Bagpuss – 1974
Perhaps one of the most fondly remembered children’s television programs, Bagpuss came out top in a 1999 BBC poll to find the UK’s favourite children’s TV program.
It was the brainchild of Oliver Postgate, the man behind many children’s classics. Surprisingly there were only ever thirteen episodes ever made and these were originally screened in 1974. The series enjoyed regular repeat showings for thirteen years.
When Postgate had the original idea for Bagpuss he imagined him, to be a retired Indian Army cat who entertained children in the hospital with his “visible” thoughts, appearing in a “thinks bubble” above his head.
However, when asked to develop the character for a BBC program, Postgate placed him in a shop with other characters and his “thinks bubble” became a way to illustrate the stories and mend or explore the objects that Emily had found.
Each program would begin with a series of old fashioned photographs as the narrator tells us of a little girl named Emily, who owned a shop. Emily would find lost and broken things and display them in the window, so their owners could one day come and collect them; the shop did not sell anything. She would leave the object in front of her favourite stuffed toy – the large, saggy, pink and white striped cat named Bagpuss. The narrator tells us of a verse she recites:
Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old Fat Furry Catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing
When Emily leaves Bagpuss wakes up. At this point the program shifts from the old photos to colour stop motion film. As Bagpuss awoke so did all the other toys in the shop.
The toys would discuss what the new object was; someone (usually Madeleine) would tell a story related to the object (shown in an animated thought bubble over Bagpuss’s head), often with a song, which would be accompanied by Gabriel on the banjo (which often sounded a lot more like a guitar), and then the mice, singing in high-pitched squeaky harmony as they worked, would mend the broken object. The newly mended thing would then be put in the shop window, so that whoever had lost it would see it as they went past, and could come in and claim it. Then Bagpuss would start yawning again, and as he fell asleep the narrator would speak as the colour faded to sepia and they all became toys again.
And so their work was done.
Bagpuss gave a big yawn and settled down to sleep
And, of course, when Bagpuss goes to sleep,
All his friends go to sleep too.
The mice were ornaments on the mouse organ.
Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls.
Professor Yaffle was a carved, wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker.
Even Bagpuss himself, once he was asleep, was just an old, saggy cloth cat,
Baggy, and a bit loose at the seams,
But Emily loved him
Gabriel the toad
Madeleine the rag doll
Professor Yaffle the wooden woodpecker
all the above characters were voiced by Oliver Postgate
Emily – Emily Firmin
Written By: Oliver Postgate
Narrated By: Oliver Postgate
Illustrated By: Peter Firmin
Original Transmission Dates: 12th February 1974 – 7th May 1974