Bagpuss was first shown in 1974 — the story of a magical cloth cat that came alive. Every episode a young girl, Emily, would wake up Bagpuss and give the cat a mysterious object she had found. Bagpuss would then raise his friends from their slumbers to come and help: Professor Yaffle, Gabriel the Toad and the mice from the Mouse Organ. Together they would identify the item and set about repairing it.
Each episode was 10 minutes long and only 26 were ever made. That’s just four and a half hours of programming. The episodes were repeated until the late 1980s and therefore became the background to our lives, seeping into our collective conscious until the characters felt like close family members.
This is how every episode of Bagpuss began: “Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a little girl and her name was Emily. And she had a shop. It was rather an unusual shop, because it didn’t sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost, and Emily had found and brought home to Bagpuss. Emily’s cat Bagpuss — the most important, most beautiful, the most magical saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world.”
What made this introduction so beguiling was the narrator, Oliver Postgate. He had a warm and comforting voice that made us feel at home and understood. A vocal blanket that wrapped around us and held us in place. He became the voice for a generation of children growing up in difficult times. Postgate was also a man of many talents — a multipotentialite. He was the show’s writer and animator, as well as its narrator.
Bagpuss is fondly remembered by generations of people. In 1999, it came first in a BBC poll of the nation’s favourite children’s programmes, when more than 40,000 viewers cast their votes and chose Bagpuss, the striped cat.
If you know Bagpuss, then you are probably familiar with The Clangers, the stop-motion animated series also narrated by Oliver Postgate. The Clangers were a family of mouse-like creatures who lived on a moon, homes inside the craters with saucepan lids for doors. They spoke in a language of musical whistles and ate green soup, sourced from soup wells by the Soup Dragon. Blue string was also on the menu, along with entertainment from the Iron Chicken, who went about collecting musical notes from trees.
Crazy stuff of course, but there was something deeper in this strange and fantastical world. The Clangers launched soon after the Moon Landing, when humanity was looking to the stars and all things extra-terrestrial filled our imaginations. This is how each episode began:
“This is the planet Earth — our planet. It is a small planet, wrapped in clouds, but for us it is a very important place — it is home. But supposing we look away from the Earth and travel in our imaginations across the vast starry stretches of outer space? Then we can imagine other stars, stranger stars by far, than ever shone in our night’s sky. And planets too. This calm, serene orb sailing majestically among the myriad stars of the firmament. Perhaps this star too is home for somebody? Can we imagine the sort of people that might live on a star like this? Let us go very close. Let us look and listen very carefully. And perhaps we shall see and hear.”
A calm, serene orb sailing majestically among the myriad stars of the firmament… heady stuff for a five-year old. How many astronomers, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists and writers were inspired by Oliver Postgate’s gentle wisdom each week? Encouraged to travel in their imaginations across the vast starry stretches of outer space, to reflect on our society and our place in the cosmos. I was glued to it and maybe it’s why I studied psychology. Maybe it’s why I’m also drawn to philosophy, anthropology, astronomy and space.
Bagpuss and The Clangers were ahead of their time. If The Clangers encouraged us to think about our small planet wrapped in clouds, then Bagpuss entreated us to look after the things on our planet. Emily’s shop was a home for lost property. A place of rest and repair — cleaning, mending, making new again. Once restored, the item would be placed in the shop’s window so its owner could find it and reclaim it.
What these stories encouraged us to do was to be careful with our things. To keep hold of our precious possessions. To mend and re-use when possible. To live a sustainable life. This is what the mice from Bagpuss sang in their Mending Song:
“We will find it, we will bind it,
We will stick it with glue, glue, glue
We will stickle it
Every little bit of it
We will fix it like new, new, new.”
I think this song doesn’t just work for things. It can work for people too. The last year has been tough for us all. It’s understandable that we may be feeling troubled, worn out or blue. But we can invoke the “stickle it” philosophy. Rebuild, repair, reclaim ourselves, so that in a while, we too might feel like new, new, new.
(This blog is dedicated to an HR Director colleague of mine. Once in a while he could be heard singing the Mending Song in falsetto in his office when he needed a lift. Happy days).
This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.
Why not also take a look at my latest venture: guest writer on The Room Psy.
Photos copyright of Charlotte Sheridan