Each episode begins with a shot of a musical box which rotates while playing a tune. It is accompanied by the following narration:
"Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today?"
The lid of the box then opens and the puppet character that is central to the particular episode emerges. After a brief introduction, the background appears and the story begins.
The series is set in the small, picturesque (and fictitious) village of Camberwick Green, Trumptonshire, which is inhabited by such characters as Police Constable McGarry (Number 452), Mickey Murphy the baker, Dr Mopp (who makes house calls in his vintage car), and the town gossip, Mrs Honeyman, who is always seen carrying her baby. Just outside the village lives Jonathan Bell, owner of a "modern mechanical farm", who has a friendly rivalry with Windy Miller, owner of a clanking old windmill and a firm believer in old-fashioned farming methods. Mr Dagenham, a travelling salesman who drives an open-topped convertible occasionally appears, as do the staff and cadets of Pippin Fort, a nearby military academy run by Captain Snort and Sgt Major Grout. Almost all the characters have their own theme songs. There is one other character who never appears in the stories: an unnamed clown or pierrot who turns a roller caption to display the show's closing credits.
Each week the villagers undergo such domestic crises as a shortage of flour; a swarm of bees; a water shortage; and rumours of an unwanted electrical sub-station being built in the village. At the end of each episode the narrator bids farewell to the puppet character who was seen at the beginning, and the latter disappears back into the musical box.
Camberwick Green is notable for having no overt fantasy content (apart from the musical box). For the most part it is simply about ordinary people doing everyday things, and perhaps for that reason it has remained popular to this day. Unfortunately the original masters seem to have been lost; most of the surviving episodes tend to suffer from scratched, wobbly or grainy picture quality and a muffled soundtrack. Camberwick Green is available on DVD along with Trumpton and Chigley, its two sequels in a similar vein.
The character Windy Miller and his famous windmill appeared in September 2005 along with some other Camberwick Green characters in commercials for Quaker Oats on UK television. The puppets and setting are all re-creations because Murray destroyed the originals in the 1970s. The original narrator, Brian Cant, auditioned to do the voiceover for the commercials, before the job was instead given to Charlie Higson.
Episode five of the second series of the BBC's Life on Mars features a recreation of the opening of Camberwick Green, with a puppet of the show's main character, Sam Tyler (John Simm), emerging from the musical box and despairing over his colleague, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), who can be seen in puppet form "kicking in a nonce" at the end. This later leads to Sam to threaten Hunt, telling him to "Stay out of Camberwick Green!". It emerges that Sam is tripping after being accidentally overdosed in his hospital bed. Again the voice-over was not supplied by Brian Cant, but is delivered in a similar style. It differs from the original as follows:
"This is a box, a magical box, playing a magical tune. But inside this box there lies a surprise. Do you know who's in it today?"
The narration was provided by Brian Little, the co-founder of Hot Animation, the company that created the sequence. His recording was supposed to be a temporary guide track to help the animators time the shots, but the producers of Life on Mars were content to retain it for the final version. The one-minute sequence was designed and animated by Paul Couvela, the supervising animator of Bob the Builder.
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