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06 October 2008

everybody knows his bright red van



"suppose, if you will, that i am part of a silent martian invasion and that my intention is slowly to destroy the whole culture of the human race. where would i start? i would naturally start where thought first grows. i would start with children's television. my policy would be to give the children only the sort of thing that they 'already know they enjoy' like a fizzing diet of manic jelly babies. this would no doubt be exciting,
but their hearts and their minds would receive no nourishment, they would come to know nothing of the richness of human life, love and knowledge, and slowly whole generations
would grow up knowing nothing about anything but violence and personal supremacy."

- oliver postgate



postman pat has been promoted. he's not just a lovable local postman anymore. he's been rebranded. moved up into management to take a position as the head of the special delivery service. i don't suppose i should really care, but i do. he's had to relocate too. he doesn't live in the countryside, in the little village of greendale anymore. now he lives and works in a nearby town called pencaster. and he doesn't use the same van anymore either, he drives a larger van now with sat nav. as well as a motorbike and a gyrocopter, if there even is such a thing. and he has a blackberry too.

this is how entertainment rights, the company that makes the show, described the revamped pat:

"he is more heroic. previously, pat was everybody's friend, everybody's local postman. he is now everybody's local hero because he has so many more challenges in his job. he delivers everything and anything and he has a mission every episode. there is a lot more action; children are used to seeing a lot of fast paced programmes now."

i watched an episode of it this morning. it ended with pat flying down in a helicopter to deliver a bouncy castle to a school, but then jess the cat tore the castle with his claws. so pat jumped to the rescue, fixing the holes in the castle with some sticking plasters and inflating it with a reconfigured leaf blower. it was pretty weird. it was like watching macgyver. even pat seemed a bit bemused by the whole thing. he was always a bit bumbling, but that didn't seem to matter when he was just a village postman. now he seems completely lost. like someone on a government restart scheme for the unemployed, desperately trying to make sense of an unsuitable office job when he's spent the last thirty years wobbling along country lanes with his pet cat on the passenger seat delivering letters around the same village to the same people every day. the programme makers have been making him out to be some sort of action hero, but i think pat knows that he can never live up to it. i'm not sure if he even wanted any new challenges, he was probably quite happy in greendale. he always seemed very happy there. i don't remember him having any ambitions of moving into management or ever mentioning moving away from the village. it all seems quite sudden. i hope he's okay.

he doesn't deliver letters anymore either. he delivers parcels now. it's even been written into the theme tune, which has been distastefully rerecorded, so now there'll be a knock and a ring and parcels will be delivered to your door instead of letters. i don't understand why anyone would think the theme tune needed recording again, there was nothing wrong with the original version, it sounded like glen campbell, but perhaps a bit jollier. it's as if the programme makers had it rerecorded because they thought that children wouldn't like the production values of the original version. it's idiotic.

postman pat was first made in 1981 by ivor wood, who had previously animated the magic roundabout with serge danot in france before coming over to england to direct and animate the wombles, the herbs, and paddington bear. his woodland animations company produced the first two series of postman pat, about twenty eight episodes in all, and three or four films. and then in 2001 ivor wood sold woodland animations to entertainment rights, who got cosgrove hall to make series three, four and five. i don't know if cosgrove hall were involved in the most recent series, but i didn't really like a lot of the changes they'd already made in the three series before. everything seemed to have been tidied up with cgi. the new postman pat has been cleaned up even more and the scenery looks really really shit. i guess programme makers use cgi because they've been forced to stop being creative and innovative, because television stations won't commission programmes for children that children aren't already familiar with and that don't fit into already proven formats. i suppose if the programme makers aren't allowed to be creative and innovative with the content then the only way they can compete with each other is over the technical quality of it. i can't think of any other way to explain using cgi in programmes for children. it's just weird. i really don't think that children care about the technical quality of television programmes. if you stick a couple of buttons on a sock they think it's a snake.

the same thing happened with thomas the tank engine, and even though i always thought the trains were a bit creepy, i thought the first two series were filmed really beautifully. watching it still makes me feel like i did when i was young and i used to lie down on the floor with my face pressed into the carpet and i'd get so close to my playmobil people that i would feel like i was the same size as them. it was like that with the first two series of thomas the tank engine, but over time the programme makers began cleaning it up and making it look less and less three dimensional and slowly it lost all the magic that it had. and then everything else in it was simplified and reduced down until it just became completely banal. the later episodes are almost moronic. if i watch it it makes me think i've got learning disabilities.

this isn't me being nostalgic. i'm not looking back at all the things i watched when i was young with more fondness, because i don't think at all. a lot of it was rubbish. i just don't understand why so many of the programmes made for children have such high production values now, and i wonder where all the charm and subtlety has gone. it's as if the programme makers don't think children are interested in anything quiet or considered or intelligent. there isn't anyone making programmes with the same tone and feeling that oliver postgate and peter firmin used to use, and i think it would be nice if there was. although there are a few programmes being made at the moment that i do like. i saw an episode of the little princess where there was a funeral for a snail, and it was one of the saddest and sweetest things i've seen on television for ages.

and the silly thing is, children's television programmes don't even need to change. their audiences are children so they get into them and then grow out of them naturally. no one is ever going to watch postman pat for more than a few years between the ages of two and five anyway, so television stations might as well just show the same episodes over and over again.

i know it probably doesn't matter, and there are children that'll watch the new postman pat all over the world and enjoy it, but when i watched it this morning i couldn't help feeling that something magical had gone out of it. pat had been one of the quiet ones, and now he's been made to be like everything else. i just hope that pat still feels he's a really happy man, because he looked a little bit sad and lost to me.

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