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Pogles, The (1965)

Courtesy of Smallfilms

Main image of Pogles, The (1965)
Smallfilms for BBC, tx. 29/7 - 2/9/1965
6 x 5 minute episodes (broadcast as part of Clapperboard)
Written byOliver Postgate
Puppets and SettingsPeter Firmin
ProducerOliver Postgate
MusicVernon Elliott
Producer (Clapperboard)Peggy Miller

Voices: Oliver Postgate; Olwen Griffiths; Steve Woodman

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The adventures of tiny country folk who live in a tree.

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After the success of Ivor The Engine (ITV, 1959-62), The Saga of Noggin The Nog (BBC, 1959-65) and Pingwings (ITV, 1961-65), animator Oliver Postgate conceived this evocative story of little folk in the wood. Although it's arguably the finest self-contained serial Postgate and his partner Peter Firmin ever produced, it's less well-known than its predecessors - and was eclipsed by its sequel, Pogles' Wood (BBC, 1966-68) - largely because, unlike them, it was shown only once. In what may seem a bizarre decision today, given the sophistication of modern children and the Harry Potter phenomenon, the BBC deemed a tiny stop-motion puppet with teddy bear glass eyes too scary. But the witch in the story is scary, and it's in understanding how she comes to be so that we can start to appreciate the special qualities of Postgate and Firmin's work.

The witch terrorises Mr and Mrs Pogle when a baby has come into their care who is actually the prince of the Fairies, who stands to inherit a magical crown that the witch covets. The witch appears in just two (long) scenes, but in both cases, her presence is introduced with real cinematic flair. Mr Pogle first bumps into her in the woods - there is a whip pan across the trees and suddenly she's there. It's remarkably effective. Later, she waits in the shadows of a quarry, her beady eyes glinting, for the right moment to make the most powerful entrance. On each occasion, the music adds enormously to the eerie atmosphere. Composer Vernon Elliot is the unsung hero of Postgate and Firmin's Smallfilms unit, and here he excels himself with a score that deserves much of the credit for the witch's fearsome impact on the young viewer.

Postgate's use of language also contributes to the effect. The colourful, often archaic, lingo the Pogles use to abuse the witch - "you old besom", "dream creeper" - lifts her to the status of a mythical creature. Indeed, the whole tale has the flavour of folklore. It was Postgate's peculiar genius to build his stories out of a bric-a-brac of rural tradition, English cosiness, off-the-wall humour and a strangely moving nostalgia for simpler times, all topped off with a dash of Lewis Carroll-style surrealism. In The Pogles, this approach reached its peak, culminating in a midsummer dream of a series that, sadly, was rejected because it caused so many nightmares.

Michael Bartlett

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Video Clips
Complete episode: 'A Flower for Wishes' (8:48)
Herbs, The (1968)
Pogles' Wood (1966)
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin
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