It’s no exaggeration to say that the calming voice of Oliver Postgate and the charm-laden illustrations of Peter Firmin have been a panacea for tired parents and over-tired children for generations.
It was in the 1950s, that Postgate and Firmin’s production company Smallfilms set out to create affordable children’s animations. The result was pure TV gold, and included such classics as Bagpuss (voted No 1 in a 1999 BBC poll of children’s programmes), The Saga of Noggin The Nog and The Clangers.
Ivor The Engine, who lives in the “top left-hand corner of Wales”, sings in a Welsh male-voice choir, and has a dragon housed in his firebox, was invented, or perhaps discovered, by Oliver Postgate (cousin of Murder, She Wrote’s Angela Lansbury) and Peter Firmin in 1959.
The show was said to have been inspired by Postgate’s train-driver friend who talked about engines coming to life when you spent enough time with them—along with the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Many of the characters were voiced by Postgate as well, as low tech sound effects including the sound of Ivor’s puffing. The music was composed by Vernon Elliott, predominantly featuring a solo bassoon reflecting the three notes of Ivor’s whistle.
The stories, including some new ones, were re-filmed in colour in the 1970’s and, this August, Fabulous Films will be re-releasing this classic series in a Complete Collection that contains all 24 colour episodes.
Smallfilms’ slow, gentle story-telling style seems to have fallen out of fashion recently. Far too often, what passes for kid’s TV is frenetic—a boiling pot of saturated colours, throbbing soundtracks and over-hyped performers. But Ivor is the real-deal. A show that gives viewers a chance to take a breath, and step back from the stresses of the world. More than ever, children need that. And so do adults.
Not just a classic. An absolute tonic.