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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, December 18, 2008
    Ritual and Education
     
    Ritual and Education has arrived at just the right time, for me, to mark the passing of Oliver Postgate. The connection is in the sound. Because the artists on the Ghost Box roster (all featured on this low-cost sampler download collection) find their inspiration 'in library music, folklore, vintage electronics and haunted television soundtracks'. Check: Noggin the Nog, The Clangers. Stuff I was brought up with.

    Those programmes embraced Ritual: the five-minute teatime TV slot, unmissable, especially when it was a Postgate production; and Education: Postgate's programmes offered children a joyously crafted, brilliantly scripted, deeply engaging work of art despite the makers' poverty. As he recalled in one of his valued polemics, 'Does children's television matter?':
    In our time we had been able to found great kingdoms of mountains, ice and snow in our cowsheds. In Peter [Firmin]'s big barn we commanded infinities of Outer Space, starred it with heavenly bodies made from old Christmas decorations and made a moon for the Clangers.
    They don't make them like that any more, he wrote - because 'children are no longer children, they are a market. With so many millions at stake the entrepreneurs know that the bottom line must be 'to give the children of today only the sort of things that they already know they enjoy'.' Such programmes cost millions to make and market - but they can't match Postgate's shoestring creations for being 'original and mind-stretching'.

    So when I hear Through the Green Lens by The Focus Group, with its electronic wobbles, warbles and whistles, I'm hearing The Clangers, I'm visualising the journeys of Noggin the Nog, I'm wondering whether the genesis of my interest in all things Welsh was a synthesis of the mountains I could see from my bedroom window and those five-minutes-per-day I spent with Ivor the Engine. And I'm grateful for artists skilled in piecing together wondrous worlds for people to enjoy, using found objects, found sounds; gifted artists generous enough to do all this for little, if any, financial gain.