Over the Christmas break we are revisiting some vintage children’s TV programmes.
AS A very young child, I soon learned the differences between the days of the week. Monday was Picture Book. Tuesday Andy Pandy. And, best of all, Wednesday was Flower Pot Men. All were part of a charming sequence aimed at pre-schoolers and named Watch With Mother.
Devised by Freda Lingstrom and Maria Bird, each of the individual series comprised only 26 black-and-white programmes. Shown weekly, these lasted six months by which time it was thought that the infant audience would have forgotten them and they were screened all over again, ad infinitum. This fitted in with the BBC’s extremely low budget for children’s viewing.
Flower Pot Men began in 1952 but it must have been ’57 when I first became acquainted with the puppets Bill and Ben and their friend Little Weed. Here they are getting up to their usual adventures while the ‘man who worked in the garden’ has gone back to the ‘little house’ for his dinner.
The programme was narrated by a female, probably Maria Bird, while songs are thought to have been provided by the opera star Gladys Whitred. Gladys would later claim to have performed both roles but other actresses disputed this.
The voices of Bill and Ben, who as the title suggests were made of flower pots, came from the great Peter Hawkins, who as I wrote here was similarly involved in Captain Pugwash and the Daleks of Doctor Who. Hawkins invented a nonsense language for the pair which he called Oddle-Poddle. They said ‘haddap’ for hello, ‘bebop’ for bye-bye and ‘Slogalog’ for their friend Slowcoach the tortoise. (I always heard this as ‘Slobalops’).
In a typical story, a slight indiscretion would be committed by one of the Flower Pot Men, but which one? The singer would ask: ‘Was it Bill or was it Ben? (Did something wrong) just then? Which of those two Flower Pot Men? Was it Bill or was it Ben?’
The guilty party would fess up then the gardener’s footsteps would approach. Bill and Ben would scarper into the giant flower pots which were their home, bidding ‘Bebop’ to Little Weed, and the onscreen message ‘Goodbye’ would appear, followed by the last line: ‘And I think the little house knew something about it, don’t you?’
Old joke: Bill and Ben go into a pub. Bill tells the landlord: ‘Haddap. Pie o bidder pweeb.’ Ben says: ‘I wouldn’t serve him if I were you. He’s pissed as a rat.’