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Mary, Mungo and Midge (1969)

Courtesy of the John Ryan Estate

Main image of Mary, Mungo and Midge (1969)
BBC, tx. 7/10 - 30/12/1969
13 x 15 min episodes, colour
DirectorJohn Ryan
Production CompanyJohn Ryan Studios
ProducerJohn Ryan
WriterDaphne Jones
MusicJohnny Pearson
NarratorRichard Baker
VoicesRichard Baker, Isabel Ryan

A little girl who lives in a modern flat explores the outside world with the help of her pet dog and mouse.

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For this progressive Watch With Mother series, John Ryan, children's author, cartoonist and creator of Captain Pugwash (BBC, 1957-66; 1974-75), was asked to devise something 'bang up to date' and 'utterly contemporary'. The result helped take pre-school TV out of fairyland, and is now a time capsule from a 1960s world of prime minister Harold Wilson's 'white heat' technological marvels.

Mary lived on the top floor of a block of modern flats, even if in reality most high-rises were considerably taller - and greyer - than her sunny eighth floor idyll. Her friends were wise old dog Mungo and inquisitive mouse Midge. Mungo was an authoritative parental figure, with his knowledge of the outside world and constant warnings to Midge to be careful. Midge provided a cautionary tale element, his childish curiosity and inquisitiveness getting him into trouble. The animals acted as agents in the outside world on Mary's behalf, and this approach appears mindful of younger children's safety. The pets would venture into spaces (garages, building sites) rightly seen as off limits to very young children, while Mary remained mostly in her airy playroom, which held such delights as, in a neat in-joke, a Captain Pugwash book, but also a golliwog toy - a sign of the times. Mary never ventured outside unless accompanied by her strangely anonymous parents, whose faces were never clearly seen; instead we glimpsed a procession of back of heads and hands at the edge of the picture.

At times the series' enthusiasm about urban living approaches propaganda, with the fervour of government town-planning films of the era. In this colourful and sunny world of concrete, the pets discover the joys of technology. In most episodes, Midge travels in the elevator perched on Mungo's nose. The episode 'Automatic Machines' celebrates such push-button marvels as phone boxes, vending machines and coin-operated laundrettes; other episodes feature cranes, clocks, printing machines and hospital x-ray machines.

Play School (BBC, 1964-88) writer Daphne Jones provided the fact-heavy scripts, while the authoritative narration of newsreader Richard Baker established a pseudo-documentary feel (Baker also provided the silly voices for redoubtable Mungo and excitable Midge). Midge's japes and Johnny Pearson's jazzy music lightened affairs.

The simplistic Utopian depiction of urban landscapes was Ryan's response to the BBC's brief to appeal to the broadest possible audience range. It dated far quicker than, say, the timeless Bagpuss (BBC, 1974), but the series retains a quaintly futuristic storybook charm.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Captain Pugwash (1957-66)
Children's TV in the 1960s
Watch With Mother