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Sorry to say I'm disappointed
on 31 January 2010
Oliver Postgate's characters surrounded me as a child during the 1970s, and even today I still drink my tea from a mug decorated with a picture of The Clangers, and in a room close to where I am now there are two soft toy versions of the Moon-dwellers, and a cuddly Bagpuss. When I look at these I hear Oliver Postgate's unmistakable voice and smile, taken back to my younger days, seeing myself gazing at the television screen, a look of wonderment on my face.
This book, recently reissued, looks beautiful. The cover - embossed and printed rather than wrapped in a paper jacket - is wonderful, characters from his animations appearing both on the outside and on the interior, and the few quotes from the likes of Stephen Fry (who also contributes a forword) and Charlie Brooker are understandably lovely. Within the manuscript as well there are two short sections of photographs, and each chapter begins with a delightful black and white illustration by Peter Firmin, with whom Postgate worked on all of those classic shows. It's a lovely book to look at.
The text, however, came as a disappointment to me. I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies, but much of this book was frankly rather tedious. Imagine that it is split into three sections. The first, a shade over two hundred pages long, covers Postgate's childhood, the war years where he was a conscientious objector, and then his first steps into the arts where he appeared in a number of stage shows. This is fitfully amusing and entertaining but a little more editing wouldn't have gone amiss as it begins to drag after a while. After this, the second section is just under one hundred pages, and this is the part most readers will want to read: Smallfilms. Here Postgate tells the story of Pingwings, Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog, and the Clangers. It's wonderful to read of their creation from their creator himself, but it all feels rather rushed, as though he'd tired of the characters and didn't really want to write about them, which is a shame. Some other reviewers have commented that Bagpuss - surely his greatest creation - is dashed off in around ten pages, and this is very accurate. Once Bagpuss has passed us by, the book enters its final section, where Postgate spends most of his time talking about solar power, nuclear disarmament, and how his outlook on life and death changed following a botched operation. This final section, for me the least interesting part of the book, continues for just over one hundred and twenty pages and frankly becomes a drag, many of his opinions coming across as grumbles about the BBC and modern life, such as a brief rant about the film "Crash".
Postgate's voice comes across loud and clear from time to time, especially during the central section where he sometimes includes a section of dialogue from one of his films, but for me the book was far too long and rambling in places, in need of editing or maybe even the work of a biographer, writing the story from the outside looking in. It's a huge shame, because I was so looking forward to reading this book, being such a fan of Postgate's films over the years. If you want a rather untidy biography of the man rather than the work, then this book is for you, but if you want a book which focuses on the background to and the making of the likes of Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, and The Clangers, I'm sorry to say that this isn't it.