IF there is one place on earth where I would like to live other than my current home, it would be Trumpton, in the county of Trumptonshire.
For an all-too-brief season of 13 quarter-hour BBC episodes between January and March 1967, Trumpton was an enchanting portrait of small-town life somewhere in rural England. No knife crime, no racial conflict, no nastiness, just a happy place where the Fire Brigade were always on hand to rescue cats from trees.
It was a stop-motion series created and produced by Gordon Murray as the second part of the Trumptonshire Trilogy, the first being Camberwick Green and the third Chigley. Murray said the three communities were based on ‘real locations which are one-and-a-half miles from each other in an equidistant triangle’. He chose not to identify them to stop them being ‘inundated with tourists’.
Trumpton was written by Alison Prince, narrated by Brian Cant and music was provided by the brilliant Freddie Phillips, who supplied many of the characters with their own theme tune.
The programme always begins with a view of the Town Hall clock. ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly; never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trumpton.’
‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly; never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trumpton.’
The Fire Brigade feature in every edition, with the commander Captain Flack giving the roll call: ‘Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.’ The Pughs are twins but we are never given their forenames. Their fire engine makes its way through the immaculate, litter-free streets at a sedate pace, ringing its bell all the way.
To Captain Flack’s chagrin, the brigade are never called to an actual blaze, owing to the technical problem of animating fire, smoke and water. However the men often deploy the equipment, leading the captain to cry: ‘No! No! Not the hose!’
The Mayor, whose name is not revealed, presides over a team headed by Mr Troop, the town clerk, who shares with him the theme song Fire Brigade, Road Repairs, Library. The Borough Engineer, Mr Bolt, is never seen but is heard over the telephone in two episodes. The mayoral driver is Mr Philby and Mr Craddock is the park keeper, theme song as follows:
Silver paper, toffee paper, dirty bit of cardboard.
Chair ticket, bus ticket, button from a dress.
Chocolate wrapper, envelope, another bit of cardboard.
Can’t they use the litter bins and not make such a mess?
Leave litter in the litter bins and never leave a mess!
Mrs Cobbit the flower seller (Roses, Roses, Buy My Red Roses) is in the opening titles, and features in the storyline of every episode. In 40 years she has never missed a day’s work in the town square, except of course on Sundays.
Also in the opening titles is Miss Lovelace the milliner, theme song A Hat For a Young Girl. She is usually seen with her three Pekingese dogs Mitzi, Daphne and Lulu. Then there is Mr Clamp the greengrocer, theme song Come Buy My Vegetables.
The town carpenter is Chippy Minton, theme song I Like My Job as a Carpenter. He has a wife, Dora, and son, Nibs, who works as his apprentice.
Mr Munnings the printer’s song is I Line Up All The Letters.
He is a much nicer printer than any I ever met in Fleet Street.
PC Potter keeps order in the mean streets of Trumpton protecting the premises, among others, of Mr Platt the clockmaker (Clocks are Like People).
A cosmopolitan note comes from the ice-cream seller Mr Toni Antonio – Tingaling-aling-aling, Here’s the Ice-Cream Van.
Mr Robinson is the window cleaner: his theme song is It Is Hard To See Out. Nick Fisher is the bill sticker: Pasting Up The Posters, Sticking Up The Bills. Walter Harkin is the painter and decorator: People Will Ask Me Which Colour To Use.
Characters who appear in only one episode, yet still have their own tune, are Mr Wilkins the plumber (Hot Water Heater Takes Too Long to Heat), Mr Wantage the telephone engineer (Ring Ring, I Work For Post Office Telephones) and Raggy Dan the rag-and-bone man (Rags, Bottles and Bones, I Cry).
Every storyline features a minor domestic drama which is amicably resolved by the end, with the last minute or so devoted to a bandstand concert by the Fire Brigade.
Trumpton repeats were part of the BBC’s children’s output well into the 1980s. What on earth do today’s Corporation lefties (as Jeremy Clarkson put it, ‘redder than a dog’s lipstick’) think of it? No doubt the words ‘hideously white’ spring to mind.
Getting on for 60 years since it was first aired, Trumpton remains firmly embedded in British culture. The cult Scouse band Half Man Half Biscuit released Trumpton Riots in 1986, while the following year the comedy series Alas Smith and Jones included this report.
Following the election of Donald Trump as US President, several Trumpton spoofs featuring him appeared including this by the Huffington Post.
In a 1995 interview with Radio 4, Gordon Murray was asked what happened to all the Trumptonshire puppets.
He replied: ‘I burnt them in a bonfire in my garden. I’d had them for some time after the transmissions had stopped. And various people had said, “Oh they’re old-fashioned”, and they always were old-fashioned actually. They were old-fashioned from the word go. They had been used an awful lot you know so I burnt them, together with the scenery.
‘A puppet is an actor you see, and as an actor he only exists as he is performing. After that he’s done his job and therefore the actual figure is redundant.’
His final words: ‘There’s no crime, you know, in Trumptonshire, it’s a happy world, and a lot of people say, “Well you shouldn’t encourage children to think that the world’s like that”. Some people throw their children into the deep end of the swimming bath at an early age and say “Swim”. You know, that’s the way to learn, life’s hard. Hard things are coming to you. I don’t believe in that. I believe that you must protect your children while they are children for as long as possible, from this dreadful world we’re living in.’ [laughs at his own seriousness].
Gordon Murray died in 2016, aged 95. We could do with a few more of his kind around today.
Old jokes’ home
I was having dinner with the chess player Gary Kasparov and there was a check tablecloth. It took him two hours to pass me the salt.
A PS from PG
‘I’d always thought her half-baked, but now I think they didn’t even put her in the oven.’
PG Wodehouse: Jeeves in the Offing