Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Me and Oliver Postgate

I'm very sad to learn of the death of Oliver Postgate at the grand old age of 83.
For British readers I need hardly say any more. He was part of all our childhoods - Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, and of course the inimitable Clangers. For anyone else, well, if you don't know what I'm on about, it's really no use trying to explain! Except to say that he was both the perfect children's storyteller - combining simplicity with humour and great characters - and a marvellous animator.

Interestingly, if you read his memoirs you will see that it was his work as an animator that led to his spending a year at an Australian university supposedly teaching his craft to the students there. It doesn't seem to have been a success: the academics clearly had no idea what he was there for and actively obstructed his attempts to teach anything.

I have to admit that I had Oliver Postgate's experience in mind when I started working at the university. After all, like him I have been more or less parachuted in with no background or experience in academia, and expected to impart some details of my craft to students when, for all I knew, their tutors may feel they can teach them all they need to know.

In practice I am pleased to say I haven't found this to be problem. The academic world has its quirks and I am aware of the politics going on around me (although the department I'm attached to keeps me reasonably well cushioned against this sort of thing). I'm able to get on with my job of seeing students individually and I've no doubt that I will be able to put on workshops and the like if I wish. Partly I expect this is because I have lower expectations than Postgate did, although I imagine it's also true that universities now are much better at integrating outsiders into their own student support networks. Mind you, I don't see that many academics - which could well be another reason why they don't bother me!

Funnily enough, it's just occurred to me that my university, Kent, had a particular association with Oliver Postgate. A triptych designed by him hangs in one of the colleges, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university - although it was apparently made clear at the time that he was receiving it only on behalf of Bagpuss!