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Sissinghurst Castle Gardens host major exhibition of Bagpuss, The Clangers and more Smallfilms' work with V&A

By Angela Cole

Step into Sissinghurst Castle this winter and you’ll be transported back to your childhood.

Children’s TV favourites from a generation (or so) ago are going on display in a special exhibition that has its roots firmly planted in Kent.

The Clangers, Bagpuss and other well known characters including Noggin the Nog, who were all created in a disused cowshed near Canterbury, are part of the Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition, organised by the V&A Museum of Childhood.

The Clangers and Bagpuss exhibition with the VA Museum of Childhood will be at Sissinghurst Picture ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Clangers and Bagpuss exhibition with the V&A Museum of Childhood will be at Sissinghurst Picture: ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The touring retrospective comes to the National Trust property in Sissinghurst as its only stop in Kent.

Telling the story of much-loved family TV favourites from the 1960s and 1970s, it will feature Bagpuss, the old fat furry cat, the mysterious Soup Dragon from The Clangers and adventurous Noggin the Nog as well as taking visitors behind the scenes to reveal some of the secrets behind such programmes as Ivor the Engine and Pogles’ Wood. The characters came from the creative genius of puppeteers Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate, who worked together on animated children’s TV programmes from 1959 until the 1980s through their company, Smallfilms, at Blean, shaping the childhood memories of millions.

The exhibition will be at Sissinghurst Castle Garden picture National Trust

The exhibition will be at Sissinghurst Castle Garden picture: National Trust

Peter’s connection to Sissinghurst also extends back through the decades, as the illustrator of some of Vita Sackville-West’s poetry too.

As well as the puppets, the exhibition will feature original sets and filming equipment. It will tell the story of the characters’ development, uncovering how the pair established their stop-frame animation techniques.

Bagpuss is coming to Sissinghurst Picture ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bagpuss is coming to Sissinghurst Picture: ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From Watch with Mother in the 1960s to 21st century CBeebies, Smallfilm’s endearing characters and captivating imaginary worlds have been staples of children’s television across the globe. The Clangers even returned to the small screen in 2015 to be enjoyed by a new generation.

The exhibition also features archive footage – some of it not seen for decades – sets and storyboards, photos, scripts and filming equipment, all set in a playful recreation of Oliver and Peter’s film studio.

Curator Alice Sage said: “We all hold a special place in our hearts for one or more of Smallfilms’ creations. Beyond telling marvellous, captivating stories, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s work encouraged children to look at the world with curiosity.

Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate Picture Courtesy of Smallfilms ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate Picture: Courtesy of Smallfilms ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“Oliver’s distinctive voice as narrator never spoke down to the young audience and they weren’t afraid of dealing with complex ideas in a magical way. The stories have stood the test of time.

“As well as looking at how these programmes were made, we also hope to capture the spirit of these timeless gems.”

Visitors can see Oliver’s stop-motion film camera, adapted using a small motor and bits of Meccano, learn why Bagpuss changed from orange to pink, and find out what Major Clanger was really saying from original shooting scripts.

They can also try their hand at animating the characters using current technology.

THE HISTORY

Long before the advent of CGI, Smallfilms used detailed craftsmanship and bold ingenuity to create their unique vision.

Working in a barn near Canterbury, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate created characters such as The Clangers, who spoke in whistles, ate green gunge supplied by the Soup Dragon and were loved by millions. The mouse-like Clangers lived on a small blue planet which had a surface peppered with holes topped with metal dustbin lids. The lids flipped open with a clang to reveal steps down to their home beneath the surface.

The original Clangers series was filmed near Canterbury and first broadcast in 1969

The original Clangers series was filmed near Canterbury and first broadcast in 1969

Other creations by the pair include Ivor the Engine, Pogles’ Wood, Bagpuss and Noggin the Nog. Oliver Postgate died in 2008, but his son Dan, who lives in Whitstable, was involved in the new TV series of The Clangers along with Peter Firmin.

DETAILS

The Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition, organised by the V&A Museum of Childhood will be at Sissinghurst Castle, near Cranbrook, from Saturday, November 11 to Sunday, February 4. It will be open from 11am to 4pm but closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The exhibition is free, normal admission charges apply. For more details visit nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle.

One of The Clangers, who will be at Sissinghurst Castle Garden Picture ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of The Clangers, who will be at Sissinghurst Castle Garden Picture: ©Smallfilms, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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