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Flowerpot Men, The (1952-54)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Flowerpot Men, The (1952-54)
Westerham Arts Films and BBC Film Unit for BBC
Created byFreda Lingstrom
 Maria Bird
WriterFreda Lingstrom
MusicMaria Bird
PuppeteersAudrey Atterbury
 Molly Gibson

Voices: Peter Hawkins (Bill & Ben, Little Weed); Julia Williams; Gladys Whitred

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Two identical flower pot men live at the bottom of the garden with their friend Little Weed, unknown to the gardener who works there.

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Following the success of Andy Pandy, produced by Westerham Arts (really Head of Children's Programmes Freda Lingstrom and her friend Maria Bird), The Flower Pot Men, by the same team, was the second BBC programme aimed at the very young. The adventures of this pair of strange, stringed puppet creatures living in flowerpots at the bottom of the garden first aired at 3.45pm on Thursday 12 December 1952 (shortly before it and similar programmes were given the collective name Watch With Mother).

Bill and Ben were identical, with bodies and legs made out of flowerpots, hobnailed boots and gardening-gloved hands. It was possible to tell them apart by their names written across their backs and by their voices - Bill's high-pitched squeak, Ben's lower tones. They lived in a pair of flowerpots at the bottom of the garden, unknown to the gardener. When he approached, a little Weed that grew in between the pots would warn Bill and Ben when the gardener was coming, upon which they would quickly disappear back into their pots.

Each programme featured reassuring rituals, from the appearance of Bill and Ben from their pots to the closing caption of 'Goodbye'. In between were various capers involving slapstick antics with mud pies, paint pots and even ice skating (which involved some quite skilled puppetry).

Unlike puppet toddler Andy Pandy the flower pot men were not intended to be a reflective image of the target audience - they were pure fantasy - and unlike him Bill and Ben could speak, albeit in gobbledygook. Their memorable voices were provided by Peter Hawkins, who also developed their nonsensical if rationalised dialect (there was Ben's immortal utterance of 'flobabdob' while, for example, an icicle was an 'ickle-kickle'). Some mothers complained that this degradation of the language would teach their children to be poor speakers, an argument repeated with the arrival of Teletubbies forty years later.

Where Andy Pandy's narrator addressed the audience directly, here she merely told the story except when, each episode, Little Weed tested viewers' memories by asking which of the flower pot men had done a particular thing in the preceding story. On the whole though The Flower Pot Men was more about simple entertainment than interaction.

As Bill and Ben, the programme was revived as a slick and colourful stop motion series in February 2001, made by Cosgrove Hall for the BBC with comic actor John Thomson narrating.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Dancing in the garden (3:45)
Lingstrom, Freda (1893-1989)
Pre-school Television
Watch With Mother