Tim Worthington's Gublins article
'Musicologists' with an unhealthy fixation with the Woodstock Festival tend to regard the untimely demise of the great Jimi Hendrix in 1970 as being the moment that 'the sixties' died. However, for those who appreciate well-made television classics and have scant regard for 'love-ins', the end of the swinging decade must surely be singposted by the transmission of the final episode of "Chigley". In the closing week of the decade that had given the world The Beatles and "The Avengers", the fondly-recalled 'Trumptonshire Trilogy' also drew to a close as Lord Belborough's barrel organ accompanied the six o'clock dance for the last time (barring, of course, decades of repeats). With the BBC's move to full colour transmissions just a matter of months away, a sad farewell was waved to the puppet county that had inspired three of the corporation's most loved childrens' programmes.
One of the great mysteries of popular culture is what Gordon Murray, the creator of Trumptonshire and its inhabitants, did next. As far as the supposedly infinite 'annals' of television nostalgia are concerned, he simply disappeared from view. In fact, he continued to work in television and produce great programmes, but unfortunately most of these have long since faded into the nostalgic ether, and now exist as mere memories for a handful of the people who saw them. One of these series was "The Gublins".
Although filmed and animated in much the same way as the inhabitants of Trumptonshire, The Gublins did not look very much like Mr. Dagenham or Chippy Minton. They were a race of squat, troll-like creatures with more than a hint of monkey about them. The Gublins also loved to tell their tongue-in-cheek folk tales, which they did with the aid of endless folk-tinged, Fairport Convention-like 'story songs'. As these included precise lyrical phrasing and hefty doses of folky guitar, it is more than likely that they were supplied by longtime Gordon Murray associate Freddie Phillips, the man who conjured up all of those Trumptonshire tunes that are now firmly lodged in the subconscious of several generations.
First broadcast by the BBC in the late 1970s, "The Gublins" was not shown in the traditional 'Watch With Mother' lunchtime slot as you might expect. Believe it or not, the series actually made its first appearance lost amongst the likes of "Big John Little John", "Hong Kong Phooey" and "Kim And Co" as part of the Saturday Morning schedules. To be more accurate, it actually formed part of "Noel Edmonds' Multicoloured Swap Shop" (or "Swap Shop", as it was mercifully later abbreviated to), which mixed animated inserts with the genial host, along with Keith 'Cheggers' Chegwin and the ubiquitous John Craven, presiding over phone-in competitions. "The Gublins" was well and truly hidden away in the schedules, but it was clearly popular enough for Gordon Murray to be invited to appear as a guest on "Swap Shop" and talk about his various series, because he was and he did!
As you can probably deduce from the fact that hardly anyone seems to remember it, "The Gublins" never really caught on to the extent that would warrant a Christmas Rush-inviting amount of merchandise. However, there was at least one commercially available spin-off. A late 1970s "Swap Shop" annual contained, alongside the expected pictures of Noel Edmonds and 'Cheggers' dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, a full Gublin tale told in photostory form. This possibly-specially created story related the happy adventures of one lucky Gublin who fell in love with a mermaid, with the action in each photo corresponding to a couple of lines of the song.
For years, "The Gublins" languished near-forgotten, enjoying only sporadic conversational outings as a classic example of the perennial 'childrens TV show that no-one else remembers' (well, no-one that I know remembers it). Then, in 1998, something very strange happened. "Childrens TV Favourites Of The 1970s", a budget-priced compilation from Contender Video, collected such fondly-recalled animated favourites as "Mary, Mungo And Midge", "Bod", "Crystal Tipps And Alistair"... and "The Gublins"! Quite how it ended up alongside the more widely-known examples noted above is something of a mystery, but it is surely a good omen, especially as Contender have since granted a full video release to all of the other series included on the tape. So, keep watching the 'Childrens' shelf of the video department of your nearest 'music store'. You never know - "The Gublins" may yet become something more than a vague memory...
This article was first published in 'Paintbox'