Over the Christmas break we are revisiting some vintage children’s TV programmes.
‘IN the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell tales of a kind and wise king and his people; they are the Sagas of Noggin the Nog.’
Thus began one of the most charming of early animated BBC children’s series, the creation of Peter Firmin and the brilliant Oliver Postgate, whose other works included Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, Clangers and Pogles’ Wood.
In the late 1950s, the pair formed a partnership named Smallfilms working from a former cowshed at Firmin’s home near Canterbury. Postgate came up with the ideas and wrote the stories while Firmin provided the artwork and cardboard characters. Postgate did the stop-motion filming, moving the figures himself and shooting frame-by-frame with a 16mm camera operated with a home-made clicker. He also narrated the programmes in a voice which would become familiar to and much loved by generations. They managed to produce two minutes of footage for every day’s work.
Postgate said: ‘We would go to the BBC once a year, show them the films we’d made, and they would say, “Yes, lovely, now what are you going to do next?” We would tell them, and they would say, “That sounds fine, we’ll mark it in for 18 months from now”, and we would be given praise and encouragement and some money in advance, and we’d just go away and do it.’
The figures of Noggin and Co were inspired by the Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum.
Noggin is the affable bachelor son of Knut, King of the Nogs, and his queen Grunhilda. When King Knut dies, Noggin must find a queen or surrender the crown to his uncle, Nogbad the Bad. The stories tell how Noggin marries the Inuit princess Nooka of the Nooks and becomes king, while all the time hampered by the nefarious Nogbad.
I cannot find unadulterated footage of the first programme, from 1959, but the rest of the series can be seen here.
Twenty-one ten-minute black-and-white episodes were made between 1959 and 1965, while the king returned in a six-part series shot in colour in 1982. This led to one of Noggin’s greatest accolades – he appeared on a postage stamp.
The complete sagas appeared on DVD in 2005, and I’d rather watch their gentle whimsy than overblown big-budget Lord of the Rings battle scenes any day.