Fascinating, and always ever so slightly scary – Bagpuss was one of the most watched children’s TV programmes of a generation. Basically, if you don’t remember Bagpuss you weren’t a child of the 70’s or 80’s. Simple as.
Each programme began the same way: with a series of black and white photographs, and the viewer is told of a little girl named Emily who owned a shop that would find lost and broken things and display them in the window of the shop, so their owners could one day come and collect them (it was as non-profit venture).
Characters included a wooden woodpecker the drily academic Professor Yaffle – sketched on the philosopher Bertrand Russell (how many Kids shows have a character based on a genius? – I suppose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have four, but other than that…) and a bunch of industrious mice.
Bagpuss himself looked every inch a moth eaten rag-cat. In fact even Emily who owns him says to him in every episode:
“Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss Old Fat Furry Catpuss”
When Emily had left, Bagpuss would wake up. (perhaps Emily had offended Bagpuss with the “old fat furry catpuss” line, so he didn’t speak to her) The programme then shifted from sepia to colour stop motion film (like the FLUMPS, WOMBLES well pretty much any 70’s kids show, really), and various toys in the shop would also come to life: Gabriel the toad and a rag doll called Madeleine, while the mice carved a tune on the side of the "mouse organ" (see what they did there)
Enjoyably, the mice would often sing when they were mending an object, and there was always one mouse out of tune. Very funny – and often the highlight of any episode for the 6 year old me.
First screened in 1974, Bagpuss was aired for over 11 years. Remembering, it feels that I saw the same episode over and over again – I can’t remember too much variety in Bagpuss-land – but 13 were made in 1974, and since it ran until 1985, there must have been a LOT of repeats. Indeed BBC children’s TV meetings for about 10 years must have been “What shall we put on our schedules this season?” (long pause, and blank faces – then a quiet voice from the back) “Bagpuss again?” “Yep. Good. Lets break for lunch”
Bagpuss has consistently been voted one of the nations favourite Kids TV shows (Along with the SIMPSONS and SMURFS. In 1999 the series came first in a BBC poll of the nation's favourite children's show. And in 1987 the University of Kent even at Canterbury awarded an honorary degree to Oliver Postgate who created the series.
In 2002 and 2005 a stage show of Bagpuss songs toured UK folk festivals and theatres, which just goes to show they really will turn anything into a show these days. Most of the stories and songs used in the series are based on folk songs and fairy tales from around the world (imagine saying that about some modern TV programmes – Although, of course, Teletubbies is actually a Turkish creation myth. The round sung by the mice (starting with the words "We will fix it...") is to the tune of "Sumer is icumen in", dating from the Middle Ages. That’s right! It’s obvious when you listen to the series again. Staring me in the face, my whole childhood!