Bagpuss was a children’s television programme originally broadcast back in 1974; like another BBC staple, Fawlty Towers, the makers pretty-much nailed it straight-off-the-bat and it’s been on permanent rotation ever since, and now finds a new audience on streaming via Amazon Prime. Although only 13 episodes were made, Bagpuss made a huge cultural impact; even today, Bagpuss himself appears on British stamps in a similar iconic role to The Queen, as well as providing the inspiration for Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief album; even in 2020, the UK is, ostensibly, still a Bagpuss-worshipping society.
Unlike other BBC children’s programmes, (Mary Mungo and Midge, Trumpton, Chigley, Camberwick Green), Bagpuss was not created to placate the Morlock underclasses and inculcate young people with social responsibilities. This show feels like the quaint vision of one man, or rather two, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate. Firmin provided the illustrations for traditional folk-songs and stories, while Postgate provides the stop-motion animation for Bagpuss himself, a cloth cat usually found asleep in the window of the shop owned by Emily’s father. The sepia photograph that sets the scene was taken in the 19th century, so it’s fair to say that Bagpuss harks back to an antiquarian world of valued toys.
And like all the best toys, Bagpuss comes to life when no-one is looking, as do his friends the mice, Professor Yaffle the woodpecker, Gabriel the singing toad and Madeleine the rag doll. They set about basic tasks like restoring a ship-in-a-bottle featured in the first episode, but Bagpuss is less of a narrative-driven programme as a mood piece; it’s always fun to hang-out with this saggy old, baggy-old cloth cat.
I went to see a Bagpuss live theatre show, notable in that it consisted only of a man in a chair talking about Bagpuss. The children in the audience didn’t need to see their favourite cat; he lives, rent free and amiable, in the heads and heart of all who see him. In these garish, urgent days of Ben 10 and Peppa Pig, Bagpuss’s continued survival against the odds is a reminder of all that is best in the world of children’s entertainment.
‘And so their work was done.
Bagpuss gave a big yawn and settled down to sleep
And, of course, when Bagpuss goes to sleep,
All his friends go to sleep too.
The mice were ornaments on the mouse organ.
Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls.
And Professor Yaffle was a carved, wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker.
Even Bagpuss himself, once he was asleep, was just an old, saggy cloth cat,
Baggy, and a bit loose at the seams,
But Emily loved him.’
Bagpuss is out now on Amazon Prime Video. Click the link below.