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The Radio 4 Gordon Murray Interview

Over Christmas 1995, Radio 4 broadcast the series: "Trumpton Riots", a look back at the cult children's television programmes of the sixties and seventies. Produced by Laura Druce, the series unearthed the background to such programmes as "Tiswas" and "The Clangers".

For the final episode "Pugwash, Windy and Barney McGrew" Fred Harris took a look at "Mr. Benn", "Captain Pugwash", "Fingerbobs" and the Trumptonshire trilogy, interviewing the key figures from these programmes. The excerpt featuring Gordon Murray clarified many points of discussion and is included here:

Gordon Murray created not just one character but a whole village full, and eventually a whole shire-full.
[Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock...]

Whereabouts is Trumptonshire ? Is it Kent or Sussex ?
There are mountains in the background so I would think it's probably in the middle of the country somewhere [laughs]. Because the mountains look rather nice in the background.

Which were your favourite characters ?
I didn't really have any favourite characters except that Windy Miller sort of developed you know, and it was only coming in and out of that Windmill that did it, because he never got hit by the sails, and that seemed to amuse people.

I always assumed he had got hit but you just didn't show us those shots.
No no, it was just second nature that he never got hit by the sails.

 [Captain Flack answering phone from Chimney episode]

The rhyme everybody remembers is the Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub. Where did that come from ?
Well, it was just the rhythm. That was the big bit of choreography that I did, influenced by my wife who was a ballet dancer you see. Pugh and Pugh are twins you must understand - not Hugh, Pugh.
I've seen it misrepresented in the press many times.
I've explained until I am blue in the face. Barney McGrew is the only one with his Christian and surname - the driver, the sleepy driver. Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub are added ones to make the rhythm I think. I can't remember really!

Did you have to play around with the names until you got that little formula ?
I very often used the phone book for names, which is very useful.

I've got a complaint to make about Barney McGrew. Everybody else turned their head as their name was spoken and Barney McGrew (lazy sod) didn't. Why ?
Well he's always been a bit fed up with the whole thing really . He only does it for the money [laughs].

 [Firemen on parade: Pugh Pugh Barney McGrew, Cuthbert Dibble Grub...]

Brian Cant is Brian Cant and I thought, well that young man (because we were all that much younger at the time!) had the right sort of tone as a young father, really. And he did terribly well. He was terribly good in the recording studio because he was shut up in a sort of sound proof cupboard. And he always took his shoes off before recording so that there wouldn't be any extraneous effects.

 [Cuthbert Dibble Grub]

What became of all those wonderful puppets and the models and everything ? What happened to them?
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.

How did that feel, seeing them all go up in flames ?
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.

 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].

Fred Harris sums-up:

So what's the secret of creating a cult TV children's programme ? What have all those shows got in common ? Well , not a lot really. You don't have baddies or you do. You have outrageous character voices or you don't . You inject a bit of sixties' surrealism, or you keep it simple and old fashioned. So what is the secret?

Well, in fact there is one factor that all those shows have in common, along with The Herbs, The Woodentops, The Magic Roundabout, Thunderbirds and all the others. The people involved cared. They knew that it mattered. Why does it matter ? Gordon Murray puts it much better than I could:

I am very upset, because I'm an old man now, at the short length of childhood, that children have. They don't have childhood for long and I think that's a wicked shame, because childhood is the most marvelous thing you've got to remember for the rest of your life.

This is a transcription of an interview heard on the BBC Radio 4 programme "Trumpton Riots", produced by Laura Druce, and originally broadcast at Christmas 1995.