Long before the current craze for alien abductions, Star Wars and extraterrestial-cum-government conspiracies, the BBC ran a series of five-minute childrens's animated programmes in the early Seventies. The unlikely heroes of this series were a group of pink extraterrestrial rodent-like creatures with webbed feet who looked suspiciously woollen. Their name: the Clangers.
Everything about the series was delightfully surrealistic, in an eccentric English sort of way. The Clangers (no more than ten of them) lived on a "small, blue planet" that was actually the size of a small asteroid (Mercury by comparison looked like Jupiter). Despite the small size of the blue planet there appeared to be no gravitational problems. Also, although the Clangers had webbed feet, there appeared to be no surface water on the planet (although later a small pool was discovered near the centre). Clearly evolution had run a completely different course here.
The Clangers were an extended family (Granny at least was included, although you didn't see her much and when you did she was normally asleep). They communicated with each other vocally, via a series of noise that were akin to whistling and someone blowing down a pipe. To reinforce their speech they would gesticulate with their fingers, and occasionally express sadness by allowing their mouse-like ears to droop over their eyes. Their name seems to have derived from the noise that their dustbin-lid like coverings over the holes to their home made when a falling object from outer space necessitated a speedy dive for cover.
The family structure could be distinguished as follows: Major Clanger (the father), Mother Clanger, Small Clanger (son) and Tiny Clanger (daughter), plus the aforementioned Granny and a few other Clangers whose identity was not clear but all of whom seemed to dwell within the same structure, a sort of enlarged cave for the communal area with burrows for individual Clangers to sleep in. Interestingly, the dining table in the main cave was draped with a tablecloth that looked suspiciously like an amalgam of the Soviet and US flags.
The Clangers seemed to be an agrarian, almost utopian society, with no trade or industry. The only sort of "bartering" seems to have been carried out between themselves and the Soup Dragon, a reptilian creature dwelling in the caves below. Small and Tiny would go down on a sort of three-wheeler with a bucket, and the Soup Dragon would disappear down a hole (the "soup wells") and fill the bucket with soup (the favourite variety of which seems to have been Blue-String Soup). However, some scientific research seems to have been carried out, since Major Clanger was often building rockets, usually with varying degrees of success.
Apart from the Clangers and the Soup Dragon, a number of other sentient beings made an appearance in the series, some on a regular basis. The Iron Chicken was just that - a metal chicken - that lived on a sort of scrap-metal nest in orbit around the small blue planet. She later hatched an egg, and was very friendly with Tiny Clanger to whom she gave a radio hat. The cloud appeared to be the only source of precipitation on the planet, and would drop a few raindrops if asked politely (but once banged Tiny on the head after she kept blowing at it). Glow-buzzers were a sort of bee-like creature that lived in the caves.
Of the visitors from elsewhere, the Froglets (bright orange plastic) arrived in a black top hat and appeared to have a limited ability to do magic and play disappearing tricks so as to confuse people (or Clangers, anyway). One then fell sick and had to be resuscitated by Tiny. Far more menacing were the Hoots, a group of trumpet-like beings who came to the small blue planet to reclaim an errant one of their number. Their fascist-like demeanour was somewhat undermined when Tiny gave them a whack that sent them all flying, and in the end they played a concert in space. Not exactly life, but representative of it, was a robot space probe that landed in one programme, dug up part of the planet for research purposes (presumably) and then blasted off again, leaving one of its limbs in Major Clanger's hand after he tried to shake hands with it. Flora seems to have been represented solely by the music tree, which was grown from notes that came from the Iron Chicken's egg.
Despite being a peace-loving, non-industrial society, the Clangers did experiment with putting Clangers into near space. Major Clanger's rockets were usually a bit of a flop, but later the Clangers discovered how to use notes from the music tree to gently propel a music boat into orbit. It was when Tiny Clanger was fishing from the music boat that she caught the top hat containing the Froglets. However, they balked at sending one of their spaceships to Earth when they peered through a telescope and saw one of our major cities, so exploration and colonisation of Earth by Clangers looks unlikely for the foreseeable future.
The Clangers were, in my opinion, Oliver Postgate's and Peter Firmin's finest hour. Postgate and Firmin had previously made other whimsical children's TV programmes such as Pogle Wood and Noggin The Nog, and later went on to score with the slightly more orthodox but still wonderful Bagpuss and Ivor The Engine. Postgate was the producer and writer, while Firmin did the set, the effects and the puppets. In the Nineties the series has enjoyed a bit of a comeback: most of the episodes have been shown again on TV and are now largely available on video.
Links to more comprehensive Clanger sites:
John Fletcher's Official Clangers Site is probably the first port of call, with plenty of wonderful pictures, episode synopses, etc.
The Clangers appeared briefly in a 1972 episode of Dr Who
The Internet Movie Database has a Clangers entry, although strictly speaking no Clangers movies were ever made.
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