Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s whistling Clangers have enchanted children for over 45 years – and they were brought back to the small screen earlier this year, with Monty Python’s Michael Palin narrating the new series.
Created in 1969 with the idea of tapping into the exciting new world of space travel, the show took the character of Moon Mouse from the popular children’s series Noggin the Nog and turned it into one of the best loved kids’ shows of all time.
Clangers: The Flying Froglets and other Clangery Tales is available to buy in the BT Store now – just in time for Christmas – and to celebrate its release, here are 10 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about the super-cute knitted heroes.
1. The Clangers got political
In 1975, Oliver Postgate was able to vent his frustration at the state of national politics with an election special entitled Vote for Froglet.
The Clangers were able to vote for either the Soup Dragon or Froglet, with the Soup Dragon claiming a majority victory thanks to his manifesto “Free soup for everyone except Froglets”.
As it’s a children show, the Soup Dragon ended up offering free soup to Froglet anyway. Yet another broken election promise!
2. The whole thing is scripted
Those swanee whistles are not just a random selection of noises: they’re all scripted to make it easier to film, and the BBC actually got unhappy when they discovered one of the lines in the 1970s included some naughty words.
Major Clanger says – in whistle form – “Sod it, the bloody thing's stuck again”. The outrage!
3. The Clangers required a lot of knitting
Unlike modern children’s TV, which is able to use CGI and new-fangled computer technology, the original Clangers were all hand-knitted by Peter Firmin’s wife, Joan.
A whopping 3km of wool was used to build the space mice – and if you want to make your own, Peter Firmin even created a handy guide so that viewers could create their own Clangers planet, including Tiny’s Boat and Major’s rocket.
4. Real mice attacked the original cast
Attacked might be too strong a word – but the original Soup Dragon’s hand was darned after it was left out overnight with a chocolate penny in its paw.
Some hungry mice got at the chocolate in the early hours and damaged the puppet in the process.
5. Starlings attacked the set (with droppings)
Postgate and Firmin created the original series in a barn where starlings were nesting. It might sound quite cute – but every morning before filming the set had to be cleaned because of all the droppings on the Clangers’ home.
6. The Clangers featured in Doctor Who
The Clangers made it into the big time in 1972 when they appeared in the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who episode The Sea Devils.
Show villain The Master watches an episode of the Clangers while imprisoned and believes the children’s TV show is real. The sci-fi show repeated the gag in 2007, when the returning Master watched The Teletubbies.
7. Mother Clanger is still missing
The original Mother Clanger was stolen from a conference exhibition in 1972 and has never been found, despite repeated pleas from Peter Firmin and a campaign from The Sun newspaper to get her returned.
She wore a red dress and bow in her hair (and if you’ve got her in your attic, it could be worth a hell of a lot of money).
8. The Clangers united America and Russia
Doing their own bit for international relations during the Space Race, the Clangers created a special flag that combined both the American stars and stripes and the Russian hammer and sickle. The flag was left on the Clanger’s planet by a spaceman.
What was the reason behind this? When the show was made, they didn’t know who would land on the Moon first – so they hedged their bets.
9. They were rock and roll influencers
Late ‘80s and early ‘90s baggy rock stars Sean Dickson, Jim McCulloch, Sushil K.Dade and Ross A Sinclair paid tribute to the children’s TV classic by naming their band after the TV show.
The Soup Dragons are best known for their number five smash hit in 1990, a cover of The Rolling Stones track I’m Free.
10. You can hear birdsong in the show’s music
The music used on The Clangers is one of its most memorable features – and it was composed by Vernon Elliott, with help from Postgate.
Along with other musicians, the pair formed the Clangers Ensemble, who performed in a village hall with the windows open. The rumour is that you can actually hear the sounds of birds outside the hall in the original soundtrack.
Clangers: The Flying Froglets and other Clangery Tales is available to buy in the BT Store now.
Photo Credit: Signature Entertainment/BBC/Smallfilms