Clangers

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"Soup Dragon" redirects here. For the Scottish alternative rock band, see The Soup Dragons.
Clangers
A Clanger outside Victoria Quarter in Leeds (24th June 2010).jpg
A Clanger outside Victoria Quarter in Leeds
Format Children's television
Created by Oliver Postgate
Narrated by Oliver Postgate
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 26 (plus one special)
Production
Running time 10 minutes per episode
Production company(s) Smallfilms
Broadcast
Original channel BBC1
Original run 16 November 1969 (1969-11-16) – 10 October 1974 (1974-10-10)

Clangers is a British stop-motion animated children's television series of short stories about a family of mouse-like creatures who live on, and in, a small blue planet (quite similar to, but not intended to be, the Moon). They speak in whistles, and eat green soup supplied by the Soup Dragon. The programmes were originally broadcast by the BBC in 1969–1972.

The series was made by Smallfilms, the company set up by Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator). Firmin designed the characters, and his wife knitted and "dressed" the Clangers. The music, often part of the story, was by Vernon Elliott.

In October 2013, the BBC's Cbeebies and US pre-school channel PBS Kids Sprout announced that a new series would be produced for their 2015 transmission schedule.[1]

Background[edit]

The Clangers originated in a series of children's books which developed from another Smallfilms production, Noggin the Nog. Publishers Kay and Ward created a series of books from Noggin the Nog episodes, which were then extended into a series called Noggin First Reader, aimed at aiding initial reading skills.[2]

In the 1967 story Noggin and the Moonmouse, a new horse-trough was put up in the middle of the town in the North-Lands. A spacecraft hurtled down and splashed into it. The top unscrewed, and out came a largish, mouse-like character in a duffel coat, who wanted fuel for his spacecraft. He showed Nooka and the children that what he needed was vinegar and soap-flakes. So, they filled up the tanks in this little spherical ship, which then "took off in a dreadful cloud smelling of vinegar and soap-flakes, covering the town with bubbles".[2]

In 1969, the BBC asked Smallfilms to produce a new series for colour television, but did not specify a storyline. Postgate concluded that because space exploration was particularly topical, the new series should be set in space. He adapted the Moonmouse from the earlier story, removing its tail "because it kept getting into the soup".[2] The Clangers looked similar to mice, anteaters and, from their pink colour, pigs. They wore clothes reminiscent of Roman armour, "against the space debris that kept falling onto the planet, lost from other places, such as television sets and bits of an Iron Chicken",[2] and they spoke in whistles.

Storyline[edit]

Clangers was described by Postgate as a family set in space. The Clangers were small creatures living in peace and harmony on – and inside – a small, hollow planet, far, far away, nourished by Blue String Pudding, and Green Soup harvested from the planet's volcanic soup wells by the Soup Dragon. The word "Clanger" is said to derive from the sound made by opening the metal cover of one of the creatures' crater-like burrows, each of which was covered with a door made from an old metal dustbin lid, to protect against meteorite impacts. In each episode, there would be some problem to solve, something invented or discovered, or perhaps some new visitor to meet. Music Trees, with note-shaped fruit, grew on the planet's surface, and music would often be an integral feature in the simple but amusing plots. In the "Fishing" episode, one of the Cheese Trees provided a cylindrical five-line staff for notes taken from the Music Trees.

Postgate provided the narration, for the most part in a soft, melodic voice, describing and accounting for the curious antics of the little blue planet's knitted pink inhabitants, and providing a "translation", as it were, for much of their whistled dialogue.

Production[edit]

Quentin Cooper with two of the original Clangers, during one of his BBC radio programmes

The first episode was broadcast by the BBC on 16 November 1969, and a further 26 episodes were made. The last of these was broadcast on 10 November 1972. The final programme, however, was a four-minute election special, broadcast on 10 October 1974. This was not shown at the usual slot during children's programmes. The narrator asks the Clangers to vote between the Soup Dragon and the Froglet, but the Clangers are reluctant to take part.[3] Oliver Postgate said in a 2005 interview that he wasn't sure whether this episode still existed[3] and it has been referred to as a "missing episode",[4] but short clips are available at the BBC's website.[5][6]

The original Mother Clanger puppet was stolen in 1972.[7] Major Clanger and the second Mother Clanger are on display at the Rupert Bear Museum.[8]

The Clangers grew in size from the first to the last episode, to allow Firmin to use an Action Man model figure in "The Rock Collector."[2]

On 15 October 2013, it was announced that The Clangers will come back in a new series in 2015 on the Cbeebies channel.[1]

Characters[edit]

The principal characters are the Clangers themselves, the females wearing dresses and the males brass armour:

  • Granny Clanger: an elderly Clanger married to Grandpa Clanger, she is fond of knitting and often falls asleep. She wears black.
  • Major Clanger: the father and head of the family, he is determined to get all things right on their planet, and can be grumpy.
  • Mother Clanger: Mother to tiny and small Clanger, Mother clanger is the matriarch of the family and is often seen preparing and dispensing the Clangers' soup or Blue String Pudding for the family.
  • Small Clanger: Small Clanger is the son of Mother and Major Clanger and older brother to Tiny Clanger. Small Clanger is very inquisitive and inventive which despite his best intentions has sometimes led to some element of chaos amongst the Clangers, the soup pump being a classic example. Small Clanger is often the focus of the episodes as he is the most adventurous of the family.
  • Tiny Clanger: Youngest of the family, Daughter to Mother and Major Clanger and younger sister to Small Clanger, Tiny Clanger often plays a key role in episodes, too. She has a kind and gentle nature which is apparent in many episodes in which a new visitor arrives as she usually tries to communicate peacefully with them.

Three other Clangers, two males with different coloured hair and a female wearing blue, are assumed to be Uncle, Granddad and Auntie Clanger.

Other inhabitants[edit]

  • The Soup Dragon: a benign (female) creature with a penchant for Green Soup. The Soup Dragon dwells in the soup wells within the Clangers' planet, she is often summoned by tapping on the top of what look like small inactive volcanoes, she slides the lid back and then takes a jug from (usually) small clanger which she then fills for them to eat. A green glow is visible beneath her when she emerges, suggesting some kind of energy source down there.
  • Baby Soup Dragon: the Soup Dragon's child. Baby Soup Dragon was brought into the Clangers' world when the Soup Dragon became broody which meant the Clangers could not get any soup. Tiny Clanger called the Iron Chicken by radio, for advice, and she told Tiny to get the egg that she had left on the surface of the planet and to fill it with ingredients. Then they made a nest with macaroni sticks harvested not far from the soup wells, and placed the egg in the middle. The Iron Chicken asked the Clangers to stand back while she shot the iron egg with a beam from her nest: this had an effect, the Soup Dragon saw the egg and instinctively sat upon it, moments later after the beam was shut off. Then the Soup Dragon was startled and leapt up to find that the egg was hatched and she had a Baby Soup Dragon. The Soup Dragon was overjoyed and took her baby down below exclaiming: "Soup time everybody, soup time!"
  • Froglets: small orange aliens with black, stalk-like legs and large eyes, which travel around in a top hat.
  • The Cloud: a cotton-wool cloud that floats over the surface of the planet, releasing musical raindrops.
  • The Iron Chicken: a "bird" made of scrap metal (modelled from Meccano), which lives in an orbiting nest made of metallic junk. (The pieces were found around the Smallfilms studio.)
  • The music trees: The two small music trees are a permanent fixture on the surface of the Clangers' planet. They sit in a small divot on the surface and are often harvested by the Clangers for their music notes, though the Clangers are always polite to ask the trees first after which the trees release some of their notes onto the ground, suggesting some form of sentience.

Visitors[edit]

These appeared in only one or two episodes each.

  • Hoots: small horn-like creatures with three legs, speaking like trumpets.
  • A Spaceman: an astronaut, who arrives to collect rock samples. Upon landing, the Clangers observe his movements and discover that he is digging up rocks, Small Clanger peeks out of a hole and takes the wicker basket he is (rather humorously) placing the collected rocks into. The astronaut turns to find his basket gone and begins to look for it, he searches the surface until he lifts the lid of one of the holes only to find Small Clanger within. This clearly scares the astronaut who then proceeds to run away from Small Clanger and accidentally places himself into orbit around their planet. The Clangers hatch a plan to retrieve him with a fishing rod and a magnet, they catch him and reel him in, he appears to be still in shock then begins to run around again in panic, at which point he falls straight down one of the holes on the surface.
  • Sky Moos: large, flying, blue cow-like creatures that appear in The Seed episode, helping the Clangers by eating all the vegetation that is overrunning their planet.
  • Lunar Rover: The rover appeared when the Clangers were building a structure on the surface and one of them noticed an incoming object, they all dived below for safety. Upon impacting, the rover destroyed the structure they were building much to the Clangers' annoyance. They all observed the rover staying just out of its sight then when it began to dig and seemingly eat some of the surface Major Clanger intervenes and stops it from eating any more. It then turns to face him and they attempt to shake hands at which point the Rovers "nose" comes off in Major Clanger's hand, he tries to return it but the Rover drives off, finds a suitable bit of ground then launches itself back off into space. Major Clanger exclaims that it is "Marvellous."

Music and sound effects[edit]

One of the most noted aspects was the use of sound effects, with a score composed by Vernon Elliott under instructions from Postgate. Although the episodes were scripted, most of the music used in the two series was written in translation by Postgate in the form of "musical sketches" or graphs that he drew for Elliott, who converted the drawings into a musical score. The music was then recorded by the two, along with other musicians – dubbed the Clangers Ensemble – in a village hall, where they would often leave the windows open, leading to the sounds of birds outside being heard on some recordings. Much of the score was performed on Elliott's bassoon, and also included harp, clarinet, glockenspiel and bells.

The distinctive whistles made by the Clangers, performed on swanee whistles, have become as identifiable as the characters themselves, much imitated by viewers. The series creators have said that the Clangers, living in vacuum, did not communicate by sound, but rather by a type of nuclear magnetic resonance, which was translated to audible whistles for the human audience. These whistles followed the rhythm and intonation of a script in English. The action was also narrated by a voice-over from Postgate. However, when the series was shown without narration to a group of overseas students, many of them felt that the Clangers were speaking their particular language.

The song "No Smokes" by psychedelic rock band One in a Million was used in the episode "The Visitor".

Swearing[edit]

The non-worded but scored script seemed to allow the Clangers to say almost anything, including swear words in the basic script.[2] As part of the production, Smallfilms had to send the scripts to the BBC, and on reading the script for episode three they asked Postgate to remove some "Clanger-speak", explaining that, although whistled, "you can’t say that on children’s television [...] you just can’t". At the opening of the episode, before a rocket shoots down the Iron Chicken, Major Clanger kicks a door to make it work, and his first words are "Oh, sod it; the bloody thing’s stuck again". Postgate replied that viewers wouldn't recognize what was said, but the BBC replied "But people will know!" The offending Clanger-talk remained in the episode, and after the series became a commercial success, and the Golden Bear Company became responsible for merchandising, the Clanger-talk used for the talking-squeezable model was this phrase.[2]

Episode listing[edit]

Series One (1969–1970)[edit]

# Title Date of Release Summary
1 Flying 16 November 1969 Major Clanger builds a flying machine and Tiny Clanger gets stuck at the top of the cave with a balloon.
2 The Visitor 23 November 1969 The Clangers find a television set.
3 Chicken 30 November 1969 The Clangers build some fireworks, one of which hits a passing Iron Chicken.
4 Music 7 December 1969 Tiny Clanger discovers music.
5 The Intruder 28 December 1969 An exploration rover lands.
6 Visiting Friends 1 January 1970 Tiny Clanger builds a helicopter to visit the Iron Chicken.
7 Fishing 11 January 1970 The Clangers build a music boat.
8 The Top Hat 18 January 1970 The Clangers find some Froglets in a top hat.
9 The Egg 25 January 1970 The Soup Dragon gets broody.
10 The Hoot 1 February 1970 A noisy metal creature is retrieved from space, disturbing the Clangers' peace.
11 The Meeting 8 February 1970 More Hoots arrive, and seem upset that the first Hoot has changed.
12 Treasure 12 February 1970 Tiny Clanger finds a bag of gold coins while fishing in space.
13 Goods 22 February 1970 A machine that makes plastic items is assembled, but cannot be turned off.

Series Two (1971–1972)[edit]

# Title Date of Release Summary
14 The Tablecloth 18 April 1971 The Clangers try various materials to keep some Froglets warm.
15 The Rock Collector 25 April 1971 An astronaut arrives to collect rocks, but falls in the soup when Tiny Clanger startles him.
16 Glow-Honey 2 May 1971 Small Clanger wanders off into some caves, looking for glow-honey, and gets lost.
17 The Teapot 9 May 1971 A teapot fished from space is less useful than the Clangers thought it would be.
18 The Cloud 16 May 1971 The Cloud is invited to Mother Clanger's birthday party, and rains on the Froglets.
19 The Egg 23 May 1971 The Iron Chicken lays an egg, and the Clangers try to look after it.
20 The Noise Machine 30 May 1971 The Clangers assemble a machine they find in space, and the iron chick gets into trouble.
21 The Seed 6 June 1971 The Clangers tend a seed and soon their planet is covered with vegetation.
22 Pride 13 June 1971 Small Clanger finds a mirror, and vanity almost costs him his supper.
23 The Bags 13 October 1972 A Gladstone bag appears on the Clangers' planet – a strange, new life-form.
24 The Blow-Fruit 27 October 1972 Small Clanger and Baby Soup Dragon cause trouble playing with jet-propelled fruit.
25 The Pipe Organ 3 November 1972 When the soup-trolley breaks down, Major Clanger tries to make a soup-pump.
26 The Music of the Spheres 10 November 1972 Tiny Clanger is accidentally hoisted away into space by the Hoot planet.

There was also an election special produced in 1974, entitled "Vote for Froglet". Inspired by what Postgate refers to as the "Winter of Discontent" (a phrase usually used by others to refer to the winter of 1978–79, but in his case to the miners' strike of 1974), and by his recollection of post-war Germany,[2] it was broadcast on the night of the second election in 1974.[5]

Reception[edit]

Although not quite as popular as Bagpuss (which in 1999 was voted in a British television poll the best children's television programme ever made), since the death of Postgate in December 2008 interest has been revived in his work, which is considered to have had a notable influence on British culture throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In 2007, Postgate and Firmin were jointly presented with the Action for Children's Arts J. M. Barrie Award "for a lifetime's achievement in delighting children".[9]

Legacy[edit]

The Soup Dragons, a Scottish alternative rock band of the late 1980s and early 1990s, took their name from the Clangers character.[10]

In the Doctor Who story "The Sea Devils", The Master watches the Clangers episode "The Rock Collector".[11]

A Clanger (as a hand puppet rather than a stop-motion puppet) appears as a member of the "Puppet Government" in The Goodies episode The Goodies Rule - O.K.?.

Other countries[edit]

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation showed the series in 1970 and 1982, entitled Romlingane. It was narrated by Ingebrigt Davik, a popular children's-book author. It was shown on Swedish Television in the late 1960s and 1970s entitled Rymdlarna.

Soundtrack album[edit]

Clangers: Original Television Music
Soundtrack album by Vernon Elliott & Oliver Postgate
Released 2001
Recorded 1969–1971
Genre Classical, Children's music
Length 47:00
Label Trunk Records

In 2001, a selection of the music and sound effects was compiled by Jonny Trunk from 128 musical cues held by Postgate, who contributed act one, "The Iron Chicken and the Music Trees", of A Clangers Opera, with libretto that he had compiled.

Track listing[edit]

  1. Intro Music and Dialogue from "Episode One"
  2. The Start Of "Music"
  3. From "Visiting Friends"
  4. "Clangers running around the planet!"
  5. From "Fishing"
  6. From "Treasure"
  7. "Some Musical Sequences"
  8. From "Goods" (when the machine in the episode "Goods" went into continuous production of plastic objects)
  9. "An End Title"
  10. "Tiny Clangers Radio Hat"
  11. "Some Of Oliver's Special Clangers Effects including the Froglets"
  12. From "The Rock Collector"
  13. From "Glowhoney"
  14. From "Teapot"
  15. From "Cloud"
  16. From "The Seed"
  17. From "The Bags"
  18. From "Blow Fruit"
  19. From "The Pipe Organ"
  20. From "The Music of the Spheres"
  21. "A short, silent interval"
  22. "A Clangers Opera, Act One" "The Iron Chicken and the Music Trees" (compiled by Oliver Postgate)

VHS and DVD releases[edit]

In the early 1990s three videos of the Clangers have been released by BBC Enterprises Ltd.

VHS video title Year of release Episodes
Clangers (BBCV 4374) 2 July 1990 Chicken, Music, Glow-Honey, Fishing, The Top-Hat, Goods
Clangers 2 (BBCV 4625) 3 June 1991 The Egg, The Hoot, The Meeting, Blow Fruit, The Pipe Organ, The Music of the Spheres
The Very Best of the Clangers (BBCV 4954) 5 April 1993 Chicken, Music, Top Hat, Tablecloth, The Rock Collector, The Seed, The Bags

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Clangers to make TV return". BBC News. 15 October 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "An interview with Oliver Postgate". Clive Banks. March 2005. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  3. ^ a b An Interview with Oliver Postage, March 2005
  4. ^ BBC - Cult - Classic TV - The Clangers - Trivia
  5. ^ a b "Classic TV – Clangers Video". BBC. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  6. ^ How the Clangers got political, BBC News, 22 December 2009
  7. ^ "Clangers are back". The Sun. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "Postgate's genius lives on at museum". Canterbury City Council. 16 December 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "Action for Children’s Arts – J. M. Barrie Award". Childrensarts.org.uk. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  10. ^ Buckley, Peter (2003). The rough guide to rock. Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1-84353-105-0. 
  11. ^ "Doctor Who Classic Series Episode Guide – The Sea Devils". BBC. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 

External links[edit]