Saturday, 3 July 2010

Trumpton, Trumptonshire

When I was a little, I used to sit in my Dad's lap while we watched a children's television programme called Trumpton together. A mythical town, set somewhere in England (Trumptonshire - no, really, I looked it up!), it had a cast of plasticine characters who all got on famously with each other, in a stop-motion animated kinda way. Every episode would bring a minor emergency (bring out the Trumpton Fire Brigade!), or a celebration, or some sort of event which would be handled in a very sensible manner by the inhabitants of the town, and which could only be described as exciting if you lived in a very tiny place where not much happens (like, a caravan on an island, an island where you are the sole occupant). If you were a child in the late '60's/early '70's , late '70's/early '80's, you will know Trumpton. And Camberwick Green. And Chigley.

Like Trumpton, the opening theme tunes of Camberwick Green and Chigley had a calm, serene, comforting quality about them. In fact, there was no sign of anything remotely resembling stress, or even mild tension in any of these three programmes (which, unsurprisingly, were all made by the same TV production team, and were all narrated by national treasure Brian Cant - thus the similarity). But each one had it's own distinctly socio-economic flavour running through it.

As I child, I reckoned that Trumpton must be at the upper-end of the des. res. locations (though I didn't actually use that exact phrase), because there was a variety of local independent shops (sweetie shop, butcher, baker etc.), an old lady who was very refined and who had three small white dogs, and a fire brigade who seemed only to exist in order to serve at the behest of the local gentility when they wanted an awkward task done (like using their awfully long water hose to clean their private train engine, for example).

Camberwick Green was more difficult for me to get a handle on. It seemed more rural. There was Windy Miller, who was (you guessed it!) the miller.... other than that, it didn't really make that much of an impression on me. I just liked the music box at the opening and closing credits, as it had an origami-like way of opening that always fascinated me.

Chigley was composed of two stereotypes from either end of the social spectrum (now that was a phrase I did use when I was six) -  Lord Belborough, who owned the factory and who also owned a private steam engine complete with track, and the Factory Workers, who were apparently so well looked-after and content that they did a nice dance, accompanied by the pleasant melody of a Wurlitzer, when the factory whistle blew at the end of each days work.

So far so good.......


This scenario never really sat right with six-year-old me. Maybe I was already beginning to develop my "highly sceptical" muscle, but two things stood-out as being off-kilter here in Chigley.

Firstly, the end of working day dance was performed at 6 o'clock. 6 o'clock??? This was in an era when (as far as 6yr-old me was concerned) the working day ended at 5pm.

???? What was happening here????

Why was Lord Belborough making them work an extra hour after everyone else in the country was already at the table eating their tea? Was he, in fact, a slave driver??? (This was also the era when the series "Roots", about slavery in America, was being aired and was incredibly popular.......... (come to think of it, maybe that was where 6yr-old me was picking up a PC attitude..hmmm! - I begin to see how blogging may become a tool for too much self-analysis if used incorrectly. Or maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I'll possibly come back to explore that another time in a later session post).

Secondly (come on, keep up, dear readers), there was the very strange fact that the Wurlitzer (remember, the one that accompanied the FW's gentle formal dances) was being HAND-OPERATED by LORD BELBOROUGH HIMSELF! Worse still, his BUTLER was standing at the other side of the organ NOT LIFTING A FINGER TO HELP! Admittedly, I got the impression  that he was rather embarrassed about his lack of activity, not by his expression (all the characters had ball-round plasticine faces, the only feature of which was a ball-round nose and two ball round eyes, so it would have been difficult for Jeeves to show any expression at any time), but by his body language, which looked, to me, distinctly uncomfortable.

M'Lud as organ grinder?????

Jeeves knew that this was not the way it was meant to be..........

There was something very iffy about the whole set-up, especially Lord B., as far as mini-me was concerned, but I couldn't quite put my finger exactly what it was.

With Mr Benn (another children's favourite of the time), it was obvious that he was a repressed schizophrenic with self-esteem issues and multiple personality disorders, and the gentleman's outfitters assistant a Machiavellian control freak. Any six year old could see that. Duh!!!

And other children's programmes could be categorised just as easily - we now openly discuss the possible influences of the '60's drug culture on The Magic Roundabout, but mini-me was aware, on some level, that The Herb Garden also hinted at mild recreational drug use amongst the hippy sector of the middle classes, (Fingerbobs and The Clangers had a spaced-out feel about them too), that HR Pufnstuf (- I mean, c'mon - puffin stuff !!!) was one freaky scary trip, and that The Banana Splits were speeding like crazy! The biggest puzzle to me, even at that age, was how adults couldn't see what I could see in these programmes. Then again, maybe they could, and it simply didn't bother them.

But back to Lord B.

What was he up to?

His philanthropic acts didn't ring true..... (plus I didn't know the word "philanthropic" back then)...

Maybe he was bopping one, or maybe more than one, of the factory girls on the side?....Nah, he was obviously a closet friend of Dorothy's...... probably fancied the factory men or, even more likely, his long suffering butler (Aha! That could have been why Jeeves was slightly abashed all the time, 'cos he was straight and he knew Master had a crush on him! Hah! Another question from my childhood answered through the medium of blogging. Progress - this is good!).

Or maybe he was just a lonely guy, - the only Peer of the Realm in Trumptonshire, educated at Oxbridge but, as the only heir, forced to abandon a promising future career in the City and return to the family seat to take up his duties and obligations to those who were depending on him - the Factory Workers. Being at heart a nice bloke (and a closet homosexual - let's not mince our words here - oooooh pun attack strikes again!) he was sensitive and lonely, but didn't resent the FW's - this was his lot in life after all, and he'd accepted it like the blue blood he indubitably was. In turn, the Factory Workers understood that his lordship was lonely, with no other lords in the vicinity to play with (they also realised he was gay, but weren't going to make an issue of it, at least not publicly - why risk their pay packets?), so they all indulged him, and refrained from making smart-ass, cheap laugh comments about his private Little Train.

(I suspected they talked about him in the pub though, before going home to drunkenly argue with their wives, who were irritated at their collective husbands' lack of ambitions - "Why is it always that damn butler riding on the footplate, why can't you get yourself in there, earn us some dosh for a decent holiday in Trumpton? - Go on, butter him up a bit, let him see a flash o' your pectorals, that's all it would take.....!)

Maybe that's all that was wrong with Lord Belborough. He was a lonely soul.

It occurs to me at this point that I seem to have read a lot, I mean a lot of sub text into these programmes.......

My personal favourite programme as a child could have been Hectors House, because I really liked Hector's voice, but it wasn't, because that's pretty much all I liked about it. The rest was too..... French.

No, my favourite was ....... (drum roll please...).... Bod.

Bod had a way-cool walk.............
With a slight bounce in his step that made him jaunty, but not unrealistically optimistic.......
He always had a slight smile.......
Was intelligent, without being smug.
He was far more intelligent than PC Plod, but never patronised him.

Bod was Zen.

Zen with a jazz soundtrack.

Yup, Bod was the one for me.

So, six year old me possibly had an over-active imagination, coupled with an unnervingly mature sense of social justice, mixed with a dash of healthy scepticism.

But six-year-old me's favourite programme was about a cool dude with a Zen outlook, who was happy.

That'll do me!

Goodness, look at the clock....... we seem to have run out of time for this session post, and.... what's that I hear? - the end-of shift whistle?

Must dash - got to watch the Factory Workers do their dance while accompanied, of course, by Lord Belborough, on his colourful organ (phnar, phnar!).

See you all again soon I hope?

Until next time, here's a little clip of updated Bod for you to enjoy!

Night night, dear readers, night night!


Alistair said...

I'm sure the character of Windy Miller was based on Dad, but I can't think why.

Lights 2 Flag said...

Hmm - having a go at me for being 43 years young eh? :-) You must be about the same vintage as me lol.

I remember watching all those programmes you mentioned in your post when I was a nipper...

My little boy has got the DVD's of Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley and sits there watching them continuously.