I was directed to this article by Rosie of Popular Comments Box fame (and actually a lot of this post was a reply on her LJ) – it’s a (spiked) Daily Mail piece by Oliver Postgate, creator of much loved kids’ TV icons The Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Bagpuss et al.

Postgate is one of Childrens TV’s genuinely brilliant individuals but his argument is made loads weaker by his lack of examples – he takes the awfulness of contemporary kids’ TV as a given but doesn’t have anything to back it up other than a set of guidelines given to him 16 years before the article was written! He can get away with it cos he’s writing for the Mail (whose readership is pretty much defined by their shared assumptions about Bad Stuff) but I don’t think it holds much water. 1987, with Thatcher apparently training her guns on the BBC, must have been a strange and paranoid time for the Corporation and for kids’ TV in general after all – maybe Postgate just had a run-in with a bad executive.

In any case, Postgate’s own cosy genius shouldn’t be taken to mean that his cowshed-method of production produced inherently better results than more expensive methods: my suspicion is that the better results are because O.Postgate is awesome, rather than that low-budget is awesome (misguided nostalgic attempts to re-watch the similarly-cheap Flumps and Fingerbobs suggest to me that this is true). Postgate is right that the child’s mind is open and thirsty but this also means that it doesn’t always make qualitative judgements based on level of craftsmanship. When I think back to the stuff that sparked my childish imagination it’s a mix of lovingly-crafted Postgate-style material, slick (& equally well-crafted) Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Top Cat, and fearful schlock which I’m sure Oliver P would have run a mile from like the Godzilla cartoon series.

As a new parent myself I’ve taken to looking at pop-culture marketed to children with a mix of fear and enthusiasm, but on the TV front there’s a lot to like: would that I had been exposed to a programme like Lazy Town growing up, for instance! Teletubbies has a genuinely uncanny ability to reach the pre-speech mind (& sometimes has sequences as abstract and beautiful as anything from the Postgate era); Charlie and Lola is funny and empathic about kids; Binka has all the sly wit of a Roobarb and Custard – with a sexual comedy aspect which is quite new; and I hope the Cartoon Network is still producing stuff as good as the Gennady Tarkovsky (sp?) creations of the 90s and early 00s. Set against this there is an awful lot of dross and the endless stream of jolly workmen/postmen/underground trains etc. seems a poor excuse to sell toys: never a lot of story in Bob The Builder, it seems to me.

The Postgate piece raises in my mind a wider point about creative mavericks – they often have a tendency to extrapolate from personal experience: this is what I did, why can’t everyone? This streak of individualism is probably a big part of their creativity in the first place but it lacks a certain empathy: the trick surely – and it sounds like the BBC failed to do this – is to establish a system that allows Postgate-types to have their way but doesn’t rely on finding more of them.