Remaking the Clangers: in praise of the originals

I was saddened this morning to hear that the BBC had just commissioned a hi-tech remake of one of the iconic children’s TV programmes, The Clangers.  I was brought up on the Clangers and in turn, when my daughter was young, watched them with her.  The programmes, for me, remain one of the BBC’s finest achievements and the fact that someone there sees the need to remake them, citing the lack of technical sophistication of the originals, deeply saddens me.

The sneer in the opening paragraph of that Guardian piece says it all; the references to the clipped narration, the need to make allowances for the lack of technical sophistication.  How desperately it misses the point, and fails to understand what made these films – and the man who made them, Oliver Postgate – socialist, pacificst, and green – so remarkable.

You really need to watch the Clangers to understand what’s so important about them.  This was above all quiet children’s TV – a simple narration, gentle music, and time and space for children to absorb the narrative at their own pace – a far cry from the content-free noise and visual assault of many children’s cartoon.  And listen to the narration – there is no talking-down, and listen to the sophistication of the language.  Postgate talks to children as equals but raises expectations rather than dumbing-down.

And of course the message.  The Clangers live on a planet they care for, and are quiet, peaceful creatures whose main pursuits in life were food, music and intellectual curiosity. The children, Small and Tiny, live in a world of imagination; it’s still there in the bumbling projects of paterfamilias Major Clanger.  The Clangers hold their planet in common and there is no ownership, no war, no competitive sport, no SATS, no exams, no shouting, no noise.  It’s a world of time and space in which children are invited to slow down, reflect and savour.  It promotes quietness and calm.

And for all those reasons there is no need to remake the Clangers in a modern way.  It’s timeless, and the BBC should keep showing the originals for as long as the concept of public service broadcasting has any meaning at all.

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