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Bagpuss
Bagpuss title screen.png
The opening sequence of Bagpuss features a series of sepia toned photographs, which suggest the Victorian or Edwardian period.
Created by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate
Voices of Oliver Postgate
Sandra Kerr
John Faulkner
Narrated by Oliver Postgate
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 13
Production company(s) Smallfilms
Release
Original network BBC2
Original release 12 February (1974-02-12) – 7 May 1974 (1974-05-07)

Bagpuss is a British children's television series, made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate through their company Smallfilms. The series of 13 episodes was first broadcast from Tuesday 12 February to Tuesday 7 May 1974. The title character was "a saggy, old cloth cat, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams". Although only 13 episodes were made, it remains fondly remembered, and was frequently repeated in the UK until 1986. In early 1999, Bagpuss topped a BBC poll for the UK's favourite children's television programme.

Format

Each programme began in the same way: through a series of sepia photographs, the viewer is told of a little girl named Emily (played by Emily Firmin, the daughter of illustrator Peter Firmin), who owned a shop. Emily found lost and broken things and displayed them in the window, so their owners could come and collect them; the shop did not sell anything.

She would leave the object in front of her favourite stuffed toy, the large, saggy, pink and white striped cat named Bagpuss. Emily then recited a verse:

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old Fat Furry Catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing

After Emily had left, Bagpuss woke up. The programme shifted from sepia to colour stop motion film, and various toys in the shop came to life: Gabriel the toad (who, unlike most Smallfilms characters, could move by a special device beneath his can without the use of stop motion animation) and a rag doll called Madeleine. The wooden woodpecker bookend became the drily academic Professor Yaffle (based on the philosopher Bertrand Russell, whom Postgate had once met), while the mice carved on the side of the "mouse organ" (a small mechanical pipe organ that played rolls of music) woke up and scurried around, singing in high-pitched voices. Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner provided the voices of Madeleine and Gabriel respectively, and put together and performed all the folk songs. All the other voices (including the narrator and one out-of-tune mouse) were provided by Postgate, who also wrote the stories.

The toys discussed what the new object was; someone (usually Madeleine) would tell a story related to the object (shown in an animated thought bubble over Bagpuss's head), often with a song, accompanied by Gabriel on the banjo (which often sounded a lot more like a guitar), and then the mice, singing in high-pitched squeaky harmony to the tune of Sumer Is Icumen In as they worked, mended the broken object. There was much banter between the characters, with the pompous Yaffle constantly finding fault with the playful mice: his complaint, 'Those mice are never serious!' became his main catchphrase. However, peace was always restored by the end of the episode, usually thanks to the timely intervention of Bagpuss, Gabriel or Madeleine. The newly mended thing was then placed in the shop window, so that whoever had lost it would see it as they went past, and could come in and claim it. Then Bagpuss would start yawning again, and as he fell asleep the narrator would speak as the colour faded to sepia and they all became toys again.

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.

Title sequence

The scene is set at the turn of the 20th century, with Emily Firmin (Peter Firmin's daughter) playing the part of the Victorian child Emily. The first antique village vignette is a cropped image of Horrabridge taken in 1898, though nothing is known of the other photo of the children with the pram. The shop window was at the Firmin family home in Blean.

Episodes

The episodes were originally broadcast at 1:45 pm on BBC1. The titles of the episodes each refer in some way to the object Emily found.

Episode Title Original air date Summary
1  "Ship in a Bottle"   12 February 1974   Some splints of wood are shaken out of a bottle by the mice. Bagpuss tells a story about mermaids and the magic repairs the model ship. The mice put it back into the bottle and raise the sails.
2  "The Owls of Athens" 19 February 1974   A dirty rag reveals a picture of an owl. Once cleaned, Madeleine recounts a story explaining why owls sound like they do. Gabriel recounts in song the story of a king who needed a cushion to sit on.
3  "The Frog Princess" 26 February 1974   Assorted jewels, which initially are thought to represent a cat and a bird but which Gabriel decides were the crown jewels of a frog princess.
4  "The Ballet Shoe" 5 March 1974   Put to inventive use by the mice, and the subject of a very silly song about its possible use as a rowing boat.
5  "The Hamish" 12 March 1974   A tartan porcupine pincushion, and a legend of a small, soft creature from Scotland.
6  "The Wise Man" 19 March 1974   A broken figurine of a Chinese man (the Wise Man of Ling-Po, Yaffle explains) and a turtle.
7  "The Elephant" 26 March 1974   An elephant missing its ears.
8  "The Mouse Mill" 2 April 1974   A wooden toy mill demonstrated by the mice to make chocolate biscuits out of butterbeans and breadcrumbs. This turns out to be a mischievous fraud. Gabriel and Madeleine sing a song about how ploughmen, farmers, millers, and bakers work at different stages of bread production. Even stern old Professor Yaffle cries.
9  "The Giant" 9 April 1974   A statuette, and a lesson about how sizes are relative.
10  "The Old Man's Beard" 16 April 1974   A tangly plant (Clematis vitalba seeding), and a loom for weaving.
11  "The Fiddle" 23 April 1974   A fiddle that plays itself, and a leprechaun.
12  "Flying" 30 April 1974   A basket that the mice attempt to turn into a flying machine. Professor Yaffle recites a poem about Percy Pratt, a man who apparently invented the aeroplane.
13  "Uncle Feedle" 7 May 1974   A piece of cloth, destined to be a house for a rag doll.

Recognition

In 1987, the University of Kent at Canterbury awarded honorary degrees to Postgate and Firmin. In his speech, Postgate stated that the degree was really intended for Bagpuss, who was subsequently displayed in academic dress.

In 1999, Bagpuss came first in a BBC poll selecting the nation's favourite children's programme made and broadcast by that corporation. It also came fourth in the Channel 4 poll, The 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows, broadcast in 2001.

In 2002 and 2005, a stage show of Bagpuss songs toured the UK folk festivals and theatres with original singers Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, along with Kerr's daughter Nancy Kerr and her husband, James Fagan.

In June 2002, the charity Hospices of Hope opened the Bagpuss Children's Wing in its hospice in Brașov, Romania. The wing was funded entirely by Postgate from royalties received from the BBC. In April 2012, Marc Jenner from Tunbridge Wells in Kent ran in the Virgin London Marathon dressed in a 7-foot (2.1 m) Bagpuss costume to raise money for the charity, supported by Emily Firmin (seen in the programme’s opening titles) and Postgate's family.

Thom Yorke of the band Radiohead has claimed to be a fan of the series, watching it with his son. It was an influence for 2003 album Hail to the Thief. Gabriel's song in Episode 2 was the acknowledged inspiration for the album track (and first single) "There There" (originally titled "The Bony King of Nowhere").

Bagpuss appeared on one of the twelve postage stamps issued by Royal Mail in January 2014 to celebrate classic children's programmes.

Emily Firmin and Dan Postgate, the surviving children of the series creators, created account in 2014 to share archive footage not widely available, such as several short stories narrated by Oliver Postgate.

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