Some time in the 1990s when I bought my first Windows computer, it came with a Pingu screensaver and game, which I thought was pretty cool. Everyone knows about Pingu but I sometimes wonder if I am the only person who remembers the Pingwings. Sometimes I think I imagined them, but no, they did exist, and at least one other person remembers them too.
The Pingwings were one of my earliest memories of television being magical. Another one is watching a dragon hatch out of an egg, in an early episode of Ivor the Engine. There are other things I didn’t remember about Ivor the Engine, but which I found out yesterday.
- There’s a town in the series called Llanmad – “damn all” backwards, in tribute to Dylan Thomas’s Llaregubb in Under Milk Wood.
- The dragon is called Idris.
- The railway is in the “top left hand corner of Wales”.
I found these out at an exhibition called Clangers, Bagpuss &Co, about the children’s TV shows created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin in their Smallfilms production company.
I was a bit too old for the Clangers and Bagpuss when they first came out (I appreciate them more now) but it was a joy seeing material from Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog and The Pogles (no Pingwings, though).
And when I’d finished looking at the models and drawings I sat down in the little room where they were showing film clips on a loop to small children, and I laughed a lot.
I wouldn’t have responded like that if they’d been showing the old Watch with Mother programmes like Bill & Ben and the Woodentops. Those feel a world away, which is strange when you realise that they actually appeared at roughly the same time (the first Smallfilms series were shown in the late 50s, and Watch with Mother started in 1953).
Watch with Mother feels like the sort of thing adults think children should like, while Smallfilms stuff feels as if it’s been made by people who still think like children. There’s ingenuity, poetry, a bit of subversion and, yes, a lot of magic too.
The exhibition is on tour, so if you're in or near Henley, Ipswich, Sissinghurst, Wolverhampton, Hull or Cheltenham you're in luck.