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Camberwick Green Review

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by Simon Crust Jun 6, 2006

    I've had a rather nasty cold recently; but now I'm all old and grown up (yeah right!) I have to look after myself. There are times though when illness has struck and I want to be that four year old boy, the one that got to stay home at watch the beginning of Thames Television at 9 am, waiting patiently until the kids' programmes to start. For at the time, there were only three TV channels, day time TV had yet to be fully invented, but there had always been a place for the kids' programme rather than the dedicated channels of today. There are many that I can still remember, programmes of a bygone age that bring back feelings of warmth and security. They were programmes of innocence, simple stories for a simpler age. Of course many of the programmes have made it to the 21st centaury, are now available on DVD, bought by the very same people who watched them all those years ago, but whether or not it's for their own children or themselves remains unanswered.

    Gordon Murray had a puppet company that toured theatres and clubs for many years. The story has it that during one of his performances a BBC producer (Freda Lingstrom), invited by himself, was impressed enough by his talent that she offered work operating Spotty Dog for The Woodentops (1955-57). Such was Murray's talent and ambition he soon became a producer himself and was instrumental during the formative years of the BBC Children's Department overseeing the BBC Puppet Theatre. Sensing the changing times Murray left the BBC to go it alone with his own production company, he gave up the stings in favour of the time consuming, but ultimately better looking stop motion animation. With this technique Murray made the pilot for Camberwick Green, which became a 'Watch With Mother' series in 1966. Such was its success a full series of (amazingly only) thirteen episodes was made, follow up series' of Trumpton and Chigley followed in what have affectionately become known as Trumptonshire.

    “Here is a box. A musical box. Wound up and ready to play."

    So are the words that followed a figure emerging from a slowly spinning music box; thus begins each episode of Camberwick Green, the instalment would then tell their tail. The series concentrated on these people, the jobs they did in the friendly rural community centred on the Green at Camberwick. Characters include Mickey Murphy the baker who sells delicious walnut cakes at 5 shillings each, his wife Mrs Murphy, children Paddy and Mary; Roger Varley the chimney sweep; Doctor Mopp driving his vintage car; Peter Hazel the postman; Captain Snort and the soldier boys from Pippin Fort, more often than not called out to any emergency in the village; P.C. Mcgarry on his motor bike; Farmer Bell; and of course Windy Miller. The village and the people are certainly quaint and distinctly English in nature, though like Murray himself are coming to terms with the changing world. A working windmill and chimney sweep go hand in hand police on motor bikes and battery farming. In fact the latter becoming the focus of an entire episode when Farmer Bell is unable to sell his eggs locally as the villagers prefer to by free range from Windy - vision on the future perhaps? Of course there are never any frayed tempers; everything is sorted out over a glass of cider and a good chin wag. All the stories are told by the instantly recognisable voice of Brian Cant, most of a certain age will know him instantly, his soothing voice and rhythmic tones to the tunes are enough to sleep too; there is a comfort in his voice brought about by the calm nature and idyllic setting, the show could not have existed without him.

    As a whole the series is a wonder of TV history, Murray was shrewd in his making the films in colour providing a welcome investment as the show was repeated almost endlessly for many years to come; leading many people, including myself, to assume there are more than the thirteen episodes. However, it is very much a child's' show, the repetitive nature, simple stories and endless songs are hypnotic to the younger viewers, even now, but viewed through adult eyes, even those misted with the tears of remembrance, become difficult to embrace. Taken as singular episode there is much to enjoy, the music takes you right back to your childhood, but the more that are watched the harder it becomes to enjoy, it becomes a chore, at least it did for me. The show was meant to be enjoyed over time; it is best watched that way because there can be much enjoyment. It is a testament to Murray's skill and foresight that even now the show the power to charm, it is a true classic of children's TV and deserving of its place in history as such.