that small blue planet in space. Oliver Postgate’s ponentous, awesome introductions to each Clanger adventure somehow managed to transcend the fact that this was a low-budget children’s programme with woolly puppets and painted cardboard backgrounds and turned The Clangers into something distinctly weird and wonderful. A couple of decades on, the mere mention of the words ‘Soup Dragon’ can cause any culturally- attuned twentysomething gathering to break into relentless hooting and Iron Chicken impersonations.
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In space no one can hear you hoot. The Clangers were a 703 children’s cult. Now they’re back, Soup Dragon, Iron Chicken and all. Tom Lappin spoke to Clanger creator Oliver Postgate.
For Clangers, friendly little hooting creatures of admirably generous and wise temperament are back in the forefront of popular consciousness, getting close on a million viewers on Channel 4 and selling 30,000 copies on BBC video. It’s a superior example of the collective retro-mania that has shot Bjorn Again up the pop charts. relaunched Boney M’s career, pulled flares out of their mothballed closets and revived Aztec bars (maybe). It’s the result of a peculiarly ironic British slant on the US slacker or blank generation phenomenon, whereby our mixed-up young adults ﬂee from 90s techno-confusion and return to the safe and simple joys of their childhood.
If this lost generation has to have a guru, who better than Oliver Postgate? The man’s credentials speak for themselves: Ivor The Engine, Pagles Wood, Noggin The Nag, Bagpuss and, his masterpiece, The Clangers. He’s retired at ()7, living in Kent writing the illustrated Clangers books. but Postgate’s measured tones still have that mellifluous blend of reverence and amusement. He’s delighted if
slightly bemused by the resurgence of interest in the cuddly little aliens he created in 1969 with partner Peter Firmin.
‘We liked them when they first came out.’ he says, ‘and realised that they had stuck in the folk memory better than other things we did.’ He’s not kidding. Publishers Little Brown claim the Clangers are ‘back to delight a new generation!’ but the truth is that they are delighting the self-same generation which enjoyed them as children and can now appreciate their subtleties as adults. ‘They don’t date exactly.’ says Postgate, ‘and I think
‘We always hoped we would have something that would be a huge world success like these ruddy turtles, but to do that you have to aim for the lowest
that is something which people recognise from childhood memory as something they much enjoyed and it’s not violent and has a certain amount of originality of thought in it. Somebody once said that the moral values. which I don’t interest myself in at all really. are more civilised than a lot of what’s on now, so that the Clangers actually entertain the extraordinary things that arrive on their planet with unfailing courtesy and consideration. and deal with them civilly.‘
Especially Tiny Clanger. Clanger society is an engagingly female—orientated set-up. with our Tiny at the centre of every adventure. taking the initiative and befriending visitors, while the nurturing matriarch Soup Dragon dishes out soup and good advice in equal measure. ‘We can’t really claim it as a feminist programme, simply because feminism hadn’t entered into our heads at the time,’ says Postgate. ‘My colleague Peter Firmin has lots of daughters and he is well aware of the influence they have in the arrangements in families. Tiny Clanger is a fairly obstinate young woman but it’s not that she’s the instigator. in fact she’s the mediator, she’s the one who champions the underdog, or under-Iron Chicken actually. When the Iron Chicken comes and causes mayhem she takes her side.’ 4
All this talk of Iron Chickens. Soup Dragons. cosmic truths and the like does beg the question "What were they on‘.” After all. it was 1969, everybody was into mind—altering substances and ‘experimentation’. ‘Not in the slightest.’ says Postgate to tentative suggestions of psychedelic inﬂuences. ‘We were completely unaware of the 60s by way of influence. In fact we were almost entirely uninfluenced by anything current. Both Peter and I relied on our own backgrounds and our own knowledge and our own feelings. We did things because we enjoyed them. And if there happened to be a trend about, by the time it caught up with us it was long past. I think we noticed the 60s sometime in the mid 7()s.’
8 The List 26 March—8 April I993