Clangers, Bagpuss and co at The Ferens

Did you know the Clangers’ iconic whistles were actually scripted in English? Or that cult favourite and “saggy old cloth cat” Bagpuss was originally supposed to be marmalade coloured, and not pink and white at all?

The revelations about the characters many of us grew up with come thick and fast at the latest big exhibition to open at Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery, in Queen Victoria Square.

Clangers, Bagpuss and Co runs from Saturday 12 May 2018 to Sunday 29 July 2018 and gives us the chance to peek behind the scenes of some of the best-loved children’s television programmes of all time.

The original puppets used in Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s stop-motion animation programmes arrive in Hull as part of the V&A Museum of Childhood touring programme.

And, if social media buzz is anything to go by, the characters they created in their Smallfilms production company are one of the Ferens’s all-time most-anticipated exhibitions.

As part of the exhibition, we can learn to speak “Clanger”, find out if they really are prone to a bit of bad language (as legend has it), and have a go at making our own stop-motion animation.

While we’re all at the Ferens, I reckon we should revel in the fact that Major Clanger and family, Bagpuss, Ivor The Engine and Noggin The Nog are the unlikely gallery neighbours of other, slightly more traditional, works of art such as Van Dyck’s visiting portrait of Charles 1.

Classics one and all. And quite right too, says Alice Sage, of the V&A Museum of Childhood. “We all hold a special place in our hearts for one or more of Smallfilms’ creations,” she says. “Beyond telling marvellous, captivating stories, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s work encouraged children to look at the world with curiosity.”

From the late 1950s to the mid 1980s, Postgate and Firmin’s homemade, handcrafted production company Smallfilms made animated television shows that would shape the childhood memories of generations.

They had an unlikely set built from a converted rural outbuilding, costumes and characters knitted by Oliver’s wife Sally and a DIY approach that pioneered a technique and inspired future animators including Nick Park, of Wallace and Gromit fame.

The Clangers returned to the small screen on children’s TV channel CBeebies in 2015 for a new generation of fans.

The secret to their enduring charm is simple, says V&A spokesperson Alice. “Oliver’s distinctive voice as narrator never spoke down to their young audience, and they weren’t afraid of dealing with complex ideas in a magical way,” she says. “The stories have stood the test of time. As well as looking at how these programmes were made, we also hope to capture the spirit of these timeless gems.”

Peter Firmin - Bagpuss

Kirsten Simister, curator of art at the Ferens, says: “This family-friendly exhibition is inter-generational and can bring the whole family together. We hope visitors will pay a visit and are inspired to share their memories of these iconic characters.”

The exhibition brings together the original puppets alongside archive footage, sets and storyboards, photos, scripts and filming equipment.

Alongside the exhibition, Childhood Favourites from the Hull Museums collection will also be on display, including Sooty, Noddy and Rupert Bear.

The Ferens Art Gallery is open 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday, and 11am-4.30pm on Sundays.