On this day (3rd January)

Peter the Postman, the first episode of Camberwick Green, was originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1966.

The first and arguably the greatest of the Trumptonshire trilogy, this is the series that features the iconic Windy Miller. Whenever I post a clip on Twitter, I like to play Camberwick Green bingo by wondering how long it’ll take before someone mentions Windy’s fondness for cider or posts a screengrab from Life On Mars …

The Bill Poster, the first episode of Trumpton, was originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1967.

Gordon Murray (or maybe the BBC schedulers) were obviously keen on the 3rd of January, as exactly a year after Camberwick Green first aired, along came Trumpton. All together now – Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb ….

Meet the Gang, the first episode of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was originally broadcast in 1974.

Fair to say that this is a series that polarises opinion. Two things – Sergeant Major Williams’ treatment of the platoon (they’re nothing but “a bunch of poofs”) and Michael Bates’ casting as Ranji Ram – remain hotly contested talking points.

Jimmy Perry made it plain that he was drawing on his own experiences and men like Williams did exist, so I personally don’t have a problem with him – plus if he wasn’t there to provide conflict, then the series would have fallen somewhat rather flat.

This wasn’t the first time that Michael Bates had played an Indian character, but Ranji is a far more rounded character than the stereotype Bates portrayed in an episode of The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder. And there’s something rather bittersweet about Ranji’s unflagging love of Britain, as it becomes clear over time (although this is left unspoken) that if he ever did get to the UK then he’d quickly find out it wasn’t quite the paradise he imagines it to be.

John Thaw, born in 1942.

Rifling through my Thaw collection for something slightly obscure to watch today, I’ve gone for The Absence of War, a Screen Two from 1995 adapted by David Hare from his own play.

Gordon Murray (1921 – 2016)

gordon murray

The news of Gordon Murray’s death closes another door on the golden age of British children’s television.  Camberwick Green (1966), Trumpton (1967) and Chigley (1969) were repeated for decades by the BBC and were then later picked up by Channel 4 and Nickelodeon Junior.

All three series were remastered a few years ago and are therefore available on DVD to enchant yet another generation.  And I see no reason why the magic of the Trumptonshire trilogy shouldn’t endure for years to come – as all three series have a timeless feel.

Murray didn’t make the shows on his own – Bob Bura, John Hardwick and Pasquale Ferrari were responsible for the animation, Freddie Phillips wrote the music, Alison Prince provided the scripts for Trumpton, Andrew and Margaret Brownfoot constructed the sets, whilst the unmistakable tones of Brian Cant enchanted a generation.

Why has Murray’s world endured?  In a 1996 interview for the radio series Trumpton Riots (this title was a sly nod to Half Man Half Biscuit’s legendary song) Murray felt it was due to the air of innocence that pervaded all three series.  “There’s no crime you know in Trumptonshire, it’s a happy world, and a lot of people say ‘well you shouldn’t encourage children to think that the world’s like that’. Some people throw their children into the deep end of the swimming bath at an early age and say ‘swim’. You know, that’s the way to learn, life’s hard. Hard things are coming to you. I don’t believe in that. I believe that you must protect your children while they are children for as long as possible from this dreadful world we’re living in.” You can listen to the episode here.

Another reason why they have such appeal is the sense of repetition.  For a pre-school programme this is quite important, as the audience will no doubt enjoy the comfort and stability of the same things happening again and again.  If most people were asked their memories of the shows, they might mention the music box, or Pippin Fort, or the Trumpton Clock, or Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb, or Lord Belborough’s train, etc etc.  These things remain in the memory longer than the individual plots.

All the series had memorable opening and closing sequences.  Camberwick Green had the music box (“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?”). Trumpton opened with the town clock (“Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trumpton”) whilst they ended with the fire brigade entertaining the locals at the bandstand. True, the opening of Chigley was less iconic than the previous two series, but the closing sequence of the dancing workers from the biscuit factory made up for it.

Thank you Gordon, from millions of children of all ages.  RIP.