A Clanger outside Victoria Quarter in Leeds
|Created by||Oliver Postgate|
|Narrated by||Oliver Postgate|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||26 (plus one special)|
|Running time||10 minutes per episode|
|Original run||16 November 1969– 10 October 1974|
Clangers is a popular British stop-motion animated children's television series of short stories about a family of mouse-like creatures who live on, and in, a small blue planet (quite similar to, but not intended to be, the Moon). They speak in whistles, and eat green soup supplied by the Soup Dragon. The programmes were originally broadcast by the BBC from 1969–1972.
The series was made by Smallfilms, the company set up by Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator). Firmin designed the characters, and his wife knitted and "dressed" the Clangers. Music – which was often part of the story – was by Vernon Elliott.
The Clangers originated in a series of children's books which originated from another Smallfilms production, Noggin the Nog. Publishers Kay and Ward created a series of books from each of the Noggin the Nog episodes, which were then extended into the series called Noggin First Reader, a series aimed at aiding initial reading skills.
In the 1967 published story Noggin and the Moonmouse, a new horse-trough was put up in the middle of the town in the North-Lands. A spacecraft hurtled down and splashed into it. The top unscrewed, and out came a largish, mouse-like character in a duffel coat, who wanted fuel for his spacecraft. He showed Nooka and the children that what he needed was vinegar and soap-flakes. So, they filled up the various tanks in this little spherical ship, which then "took off in a dreadful cloud smelling of vinegar and soap-flakes, covering the town with bubbles".
In 1969, the BBC asked Smallfilms to produce a new series for colour television, but did not specify any particular storyline. Postgate concluded that because space exploration was particularly topical, the new series should be set in space. He adapted the Moonmouse from the earlier story, removing its tail "because it kept getting into the soup". The Clangers looked similar to mice, anteaters and, from their pink colour, pigs. They wore clothes reminiscent of Roman armour, "against the space debris that kept falling onto the planet, lost from other places, such as television sets and bits of an Iron Chicken", and they spoke in whistles.
Clangers was described by Postgate as basically a family set in space. The Clangers were small creatures living in peace and harmony on – and inside – a small, hollow planet, far, far away, nourished by Blue String Pudding, and Green Soup harvested from the planet's volcanic soup wells by the Soup Dragon. The word "Clanger" is said to derive from the sound made by opening the metal cover of one of the creatures' crater-like burrows, each of which was covered with a door made from an old metal dustbin lid, to protect against meteorite impacts. In each episode, there would be some problem to solve, something invented or discovered, or perhaps some new visitor to meet. Music Trees, with note-shaped fruit, grew on the planet's surface, and music would often be an integral feature in the simple but amusing plots. In the "Fishing" episode, one of the Cheese Trees provided a cylindrical five-line staff for notes taken from the Music Trees.
Oliver Postgate provided the narration throughout each episode, for the most part in a soft, melodic voice, describing and accounting for the curious antics of the little blue planet's knitted pink inhabitants, and providing a "translation", as it were, for much of their whistled dialogue.
The first episode was broadcast by the BBC on 16 November 1969, and a further twenty-five episodes were made. The twenty-sixth episode was broadcast on 10 November 1972. The final Clangers programme, however, was a four-minute election special, broadcast on 10 October 1974. This special episode has not been seen since its original broadcast, although it still exists in the BBC archive. A short clip is available at the BBC's website.
The principal characters are the Clangers themselves, the females wear dresses and the males wear brass armour:
Three other Clangers, two males with different coloured hair and a female wearing blue are seen, these are assumed to be Uncle, Granddad and Auntie Clanger
These appeared in only one or two episodes each.
One of the most noted aspects of the programme was its use of sound effects, and a score composed by Vernon Elliott under instructions from Postgate. Although the episodes were scripted, most of the music used over the two series was written in translation by Postgate in the form of "musical sketches" or graphs that he drew for Elliott, who would then convert the drawings into a musical score. The music would then be recorded by the two, along with other musicians – dubbed the Clangers Ensemble – in a village hall, where they would often leave the windows open, leading to the sounds of birds outside being heard on some recordings. Much of the score was performed on Elliott's bassoon, and also included the sounds of harps, clarinet, glockenspiel and bells.
The distinctive whistles made by the Clangers, performed on swanee whistles, have become as identifiable as the characters themselves, and are much imitated amongst viewers of the programme. The series creators have said that the Clangers, living in vacuum, did not actually communicate by sound, but rather by a type of nuclear magnetic resonance, which was translated to audible whistles for the human audience. These whistles followed the rhythm and intonation of a script in the English language. The action was also narrated by a separate voice-over from Postgate. However, when the series was shown without narration to a group of overseas students, many of them felt that the Clangers were speaking their particular language.
The non-worded but scored script seemed to allow the Clangers to say almost anything, including swear words in the basic script. As part of the production, Smallfilms had to send the scripts to the BBC, but on reading the script for episode three, they asked Oliver Postgate to remove some "Clanger-speak", explaining that although whistled, "you can’t say that on children’s television [...] you just can’t". At the opening of the episode, before a rocket shoots down the Iron Chicken, Major Clanger kicks a door to make it work, and his first words are "Oh, sod it; the bloody thing’s stuck again". Postgate replied that viewers wouldn't recognize what was said, but the BBC replied "But people will know!" The offending Clanger-talk remained in the episode, and after the series became a commercial success, and the Golden Bear Company became responsible for merchandising, the Clanger-talk used for the talking-squeezable model was the very same phrase.
|#||Title||Date of Release||Summary|
|1||Flying||November 16, 1969||Major Clanger builds a flying machine and Tiny Clanger gets stuck at the top of the cave with a balloon.|
|2||The Visitor||November 23, 1969||The Clangers find a television set.|
|3||Chicken||November 30, 1969||The Clangers build some fireworks, one of which hits a passing Iron Chicken.|
|4||Music||December 7, 1969||Tiny Clanger discovers music.|
|5||The Intruder||December 28, 1969||An exploration rover lands.|
|6||Visiting Friends||January 1, 1970||Tiny Clanger builds a helicopter to visit the Iron Chicken.|
|7||Fishing||January 11, 1970||The Clangers build a music boat.|
|8||The Top Hat||January 18, 1970||The Clangers find some Froglets in a top hat.|
|9||The Egg||January 25, 1970||The Soup Dragon gets broody.|
|10||The Hoot||February 1, 1970||A noisy metal creature is retrieved from space, disturbing the Clangers' peace.|
|11||The Meeting||February 8, 1970||More Hoots arrive, and seem upset that the first Hoot has changed.|
|12||Treasure||February 12, 1970||Tiny Clanger finds a bag of gold coins while fishing in space.|
|13||Goods||February 22, 1970||A machine that makes plastic items is assembled, but cannot be turned off.|
|#||Title||Date of Release||Summary|
|14||The Tablecloth||April 18, 1971||The Clangers try various materials to keep some Froglets warm.|
|15||The Rock Collector||April 25, 1971||An astronaut arrives to collect rocks, but falls in the soup when Tiny Clanger startles him.|
|16||Glow-Honey||May 2, 1971||Small Clanger wanders off into some caves, looking for glow-honey, and gets lost.|
|17||The Teapot||May 9, 1971||A teapot fished from space is less useful than the Clangers thought it would be.|
|18||The Cloud||May 16, 1971||The Cloud is invited to Mother Clanger's birthday party, and rains on the Froglets.|
|19||The Egg||May 23, 1971||The Iron Chicken lays an egg, and the Clangers try to look after it.|
|20||The Noise Machine||May 30, 1971||The Clangers assemble a machine they find in space, and the iron chick gets into trouble.|
|21||The Seed||June 6, 1971||The Clangers tend a seed and soon their planet is covered with vegetation.|
|22||Pride||June 13, 1971||Small Clanger finds a mirror, and vanity almost costs him his supper.|
|23||Bags||October 13, 1972||A Gladstone bag appears on the Clangers' planet – a strange, new life-form.|
|24||The Blow-Fruit||October 27, 1972||Small Clanger and Baby Soup Dragon cause trouble playing with jet-propelled fruit.|
|25||Pipe Organ||November 3, 1972||When the soup-trolley breaks down, Major Clanger tries to make a soup-pump.|
|26||The Music of the Spheres||November 10, 1972||Tiny Clanger is accidentally hoisted away into space by the Hoot planet.|
There was also an election special produced in 1974, entitled "Vote for Froglet". Inspired by what Postgate refers to as the "Winter of Discontent" (a phrase usually used by others to refer to the winter of 1978–79), and by his recollection of post-war Germany, the episode was broadcast on the night of the second election in 1974.
Although not quite as popular as Bagpuss (which in 1999 was voted, in a British television poll, the best children's television programme ever made), Clangers was watched and loved by millions of British pre-teen children in the early days of colour television, and is remembered with affection by many who are now in their late forties or early fifties. Since the death of Oliver Postgate in December 2008, interest has been revived in his work, which is considered to have had a notable influence on British culture throughout the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. In 2007, Postgate and Firmin were jointly presented with the Action for Children's Arts J. M. Barrie Award "for a lifetime's achievement in delighting children".
The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation showed the series in 1970, and again in 1982. It was narrated by Ingebrigt Davik, a popular children's-book author, and the title for the series was Romlingane. It was also shown on Swedish Television in the late sixties and early seventies under the Swedish name Rymdlarna.
|Clangers: Original Television Music|
|Soundtrack album by Vernon Elliott & Oliver Postgate|
|Genre||Classical, Children's music|
In 2001, a selection of the series' music and sound effects was compiled by Jonny Trunk from 128 musical cues held by Oliver Postgate, who contributed act one, "The Iron Chicken and the Music Trees", of A Clangers Opera, with libretto, which he had personally compiled.
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