UK

Bagpuss 50th anniversary: ‘BBC was mistaken about show’s lack of appeal’

There is hope for a radio play about some of the Bagpuss characters, which Stephen Fry has shown interest in doing.

Bagpuss turns 50 this year
Bagpuss turns 50 this year Bagpuss turns 50 this year

The family of the creators of the popular children’s show Bagpuss have said the BBC “were mistaken” about the show’s enduring appeal as the cat character celebrates 50 years.

Artist and puppeteer Peter Firmin and animator Oliver Postgate, who also made Clangers through their Kent-based production company Smallfilms, only put out 13 episodes of the series about the “saggy old cloth cat” on the BBC, which began on February 12 1974.

However, the show, which is set in a shop that does not sell anything and features the characters Professor Yaffle the woodpecker; Gabriel the toad; rag doll Madeleine and various mice, has continued to be popular.

It has been re-broadcast multiple times and in 1999, a BBC poll voted it as the all-time favourite children’s programme.

Daniel Postgate, the son of creator Oliver Postgate, said that a lot was packed into each episode
Launch of the new Clangers series Daniel Postgate, the son of creator Oliver Postgate, said that a lot was packed into each episode (Hannah McKay/PA)

Daniel Postgate, the son of Oliver, told the PA news agency that the story of “the big, cuddly cat” meant “packing a lot into one episode”.

The writer, who helped bring back the Clangers to TV screens in 2015 when the show was revived on CBeebies, also said: “Peter was very varied in it, he could do all these different things, as well, different styles.

“I mean, he did most of it but that was the idea to keep it quite varied and… so each episode would have new characters, new adventures, you know, it was demanding.

Oliver Postgate with Bagpuss
Oldie of the Year Oliver Postgate with Bagpuss (William Conran/PA)

“And my dad always said it was the most demanding of the (shows that) they did because they had to have new characters each time, and that demanded a lot of imagination and work.”

Mr Postgate, whose father died at the age of 83 in December 2008, said he thinks the show was axed as the BBC thought it was “sort of, out of date”, even though he thinks that the creators were “quite keen to carry on” for another series.

“They (the BBC) were moving into new sort of zoomy sugary (children’s) programmes,” he said.

“So the BBC kind of moved on, seems to me that they probably weren’t correct about what children wanted.

“I think as the programmes have endured so long, it seems to be (that) the BBC might be mistaken about the lack of appeal.”

Bagpuss with Emily
Bagpuss with Emily Bagpuss with Emily

He said his father also wanted to make a series called The Babushkas, about women secretly being in charge of Soviet Russia, which did not get made.

Mr Postgate hopes that a radio play, which he is working on and focuses on a grown-up Emily, the little girl who owns the shop in Bagpuss, will be made.

He said: “I’ve got a few people, who are actors who are interested in being involved, so Stephen Fry was interested and Simon Callow, so hopefully, touch wood, that might come off in one form or another, if not on the radio, there may be as a podcast, but time will tell on that one.”

The real-life girl, Emily Firmin, whose father died at the age of 89 in July 2018, told PA she is “used” to being seen as the inspiration for the character now.

She said: “I think the mistake that Oliver and my father Peter made was giving Emily my name… I would have had a different life if they had named her something else.

“But always obviously (being) linked to it, which is an honour. I mean, what a fantastic memory to have done something like that.”

Bagpuss
Bagpuss Bagpuss

Ms Firmin, a papier-mache artist, says she does not think either her or Mr Postgate “have used the fact that we come from that background to promote our own work”.

“Me and Dan have grown up with a very strange upbringing and that goes hand in hand with being a little bit famous,” she also said.

She said she would want to say yes “straight away” for a revival of Bagpuss and agreed with Mr Postgate this would go ahead if it “kept the charm and the flavour of the original programmes”.

Mr Postgate joked that he will use Hollywood star and singer Jennifer Lopez, who is co-producing a film about cartoon character Bob The Builder, as inspiration to get the classic series remade, hopefully with the help of American musicians Taylor Swift or Mariah Carey.

“It’s the idea of tampering with something and turning it into something else that I can’t see the point of… but yeah, bring it on, Bagpuss the motion picture,” he added.

Bagpuss products, such as 50ps, stamps, plush toys and crafts, have been released for the 50th anniversary with information via coolabi.com.

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury, Kent, which houses Smallfilms characters, has also been celebrating the cat since the weekend.