It was announced today that a man named Gordon Murray had died at the age of 95. The name meant nothing to me, but the achievement did. Gordon Murray produced children’s TV series for the BBC from the late Fifties through to the Seventies, and his most memorable productions were the Trumptonshire trilogy.
That’s Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley to you Johnny-(and Jenny-)come-latelies who weren’t around in the Sixties. There are so many classic children’s series’ from that era of which I specifically remember watching the very first episode (these include The Magic Roundabout and Play School, though I always considered myself too grown up for that).
But I remember that very first Camberwick Green: Brian Cant’s calm, even, almost rhythmical introduction: “Here is a box. A Musical box. Wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide A secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today?”
Then the turning of a key, the beginning of a little hurdy-gurdy tune, the box spinning and its hexagonal top splitting into six parts as up through the new hole rose… on that first occasion, Mrs Honeyman. Week-in, week-out, a different member of the tiny community – small village, cotton mill, brutal fascistic Army camp disguised as picturesque castle – would appear to lead us though very calm ‘adventures’ set in an idyllic, and strangely hypnotic world.
Then our hero or heroine of the day would return to their little plinth, nodding and waving replies to Cant’s quesions, before freezing into their original pose and sinking back down into the Musical box, which would wind down and stop.
There were only thirteen of them, but thirteen can feel like infinity to a nine-year old boy. There were thirteen only of Trumpton, set in the nearby ‘big town’, which dispensed with the fantasy of the Musical box and simply took us straight into the story. I remember less of this, except of course for the Fire Brigade and their rollcall, which it is mandatory to repeat (and who would want to resist?): “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.”
Chigley was the last, but by then I was too old for such childish things, and never ever saw more than a few seconds of the country dance, which was the perennial ending, just as the Fire Brigade brass band concert in the Park was the only way out of Trumpton. Chigley was my younger sister’s thing, so you’d have to ask her what she remembers, when or if she looks back on her childhood.
But these are the obvious things, the forever-remembered peak of Gordon Murray’s career, and this piece is about something far more esoteric, older and buried deeper in my memory. The obituary tracks backwards from Trumptonshire, to approach the ‘present’ of that trilogy via Murray’s earlier career and there was mention of the 33 episodes of A Rubovian Legend, at which point I nearly shouted out loud.
A wild surmise had come to me and I sprang to a Wikipedia link in search of confirmation, and there it was. For decades, literally, I have had floating in my mind, a few dim memories of a TV puppet series I used to love. It was set in a strange kingdom, with silly characters playing semi-serious parts and my one, clear, unanchored memory of it was that the Queen, or Empress, or Grand Duchess of which, whatever she was, had a pet that she used to summon with the bell-like call of ‘Pongo! Pongo! Poll-ollol-ollol-ollol-Pongo!’ (I may be an ‘ollol’ or two out there in strict accuracy but we are talking about something contemporaneous with Andy Pandy here, but much less famous).
A Rubovian Legend clicked instantly with such long-untraced memories, and there was a Wikipedia entry of that very name, every word of which seemed to fit my vaguest memories, and then there were the words: Queen Caroline’s pampered pet dragon, Pongo!
And another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is my childhood memories slots into place, properly labelled. Gordon Murray, I probably never noticed your name at all before today, but I bow my head to you and to the wonderful times you gave my childhood. You deserve to be buried with full military honours as Captain Snort orders the boys from Pippin Fort to fire a 21 gun salute over you.