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