It’s One of ITV’s Best Remembered Kids’ Series
At the beginning of the 1970s, the Independent Broadcasting Authority tasked four of ITV’s companies to cook up their own show for pre-schoolers, as an alternative to PBS’s groundbreaking Sesame Street. Indigo Pipkin (as it was originally titled) was ATV’s contribution, focusing as it did on an elderly toymaker (played by George Woodbridge) who, over the course of the first series, would create a menagerie of puppets, including Hartley Hare, Topov the monkey, Pig, and Octavia the ostrich. When Woodbridge died midway through filming the second season, his death – unusually for a children’s TV show – was written into the series, with his role from then on being taken by his assistant Johnny (played by Wayne Laryea). Of the three other pre-school shows that launched in 1973, only Rainbow outlived Pipkins. Yorkshire’s Mister Trimble and Granada’s Hickory House were canned in ‘77.
It Had Edge
Most puppet shows, especially in the 1970s, played it safe. There was little that was salty or subversive about Rainbow’s primary players (even the mildly caustic Zippy had a heart of gold), but few of Pipkins’ characters could be called cosy or posh (if there was an elite public school for TV puppets, you just know that Rainbow’s George and Bungle would have been its star pupils). There was nothing cuddly or comforting about the fussy, narcissistic, and forever sulky Hartley Hare (with a voice that sounded like someone you really shouldn’t get in a car with), and little that was middle-class about the Brummie-accented Pig, or the Cockney-styled Topov. And with its grubby, lived in workshop setting, it had, for all its whimsy, a realism about it that was more Coronation Street than Pigeon Street.
It Nearly Had an Adults-Only Sequel
Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures writers Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman pitched an adult-oriented revival series, titled Pipkins Nights, to several TV companies in the mid-00s, though sadly it wasn’t picked up. “The idea grew out of our chats about what the Pipkins characters would be doing now,” Roberts told Network. “The rest of the gang were much the same but Hartley had deteriorated. He had never gotten over being axed for Let’s Pretend. He’d spent 18 years getting more and more bitter, and his only friend was Brett Anderson from Suede, who he called Bert. We wrote a pilot where Hartley’s career got revived accidentally, when he was invited on to The Late Show on BBC2 by a useless researcher who was supposed to book the playwright David Hare. We showed it to a few execs, and a couple were keen, but the rights situation was tricky and we then got busy with other work. For some reason, the end theme was going to be a version of The Jam’s ‘Going Underground’ sung by Hartley, with the sound effect of children laughing and cheering over the top, like you used to get at the end of Grandad or Crackerjack. “Some people might say my life is in a RUT!”
The DVD Boxset is to Die for
Network’s 10-disc Pipkins: The Collection set scoops together every surviving episode (sadly, not all the 300+ episodes of Pipkins are still with us), together with commentaries from voice artists Nigel Plaskitt and Heather Tobias, video interviews, and even a brand-new episode, fronted by Pipkins veteran Jonathan Kydd, and produced by Network in 2005, 22 years after the show’s cancellation.