Sunday, 14 December 2008

Childhood As It Used To Be.

On the Tuesday of this week as another wave of bad weather swept over the country, causing the usual chaos on the roads and an army of bargain hunters converged on soon to be defunct Woolworths stores the dearth of a quiet, good and never fully appreciated man was announced.

His name was Oliver Postgste and his passing will have saddened every Briton born before about 1980, he it was who gave us the sublime, sometimes surreal and always comforting world of Bagpuss, The Clangers and Ivor the Engine.

Despite the enduring popularity of his creations Postgate spent the past twenty years in a wilderness created by the people who presume to determine fashion and was only rehabilitated when it was time for the same people to deliver eulogies to his passing earlier this week.

The problem was, as they saw it, that the children’s programmes he created were too ‘nice’, meaning they all contained the subversive message that if people behave well and work together the world is a better place, they also, as the best programme making for adults and children alike always does, committed the cardinal sin of treating their audience like intelligent human beings rather than passive consumers.

The message may have been subversive, but it is also very timely, last year UNICEF delivered a damning report on the state of modern British childhood, they didn’t, even in the poorest homes, find evidence of starvation, at least not of the physical kind, what they found was evidence of a sort of starvation of the spirit. Despite the material riches available to them British children came out as being more miserable and pessimistic about the future than most of their European counterparts.

A lot of rose tinted nonsense is talked by adults about the innocence of childhood and yet something does seem to have gone badly wrong with the way this country raised its children. They, through their parents, seem to be stalked by an all pervading paranoia that sees a potential abductor lurking around every corner and a fatal accident hidden within even the most carefully supervised activity.

As a result modern children play outside less than their parent’s generation, have their imagination stunted by an education system bound by ever more prescriptive testing regimes and, all too often see the wider world only through the distorting lens of the television screen. All of which should prompt concern about what sort of adults they will grow into, crabbed, nervous and timid ones would be my guess, the sort of people dictators and charlatans have always seen as their natural constituency because their ignorance about and fear of the big bad world makes them easy to manipulate.

Whether any of this will change is impossible to guess, perhaps one should hope for the best whilst all the time preparing for the worst. It does though make what children watch on the television that may be their only window on the world beyond the confines of home more important than ever.

The need to be shown that humans, or brightly coloured space aliens made from old socks in the case of the Clangers standing in for them, are made civilized first and foremost by their ability to work together and that no authority figure is so grand or terrifying as to be immune to the sort of mockery that cuts them down to more lifelike proportions. They need, in fact, to be exposed to the sort of programming Oliver Postgate produced before people who will be remembered far less fondly at their own passing because they brought less joy into the world decided he was unfashionable. How wrong they were, he was a man ahead of his time and we are all made a little poorer by his passing.

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