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Warm, nostalgic, but still wonderful
on 26 June 2009
Childhood has a funny habit of playing tricks on the adult mind. Mars Bars and Wagon Wheels were always bigger, it never rained in the summer holidays and the TV was so much better. As one gets older of course, the realisation dawns that summers were not constantly bathed in sun (except maybe 1976) and that the sweets weren't as big as you recalled (and even smaller now).
Some things don't change, however, and this is one of them. The DVD contains the 24 colour episodes that Oliver Postgate's Smallfilms made in the 1970's and were shown on the BBC, usually around 5.30 just before the news in the spot The Magic Roundabout had on occasion. There aren't any extras, or the original black and white episodes. To be honest there is no need for them.
The animation is simple (some might even say rather primitive and simplistic) and others yet may blanch at the rather stereotypical view of the Welsh, but they shouldn't because each character is imbued with warmth and real fondness (even the slightly pompous Dai Station is shown to have softer side from time to time) and each story is a beautifully drawn and affectionate little vignette looking back to a time that has long past and perhaps never really existed at all. The stories are accompanied mostly by the sound of Postgate's own melifluous narration, though other voices do creep in on occasion. The episodes range in length from the more usual 5 minutes to around 20 for some of the longer ones.
Step back a little though, and beneath the cuddly exterior is a faint hint of gentle subversion. The subtext is always about the value of community and friends, and supporting the underdog against authority. Some examples of these ideas include the episode where the railway is to be sold, or when Idris the dragon arrives in Llaniog. Best of all is the brief pen portrait of Jones allowing a fox to escape some noticeably chinless hunters. Postgate introduces this idea of standing up for the underdog and of maintaining a type of kind decency all through his work and Ivor the Engine does it very well.
The other little trick childhood plays is that you always think there are more than the 24 episodes collected here. Postgate made a habit of this too. But no matter, the episodes are delightful little pieces of art and it's nice to have them collected in one place. The fact that they are priced so low makes this an utter steal of a purchase.