Sunday, 1 July 2018

RIP Peter Firmin

Such a shame today to read of the death of Peter Firmin, co-creator of the much-loved Clangers, Pogles Wood and more.  There's a lovely piece about him here.

In the meantime, I wrote about an exhibition of his work a couple of years ago, so - please forgive the lazy repetition today - here it is again as a reminder of some of his superb creations, ones that are sure to evoke many happy childhood memories for those of us of a certain age.


(First posted September 2016)

The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.

She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.

We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus

to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)

More on that in a minute.

First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant?  or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci.  Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder.  Hugs, chat, banter.  Total warmth.  It's noisy, vibrant... just real.  A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments.  You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though.  I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent.  Loudly!  The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?

After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..

... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.

Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.

I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles!  My favourite!

Look at little Tog on the right.  He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet.  Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.

"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like".  Go for it Amos!

The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday.  Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening.   I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.

If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic.  I'm currently working on a book with human characters and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real.  Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!

And then of course we have The Clangers.

They were a bit larger than I expected.  Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.

Well yes.

And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....

"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.

Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?!  I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.

Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.


  1. I was listening to Oliver Postage's Desert Island Discs only last week, and he spoke so kindly about Peter Firmin; we'll never see their like again.

    1. Two superb talents. We may never see their like again but I wonder if there will be a return to their approach at some point; the further away we get from the more primitive, homely and tactile kind of art in the mainstream, perhaps the more chance there is of a backlash. Those who never grew up with it will see it as appealingly retro!

  2. As John said
    Children of our generation were blessed with the work of these two fine gentlemen - not forgetting Mrs F’s knitted Clangers!

    1. We were blessed, weren't we? So much heart and soul in their creations. And Mrs F's knitted Clangers were the best!

  3. A lovely piece. I grew up just up the road (well, about 3 miles as the crow flies) from where Postgate and Firmin made most of these programmes. I wrote this when Oliver Postgate died.

    1. Ah, that's brilliant. Please tell me you're sure you once saw a Tog in your garden. Maybe that's a little before you time but you can humour me :-)
      Your piece on Oliver Postgate is lovely - thanks.

  4. Gosh - A bit of déjà vu here as this was one of the first posts of yours I ever read, and thought at the time that this was a blog I was going to enjoy following. A lovely piece by you, with lovely pictures, reminding us just how great it was to grow up when we did. Fond memories of the Clangers - Gentle entertainment for gentler times.

    1. Oh blimey Alyson, how time flies! I'm very glad you enjoyed it and came back for more. Yes, it was great to grow up when we did, not just blind nostalgia. I think we experienced the excitement and freedom that the new technology of the time allowed, without the downside of being constantly hooked up, stressed and bombarded by its pressures and presence. Perfect.

  5. I watched Bagpuss with my children and things still often get likened by them to the chocolate biscuit factory in one of the episodes . Such wonderful, gentle, imaginative programmes.

    1. Ah, lovely....we can only hope the gentle magic of their legacy will continue to delight future generations of children in some form or other. Hopefully the Clangers and Bagpuss are firmly embedded in our culture now!

  6. A true great who's like we'll never see again. Thank you, sir.


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