Hartley Hare isn’t surprised that Network is releasing Pipkins The Collection with all of his greatest hits. He would have only asked why did it take so long?
Yes Hartley Hare was made from an old cardigan so I guess you could say he was into recycling before anyone else. Hartley and Pipkins were trailblazers in other ways as well. Unlike other pre-school shows at the time, Pipkins was a mini comedy-drama about a family, albeit one made out of foam and jumpers. But what really turned Hartley from an old jumper into the star we remember and love today is Nigel Plaskitt.
Nigel was fresh out of drama college when he was asked to perform in Pipkins. Not only was he the puppeteer operating Hartley (and Tortoise and Mooney the badger too) but he was also their voices, hearts and souls. Nigel made Hartley into a sensitive, lovable, melodramatic diva with the comedy timing of John Cleese.
Pipkins was created by producer Michael Jeans and writer Susan Pleat. I came onboard as one of the main writers with Susan shortly after, as did Billy Hamon and Denis Bond. We did our best to entertain both children and their parents. And believe it or not, we were educational too.
We were more than helped by our splendid human presenters who included Wayne Laryea, Jonathan Kydd and Paddy O’Hagan. Johnny, Tom and Peter might have thought they were in charge of Hartley and friends but it was really the other way around. To add to the joy Pipkins had the greatest next door neighbour, Mrs Muddle, played by Sue Nicholls; also known as Audrey Roberts in Coronation Street. We punched well above our weight.
Together from 1973 – 1981, we made 313 programmes at ATV Elstree which are still loved by discerning people like you today so we must have done something right. I asked Nigel what his favourite memories of the series are:
“Almost too many to say. We ran for nine years so I think it really was the people I met and worked with – many of whom I’m still in touch with today. Also creating Hartley who developed over the course of the series. Being part of several generations childhoods is a great privilege.”
As Nigel says we’ve all remained friends to this day. So much so that Susan, Nigel and I (along with top puppet creator Paul Jomain and ChuckleVision writer Robert Taylor) have created a brand new children’s puppet series for a new generation: Monty & Co. We’re hoping it’ll be loved for as long as Pipkins has been.
I couldn’t finish without saying a special thank you to Hartley Hare (it’s in his contract) and also to his friends Pig, Topov, Tortoise, Octavia and Mooney. We hope enjoy Pipkins. We certainly did.
Gail Renard is a Bafta award-winning writer, performer and producer. Her work includes various BBC, ITV and C4 comedy and children’s series, as well as books, films, radio and stage plays.