Children’s television in my youth was an electic collection of styles and genres, maybe more than it is today. I suppose it was a complete television service in miniature. The BBC used to show drama series under the umbrella title of ‘Tales from Europe’ and the one that stood out, possibly because it was so unusual, was ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ from East Germany.
I saw the series in the 60s; it was repeated several times over the years. It was actually made in 1957 by the East German DEFA studio as a film. The rather surreal story of a difficult and spoilt princess who rejects the proposal of a prince and all the gifts he offers has to be seen to be believed. She challenges him to present her with the mythical singing ringing tree of the title.
The series involves a bear, an evil dwarf and a giant fish. The singing, ringing tree will only sing if the prince and princess are in love so the ending is always in sight with no great surprises but a lot of fun on the way.
‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
There should be a law in Britain against using cultural icons from my childhood in adverts on television. It is bad enough when people I admire sell their talents to companies I would rather not support but when cartoon characters turn up in modern form to push profits the anachronism is too much. The latest cultural vandalism is against Top Cat and his gang.
The good news, I suppose, is that it made me think back to the 60s when BBC television broadcast the series ‘Boss Cat’ featuring Top Cat and the lovable rogues who formed his gang. Brain was always my favourite although Benny the Ball came a close second.
It took me years to work out why it was called ‘Boss Cat’ on BBC when the character was Top Cat: there was a British cat food called ‘Top Cat’ and the rules on advertising on BBC television meant that broadcasters considered it safer to change the name. It was a stupid move really since we all talked about Top Cat and never Boss Cat.
The series was American, created by Hanna- Barbera who made so many of our favourite cartoon series. At the heart of each episode a story about the cats outwitting Officer Dibble. Their get- rich- quick schemes rarely worked but were lots of fun. Best of all, I just have to think of the characters to hear their voices across the years.
This autobiographical novel is from young French novelist Edouard Louis. It tells the hard hitting story of growing up as an outsider in poor circumstances in northern France. Young Edouard knows he is different; the signs are in the reactions to him from everyone else. Edouard is an effeminate ten year old boy when we first meet him. His persona annoys his peer group and worries his parents.
His childhood is a story of learning that survival will depend heavily on regulating how he comes across. What is surprising, and moving, is that the boy does not blame others for their reactions to him. He accepts as normal that his manner and his attitudes (and later his sexuality) place him very low on life’s hierarchy. At the top are the physically tough, his father and cousins among them. These are the men who dominate his village. Hard physical jobs just to survive turn out tough, physical men whose attitudes to, and treatment of, women are shocking. Their view of effeminate boys is equally as clear cut.
There is a sense of triumph to the book, if only because the relating of the childhood experiences suggest survival, if nothing else. Escape to the city must have provided the author with a second act where he was validated. How else would he have written a book that despite its grim subject is written with such beauty?
‘The End of Eddy’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Thinking of Rose Tremain reminded me of the first of her books I read. It was a children’s book, if that label is needed, and is, I think, the only one she has written. In any case, it signaled to me that this was a writer worth following.
‘Journey to the Volcano’ is the story of George who is taken by his mother, without his father’s knowledge, to Sicily where she came from. She is following her intuition that her son needs to spend time with her family before it is too late. Her own mother, George’s Nonna, is quite old. The volcano is a volatile place and the brooding mountain hangs over the village.
We follow George to Italy but also see the effect on his father. The story of how his parents met is relayed and the differences in their temperaments is shown in their different approaches to their son.
In the end, it is George who has the insights. The drama in the story comes from a significant event. When the summer ends, George has much to reflect on but so too does his father and his mother. This a journey that changes them all.
‘Journey to the Volcano’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This is a poem from my youth, read to us as very young children by a teacher in our 1960s classroom. I recall the collection of AA Milne poems ‘When We Were Very Young’ with a blue border in the hands of my teacher as she read to us.
Lines and Squares
Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”
And the little bears growl to each other, “He’s mine,
As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.”
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It’s ever so portant how you walk.
And it’s ever so jolly to call out, “Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!”
A A Milne
This poem by Emily Dickinson reminds me of those days in English lessons as a teenager reading things that did not speak to my condition, only to lodge in my brain and come back to me at a time (and an age) when I made sense of it.
That Love Is All There Is
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
The announcement at the weekend of the death of Barry Norman was another sad passing of someone from my early years who played a significant part in building the person I am today; my interests were formed in my teenage years and have strengthened over the years. Barry Norman was on one of the first experts I came across who talked to me about film.
As I remember it, Film 74 was a fortnightly programme broadcast by BBC television on a Sunday night. Each other week, the book programme ‘Read All About It’ was screened. I liked both!
The format was simple but effective. Norman sat in a studio and talked to the camera about the releases of the week and clips were shown. This was enough for me. His comments were cogent and his tastes were mainstream but the idea of someone, who knew more than I did, telling me about something I wanted to know more about was just the sort of thing I needed.
I read in his obituaries that Barry Norman presented the programme from 1972 until 1998. The title of the series made the small adjustment with each new year. I first became aware of it in 1974 and watched until the late 70s when I left for university. The programme became weekly at some stage and, although I still watched occasionally, my time in front of a television diminished and I found other experts on film to turn to.
However, Film… was part of my growing up. It was one of the first places I realised that ‘foreign films’ were worth finding out and, each New Year, his programme of his favourite films of the year was a must see. In essence, this is what made him the very best of critics: he talked about what he liked and why and was unapologetic about the idea that the list was personal. One person, talking to camera- amazing television. They should do that again.