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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oliver Postgate: A "warm and unambitious man"

He was the voice not just of my television childhood, but of everyone other person who grew up in 1960s and 70s Britain.

Oliver Postgate, whose death was announced yesterday, was the creator of such magical television gems as Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood, Noggin The Nog, The Clangers and that wonderful saggy old Orthodox Miaoist Bagpuss, who was recently voted the nation's favourite tv animal of all time.

Together with his partner Peter Firmin, Postgate produced some of the most memorable-and charming children's programmes of all time. A far cry from the brash, in-yer-face and dreadfully charmless children's programmes of today.

Postgate was a remarkable man, and a member of a remarkable family. His grandfather was the saintly George Lansbury, the most left-wing leader the Labour Party has ever had. Postgate's father, Raymond, was a socialist journalist and a founder member of the British Communist Party. His aunt and uncle were Margaret and GDH Cole, both socialist writers (Raymond Postgate and GDH Cole co-authored 'The Common People'- one of the first accounts of working class history). His cousin was the famous actress Angela Lansbury.

In addition to his television work, Postgate was also an inventor (inventing a machine for electroplating plastic buttons and an electric rotary lawnmower), and a writer- he blogged in recent years for the New Statesman.

A lifelong pacifist, he was appalled by the imperialist arrogance which lay behind the neoconservative doctrine of 'regime change'.

Here's a great post of his from a couple of years back:

The other day I heard John Bolton - who lately resigned his post as US representative designate to the United Nations - saying how unforgivably evil it was of the Syrians to (allegedly) assassinate certain Lebanese politicians who were thought to be obstructing Syria’s ambition to gain political control of Lebanon. If true, that is certainly a despicable thing to do, definitely not the sort of behaviour we expect from a member of the community of nations.

Then, later, I heard that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had affirmed that the US expenditure of materials and human lives on a war intended to obtain political control of Iraq and bring to it US-style democracy is - and has been - as she put it, "a worthwhile investment".

Comparing these two projects, one can see that, although basically similar in purpose, the (alleged) Syrian investment is, in purely arithmetical terms, far more economical in outlay than the US one, in that only one or two lives were lost and little physical damage occurred, rather than the half-million or so lives that are thought to have been lost in the massive destruction unleashed by the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies.

Postgate was, according to his Daily Telegraph obituary, "a warm and unambitious man". What a wonderful epitath in an age in which the ruthless individualistic economic system we live under encourages us to be anything but "warm and unambitious".

Above you can watch a clip of the master at work in a wonderful BBC4 documentary about Postgate and Firmin.

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