We recently acquired some familiar faces from the history of children’s television, as part of the BBC Collection.
The BBC is known for producing many of the finest children’s TV programmes in the world. Puppets were a popular medium for entertaining children before television was invented, and it was immediately discovered that television screens formed an ideal puppet theatre to entertain young audiences. Until the arrival of such programmes, the overwhelming majority of early television programmes had been squarely aimed at adults.
Spotty Dog (The Woodentops)
Spotty Dog was introduced as the “very biggest spotty dog you ever did see” at the beginning of each episode of the The Woodentops, a children’s television programme developed by Freda Lingstrom, BBC Head of Children’s Programmes, and narrator Maria Bird.
The Woodentop family lived on a farm, and was entirely portrayed by a series of wooden marionettes. The purposes of the programme were to teach its pre-school audience about family life and farming. The programme would introduce significant dialogue between the characters, rather than depending purely on narration. It was shot on film in a tin shed at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios from 1955–1957.
This replica in the BBC Collection was commissioned for their 1998–1999 ‘Small People’ children’s television promotion.
Sausage the Dog (Picture Book)
This Sausage the Dog replica in the BBC Collection was also commissioned for their 1998–1999 ‘Small People’ TV promotion.
Sausage the Dog originally appeared on the long-running BBC children’s programme Picture Book, which aired from 1955–1973.
Like The Woodentops, it was also created by Freda Lingstrom, and was part of the Watch with Mother cycle of programmes.
Here’s a 15 minute episode which originally aired on 15th April 1963. At this time, the programme was hosted by Vera McKechnie.
Bill, Ben and Little Weed
The BBC Collection also includes reproduction figures of Bill and Ben, Little Weed, and Bill and Ben’s flower pot, all of which appeared in the ‘Small People’ promotion.
The original Flower Pot Men programme debuted on BBC radio (yes, radio) in 1952, but very soon became part of the hugely popular Watch with Mother series.
In a new version of the show, simply entitled Bill and Ben (2001–2002) Little Weed had a new image, sporting sunglasses and taking on an expanded role as ‘earth mother’, with an expanded vocabulary. In the original programme, Little Weed had been known only for her trademark “weeeeeed” catchphrase. For Bill and Ben, many new characters were also added.
In the year 2000, Teletubbies and Tweenies were popular BBC programmes, and it was felt that using stop-motion animation rather than marionettes would enable the programme to compete better. 26 episodes of the new series were made by Manchester-based Cosgrove Hall Films with a team of 10 animators. Cosgrove Hall Films were also known for Dangermouse and Noddy. Bill and Ben re-aired on CBeebies from 2007–2008.
The Fimbles was a programme designed for pre-school children which aired from 2002–2004. The series lasted 200 episodes!
It was in much the same vein as Teletubbies and Tweenies. The Fimbles were Fimbo, Florrie and Baby Pom, who all lived in a bright, lush, and colourful place called Fimble Valley. Now, all 3 live in our collection along with their selection of colourful costumes.
The Fimbles were large puppet costumes with an operator inside. I’ve not had a reason to try on any of the Fimble costumes, but in order to photograph them for our collection records, someone’s going to have to do it. Any volunteers?
The puppets described in this blog are not presently on display, but you can see Zippy and George from Rainbow, the Play School toys, Gordon the Gopher from The Broom Cupboard, and a small assortment of Gerry Anderson’s Marionation figures on display in our permanent television gallery, Experience TV.