Inigo Pipkin (ITV, 1973) was one of four pre-school series launched for 1972/73
lunchtimes. While dealing in simple cognitive concepts like shapes and colours,
it also specialised in social interaction and exploring the big questions that
fill the inquiring minds of toddlers.
Inigo Pipkin the puppetmaker was a portly grandfather figure, whose puppets
had lives of their own. Among them was Hartley Hare, a vain, loud and often
sulky puppet whose own bad behaviour was intended to mirror the worst excesses
of the target audience.
Mr Pipkin actor George Woodbridge died five weeks into making the second
series - that an episode was given over to explaining Mr Pipkin's death
demonstrates the series' realism. With the series retitled Pipkins (1974-81), assistant
Johnny ran the shop as an agency, helping people in all kinds of strange
The foibles of characters such as greedy Pig, Topov the inquisitive monkey
and the increasingly camp and outrageous Hartley (once going as far as to mimic
Mae West: "Well show me, big boy!") were suffered by a succession of adult
assistants who would try to answer the puppets' often difficult questions.
Rather than use the mediated 'windows' of Play School (BBC, 1964-88), the Pipkins staff went
out into the real world to visit schools, hospitals and dentists to help
reassure and prepare children for such experiences.
The show had an urban style similar to that of the American Sesame Street,
its rather run down workshop located among ordinary backstreets and the casting
of black actors like Wayne Laryea and Jumoke Debayo reflecting its Birmingham
origins (even if the series was taped at ATV's London Elstree studios).
Innovative and sometimes hilariously funny, the series ended with ATV's
restructuring as Central Television in 1982. Producer Michael Jeans next made
the very different Let's Pretend (ITV, 1982-89), with Central production
relocated to Nottingham.