Guest post: @KateGL : The Clangers

I’m delighted that my first ever guest post comes from Kate Griffiths-Lambeth. In the recent set of Christmas reader requests one of the topics was ‘The Clangers’. Having written about James Bond, Bagpuss, Indiana Jones and Morph my heart sank when I saw the request for The Clangers.

Clangers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It became clear that I didn’t even have enough recollection of The Clangers to fudge things as I normally do and so Kate very generously offered to contribute. If you would like to read more of Kate’s work – which I can’t recommend highly enough you will find her rich and incredibly well researched blog here..

Just over a week ago China’s Chang’e-3 space probe landed on the moon.  It released a small rover, which goes by the attractive name of Jade Rabbit, after the treasured pet of Change’e the moon Goddess in Chinese mythology.  Perhaps it is the mental image of a small animal roving over the moon’s surface, or maybe I am just feeling guilty that I have taken a while to write this post, but I can’t help but think of the British children’s TV series, the Clangers whenever Jade Rabbit is mentioned.  When David was asked to write some thoughts on what work can learn from the Clangers, I volunteered to pen a few words.  I’m a little older (well quite a bit older) than David, and the Clangers played an important part in my childhood.  They were a wonderful, charming part of my week and never failed to delight.  They taught me about family values, the benefits of curiosity, teamwork and compassion.  The Clangers started in November 1969, just four months after NASA’s moon landing, when space exploration was topical.  Now, nearly fifty years later, fresh explorations are happening in space and the Clangers are being revived – Oliver Postgate’s son, Daniel, along with Peter Firmin (who created the initial series with Oliver) are in the process of making some new episodes which will be aired in 2015  I can’t wait…

Given my penchant for the creatures, my grandmother even knitted me my own toy Clanger; it is perhaps no surprise that I remain fond of the creatures and their apparently unsophisticated world.  Perhaps that is the first lesson – appearances can be deceptive.  The Clangers live on what seems to be a barren rock, but inside it is full of secrets and surprises – deep soup wells tended by dragons, caverns full of Glow-Buzzers with glow-honey, copper and cheese trees and a range of bizarre creatures.  Without looking deeper, all these good things would not have been seen.  The same applies to people, legal contracts and infrastructure projects – there is always more to them than meets the eye.

The second lesson is diversity is good thing – not only are there numerous creatures within the planet (each with their own roles, attitudes and behaviours – the generous Soup Dragon; the strongly disciplined and opinionated Hoots; the weeping and sometimes emotional Cloud; the cheeky and inventive Froglets; and the bossy, broody and inquisitive Iron Chicken) but also there is fascinating diversity of thought and attitude amongst the Clangers themselves – Major Clanger is an authoritarian inventor, happy to copy things that impress him (such as rockets and fireworks); Small Clanger is filled with moral courage and is prepared to speak out for what is right (such as telling off the Hoots’ planet when it inadvertently abducts his sister); Tiny Clanger is a small, adventurous and resourceful diplomat often able to achieve results when others fail; and Mother Clanger is sensitive and caring – the calm, unassuming backbone of the community.  All these types are to be found in the workplace and it would be diminished without each and every one of them.

The third lesson is that often charming diplomacy is more likely to achieve desired outcomes than aggression and coercion.  The Soup Dragon beats the Iron-Chicken with a ladle when it drinks soup straight from the well, the chicken, failing to understand what it has done wrong, runs amok on the planet, walking through walls and eventually falls, via hole it makes in the ceiling of the Clangers’ home, onto the tea table.  Major Clanger is horrified and tries to stop the Iron-Chicken from eating their blue-string-dinner by shouting at the bird and pulling food from its beak.  It takes the skills of Tiny Clanger to calm the bewildered Iron-Chicken, when no one else can develop a relationship with it, simply by being considerate, being kind and paying it attention.  It’s amazing what people can achieve if you take the time to explain to them why something needs to be done.

The fourth lesson is that there is nothing wrong with being authentic and saying it how you see it…  The Clangers are neither evasive nor disingenuous.  They respond with an appealing genuineness to their world and the things that happen around them.  Although they speak in hooting whistle-like sounds, their meaning and opinions are always clear.  In the third episode of the first series Major Clanger makes his frustration at the gateway not opening smoothly very clear.  1 minute in, he can be heard hooting in exasperation “Oh sod it, the bloody thing’s stuck again” – . It is interesting that these actual English words were in the script that Oliver Postgate wrote and translated into Clanger-speak through the use of Swanee whistles.  This attention to detail, in the attempt to create a convincing creature, is astounding (he could have just instructed that Major Clanger should make a sound of exasperation).  What is perhaps of equal astonishment is that viewers in almost every country can understand what the Clangers are saying, despite there not being any human words.  The tone and pitch is sufficient, along with the gesticulations, to get the message across – Japanese children imagine Japanese words, Swedish children Swedish, etc…  It just goes to show that it’s not what you say but the way that you say it that makes the impact.

The firth lesson is that there is no shame in changing your mind once you have additional, pertinent information.  In the episode The Intruder, when a human originated space probe lands on the planet, Major Clanger is in awe of it and determines to build a space rocket so that he can follow it.  Just before he is due to depart Tiny Clanger shows him a view of his destination through a telescope that the probe left behind – the sight of dingy grey sky scrapers and the lack of space is sufficient to convince Major Clanger that Earth is not an appealing destination.  Too often we stick to projects and plans because we don’t wish to lose face or appear foolish by changing our minds.  Often being adaptable as circumstances change and being open minded to new data is crucial for long term success and an enjoyable existence

I could provide numerous examples of how Clangers reap rewards through resourcefulness and focus, how greed and vanity are disruptive and potentially dangerous.  But, now that the air is full of carols and festive songs, my final lessons from them to us is that music often makes things better – it can make a journey easier (Tiny Clanger uses music to power her sky boat) and can even show the mysteries of the universe, such as in the episode The Music of the Spheres.  The music for the show was performed in a village hut, by a group that referred to themselves as the Clangers Ensemble – I like the fact that at times the hut window was clearly left open as birdsong can be heard in some of the pieces.  However, probably the most important lesson from the Clangers is that great things can be achieved when we work and have fun together.  We all gain from understanding, supporting and learning with those around us.  Life is at its best when enjoyed with friends and family and, given that we are now in the holiday season, that seems a fitting place to end.

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