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Bagpuss

Bagpuss is a popular 1974 UK children's television series, made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate through their company Smallfilms. The title character is "an old, saggy cloth cat, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams" The series is fondly and widely remembered, although only 13 episodes were made.

Format

Each programme would begin the same way: through a series of sepia photographs, the viewer is told of a little girl named Emily (played by Emily Firmin, the daughter of illustrator Peter Firmin), who owned a shop. However, it did not sell anything; instead, Emily would find lost and broken things and display them in the window of the shop, so their owners could one day come and collect them. She would leave the object in front of her favourite stuffed toy — the large, saggy, pink and white striped cat named Bagpuss. She would then recite a verse:

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old Fat Furry Catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing|20px|20px

When Emily had left, Bagpuss would wake up. The programme shifted from sepia to colour stop motion film, and various toys in the shop would also come to life: Gabriel the toad and a rag doll called Madeleine. The wooden woodpecker bookend became the drily academic Professor Yaffle (distantly based, it is said, on the philosopher Bertrand Russell), while the mice carved on the side of the "mouse organ" (a small mechanical pipe organ which played rolls of music) woke up and scurried around, singing in high-pitched voices. Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner provided the voices of Madeleine and Gabriel respectively, and put together and performed all the proper songs. All the other voices (including the narrator and one out-of-tune mouse) were provided by Oliver Postgate, who also wrote the stories.

The toys would discuss what the new object was; someone (usually Madeleine) would tell a story related to the object (shown in an animated thought-bubble over Bagpuss's head), often with a song, which would be accompanied by Gabriel on the banjo (which often sounded a lot more like a guitar), and then the mice, singing in high pitched squeaky harmony as they worked, would mend the broken object. The newly mended thing would then be put in the shop window, so that whoever had lost it would see it as they went past, and could come in and claim it. Then Bagpuss would start yawning again, and as he fell asleep the colour faded to sepia and they all became toys again.

Episodes

The titles of the thirteen episodes each refer in some way to the object Emily found.

Episode Title Original airdate Summary
1 The Ship in a Bottle 12 February 1974 "Where would it sail to?"
2 The Owls of Athens 19 February 1974 A dirty rag that reveals a picture once cleaned
3 The Frog Princess 26 February 1974 Assorted jewels, which initially are thought to represent a cat and mouse but which Gabriel decides were the crown jewels of a frog princess
4 The Ballet Shoe 5 March 1974 Put to inventive use by the mice, and the subject of a very silly song about its possible use as a rowing boat
5 The Hamish 12 March 1974 A tartan porcupine pincushion, and a legend of a small, soft creature from Scotland
6 The Wise Man 19 March 1974 A broken figurine of a Chinaman (the Wise Man of Ling-Po, Yaffle explains) and a turtle
7 The Elephant 26 March 1974 An elephant missing its ears
8 The Mouse Mill 2 April 1974 A wooden toy mill demonstrated by the mice to make chocolate biscuits out of butterbeans and breadcrumbs. This turns out to be a mischievous fraud.
9 The Giant 9 April 1974 A statuette, and a lesson about how sizes are relative
10 Old Man's Beard 16 April 1974 A tangly plant (Clematis vitalba seeding)
11 The Fiddle 23 April 1974 A fiddle which plays itself; and a leprechaun
12 Flying 30 April 1974 A basket which the mice attempt to turn into a flying machine
13 Uncle Feedle 7 May 1974 A piece of cloth, destined to be a house for a rag doll

Production

The programmes were made using stop-frame animation. Bagpuss is an actual cloth cat, but was not intended to be such an electric pink. "It should have been a ginger marmalade cat but the company in Folkestone dyeing the material made a mistake and it turned out pink and cream. It was the best thing that ever happened", said Firmin. Bagpuss has now retired to the Rupert Bear Museum in Canterbury, UK (part of the Museum of Canterbury), together with Emily's shop window.

Most of the stories and songs used in the series are based on folk songs and fairy tales from around the world. The round sung by the mice (starting with the words "We will fix it...") is to the tune of "Sumer is icumin in", dating from the Middle Ages.

Recognition

In 1987 the University of Kent at Canterbury awarded an honorary degree to Oliver Postgate. He stated that the degree was really intended for Bagpuss, who was subsequently displayed in academic dress.

In 1999 the series came first place in a BBC poll selecting the nation's favourite children's show. It also came fourth in the 2001 Channel 4 poll The 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows.

In 2002 a stage show of Bagpuss songs toured UK folk festivals and theatres with original singers Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, along with Kerr's daughter Nancy and her husband, James Fagan.

References

External links

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