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Fingerbobs (1972)

Courtesy of the Michael Cole Estate

Main image of Fingerbobs (1972)
BBC, tx. 14/2 - 15/5/1972
13 x 15 min episodes, colour
DirectorMichael Grafton-Robinson
Production CompanyBBC Television
ProducerMichael Grafton-Robinson
ScriptsMichael Cole
 Joanne Cole

Cast: Rick Jones (Yoffy)

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Finger puppets forage for everyday objects to help tell illustrated stories.

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Another modish addition to the previously staid Watch With Mother slot, puppet make-and-do series Fingerbobs (BBC, 1972) appeared squarely influenced by the self-sufficient arts and crafts revival of the late 60s and early 70s, drawing on crazes for raffia and basket-weaving among the Hampstead bohemian set, from which the BBC clearly drew several of its creative staff.

There was no attempt to disguise the home-made nature of the finger puppets that came to life using the gloved hands and fingers of presenter Rick Jones - in fact it was positively celebrated. Creator Michael Cole, a director on Play School (BBC, 1964-88), aimed for the kind of simplicity that pre-schoolers could try copying at home. These transformations were never hidden from view; instead the focus was put squarely on the act of making 'something out of nothing' and the magic that was worked by imagination.

The energetic Fingermouse, with grey pointed nose, bristling whiskers and oversized round ears, contrasted with slow-but-sure tortoise Flash. Gulliver the seagull, with his ping-pong ball head and white-gloved finger wings, took to the skies while sea creature Scampi rounded out the group.

Human presenter Jones adopted a peculiar fictional identity 'Yoffy' and his straggly locks, balding pate and greying beard locked Fingerbobs into a specific timeframe: Jones was singer and keyboard player with progressive rock band Meal Ticket - and he looked it.

Yoffy sent the fingerbobs in pursuit of found objects needed to illustrate his stories each week - string, twigs, seashells. These drawings and animations remained in keeping with the 'found art' style of the show and were essentially moving collages using pipe cleaner figures or newspaper shapes.

Co-creator Joanne Cole (wife to Michael) summed up the series' intent: "small children in particular are attracted by small things. We are not trying to teach anything but perhaps we can help children to look at ordinary, simple objects imaginatively." Joanne Cole had to make 'literally hundreds' of new mice, the props quickly becoming so battered that she began reinforcing the noses with sealing wax.

Fingermouse was undoubtedly the show's sugar-paper star, and many remember his own jaunty theme tune and recall Fingermouse as being the show's title. This incorrect assumption finally became reality with belated sequel Fingermouse (BBC, 1985), hosted by Play School's Ian Lauchlan. Again produced by Michael Cole, its 13 new episodes saw the cardboard hero investigate musical instruments.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete edition (14:13)
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Flumps, The (1977)
Children's TV in the 1970s
Watch With Mother