PA­TRICK FREYNE

In Richard III, the posh are culled with war. In Made in Chelsea, they use pas­sive-ag­gres­sive tex­ting

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

This week I rolled into a foetal po­si­tion, stuck my thumb in my mouth and watched the brand new series of The Clangers, which is on Mon­day to Thursday on CBBC (I didn’t let be­ing in an open plan of­fice stop me). Michael Palin, the new nar­ra­tor, chan­nels enough of Oliver Post­gate to send me to a happy place. (The Amer­i­can nar­ra­tor, in­ci­den­tally, is Star Trek’s Wil­liam Shat­ner, which I find slightly alarm­ing. I’d be con­tin­u­ously worry he might try to se­duce Mother Clanger in an act of Cap­tain Kirk-style erotic diplo­macy.)

Cre­ated by Post­gate and Peter Firmin, who also cre­ated

Nog­gin the Nog and Bag­puss, the Clangers are a race of knit­ted pink mice who live in­side the moon. Their lan­guage, in­ter­preted for us by Michael Palin, who can speak Clanger, is tonally based and melodic like a slide whis­tle. It’s ba­si­cally what Cork peo­ple sound like to Dublin peo­ple.

A prod­uct of the post-war so­cial demo­cratic con­sen­sus, the Clangers lit­er­ally sub­sist on soup doled out by a ma­ter­nal­is­tic statist “Soup Dragon”, so they have a lot of time on their hands with which to play games and gar­den and knit and go space-sail­ing in mu­si­cal boats and make new friends.

In­ci­den­tally, the only Clanger with an ac­tual job seems to be Ma­jor Clanger, which sug­gests that a full fifth of the Clanger pop­u­la­tion is em­ployed by the mil­i­tary in­dus­trial com­plex. He is en­tirely de­fined by his job. The rest of the Clangers are named ac­cord­ing to size (Small and Tiny Clanger) or fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ship (Mother Clanger and Granny Clanger).

There are other peo­ple on the Clanger planet. There are the Froglets, a trio of aliens who re­sem­ble a young Denis Healey and live in a top hat. There is Baby Soup Dragon, a smaller, cuter big­ger-eyed ver­sion of the Soup Dragon, who was clearly cre­ated with the same mis­guided zeal that led to the cre­ation of Scrappy Doo and Fine Gael’s Si­mon Har­ris.

The Clangers are good at mud­dling along with their neigh­bours. In one episode, Baby Soup Dragon, who bab­bles in a flat in­com­pre­hen­si­ble mono­tone like a Dubliner, hordes all of the mul­ti­coloured gems that fall from the sky, un­til the melo­di­ous Mun­ster-based Clangers con­vince him to share his bounty with the rest of the coun­try, I mean, Clanger planet.

In an­other episode, a quin­tet of strange alien plants de­scends upon the moon and lit­er­ally takes root there. Small and Tiny Clanger take one of the plants as a gift for Granny Clanger, but the plant be­comes lonely. This story ends with the Clanger wel­com­ing the whole plant fam­ily into their home. “Flow­ers and Clangers to­gether, the more the mer­rier,” de­clares Michael Palin.

In a third episode, Tiny and Small Clanger en­counter a mu­si­cal, lev­i­tat­ing me­tal­lic sphere and, af­ter play­ing with it for a while, are in­formed by Mother Clanger that “if they don’t know what it is, or where it’s from, they should treat it with kind­ness”.

The Clangers is, like lots of hand­made stop-mo­tion pro­grammes that emerged in the 1960s, beau­ti­ful, mu­si­cal, strange, in­ter­na­tion­al­ist and hu­mane.

In other words, it’s the sort of thing that drives the Euroscep­ti­cal-wing of the Tory party crazy. Those plants should be kept in camps on the Iron Chicken’s junk planet. And those lev­i­tat­ing spheres should keep their mu­sic down and be set to work. And while we’re at it, let’s dereg­u­late the soup mar­ket and make Granny Clanger get a job, the bum.

The BBC will prob­a­bly even­tu­ally have to make a xeno­pho­bic, pro-Brexit ver­sion of The Clangers for the sake of bal­ance. One in which Mother Clanger says things like “Those metal mu­si­cal spheres want to come here, take our jobs and straighten our ba­nanas” or “Let’s kick that plant to death.”

A woolly reprise

Else­where on tele­vi­sion this week there were sto­ries of other strange woolly crea­tures who may as well live on the moon, for they are Made in Chelsea (Mon­day, Chan­nel 4), where the at­mos­phere is lighter and peo­ple are also named as though they are char­ac­ters in a stop-mo­tion car­toon (there’s Binky, Tiff and Toff to name three).

This week’s episode be­gins with Alex, who is dressed in a furry jacket like Co­nan the Bar­bar­ian, chas­ing some ducks around a pond us­ing a re­mote con­trolled boat. Mother Clanger would have some­thing to say about this if she was here, but Mother Clanger is not here thanks to Blairism.

Made in Chelsea tells you all you need to know about in­her­ited wealth. Okay, there’s an Ir­ish peas­ant girl on Made in

Chelsea now, but when­ever she speaks they all stare at her in won­der. To them, no doubt, she re­sem­bles a 19th-cen­tury

Punch car­toon. Ev­ery­one on Made in Chelsea is in the busi­ness of joy­lessly creat­ing “drama” by gos­sip­ing over brunch un­til some­one silently stares into the mid­dle dis­tance to emo­tive in­die mu­sic.

Richard III (Satur­day, BBC2) has a dif­fer­ent no­tion of drama – one that en­sures that the posh are culled with con­tin­u­ous warfare rather than with­er­ing looks and pas­siveag­gres­sive text ex­changes. This is the sev­enth, beau­ti­fully shot in­stal­ment in the Hol­low

Crown, the BBC’s take on Shake­speare’s his­tory plays, and not the third in­stal­ment in a stand­alone film fran­chise that also in­cludes Richard: First Blood, Richard Too: Too Many Richards and Richard IV: Richard on the Rocks.

Apt dis­crip­tion

Shake­speare’s char­ac­ters like to talk. They of­ten de­scribe the thing that they’re do­ing while they’re do­ing it – a no-no in con­tem­po­rary tele­vi­sion sto­ry­telling – but that’s okay be­cause they de­scribe things so very, very well. The ver­bosity also hides a lack of psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity. In last week’s

Henry VI, a char­ac­ter changed sides in a war be­cause he was a lit­tle bit em­bar­rassed at a party. In this episode Richard III (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch) kills ev­ery­one around him be­cause he has a bad back.

Frankly it doesn’t mat­ter. Watch­ing the ar­che­typal vil­lain spit­ting his in­ten­tions to cam­era like an elo­quently de­ranged YouTube star/Frank Un­der­wood be­fore vi­o­lently mur­der­ing men, women and chil­dren is glo­ri­ously thrilling stuff. It’s a bit of a cliche to say this about classy tele­vi­sion drama, but it’s pos­i­tively Shake­spear­ian.

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