Bagpuss was a BBC TV children's programme, first shown in 1974 and oft-repeated throughout my childhood. It was a product of the fertile and frankly strange minds of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, whose company, Smallfilms, also spawned such famous offspring as Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine and of course, the Clangers. (There were others too, apparently, such as Pogle's Wood, but I'm too young to remember those...)
Innocent fun though it seemed at the time, Bagpuss shares a characteristic of many children's programmes of that era, that being a suitability for post-modern reappraisal. However, far from containing the famous references to 60s counter-culture present in The Magic Roundabout, it instead represents a much more considered and politically aware study of world culture, social forces and examination of humankind's place in the world. Honestly. It does.
The closest thing we possess to an authorial statement on
the significance of the characters is the epilogue which ended every episode.
Here it is, followed by a deeper analysis of each toy in turn:
Bagpuss gave a big yawn, and settled down to sleep. And when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too. The mice are ornaments on the Mouse Organ, Gabriel and Madeleine are just dolls. And Professor Yaffle is just a carved wooden book-end in the shape of a woodpecker. Even Bagpuss himself, once he is asleep, is just an old, saggy cloth cat; baggy and a bit loose at the seams. But Emily loved him.
The dreamer, the existentialist hero, through whose eyes everything is seen, and who, through a process of doubt and questioning, manages to synthesise all possible reasonings and pathways into one affirmative act.
A 'carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker'. Catchphrase: 'Nyek nyek nyek nyek'. Represents the intellectual, with the implication that traditional forms of knowledge are stagnant, in a petrified form which cannot develop ('carved', 'wooden'). Frequently disapproved of the antics of the other denizens of Emily's shop, yet usually failed to come up with any better ideas. Conventional "book" learning is therefore shown to be inferior to the intuitive, instinctive approach to problem-solving favoured by Bagpuss.
They represent the workforce, the proletariat. Normally frozen on the mouse organ (the 'organ' of the state which controls and represses them) they are animated by the waking of Bagpuss, showing the enervative power that a single individual's vision can wield within society. They serve a dramatic function similar to that of the Chorus in Greek tragedy, speaking mainly as a collective, with Charlie Mouse acting as Leader of the Chorus. The plays of Sophocles, however, are notable for their lack of anyone singing "We will wash it, we will scrub it..."
Some sort of maternal figure. Told a lot of stories, representing folk wisdom, the inherited learning which is traditionally associated with the home and therefore the established feminine role. Also wore a stripey dress, the sociopolitical significance of which has yet to be determined.
Played a banjo and sang songs which invariably contained a message; a possible association with the Angel Gabriel who was messenger of God. However, he was never shown to have a direct line to the wisdom of Emily (see under Emily) or the People Who Had Lost The Things. Possibly this indicates that conventional religious teaching is far removed from the truly spiritual. Or maybe not. Most critics consider he and Madeleine to be the most boring characters, and this one is no exception.
Probably the most interesting and challenging character. We know that she is a little girl and she owns a shop. She is frequently associated by critics with God, or at least a 'Godot' type figure who does not actually appear. However, it should be noted that, while Bagpuss and his friends require Emily to awaken them, they are not actually waiting for her. She provides them with lost and damaged objects, as a proof of her existence and of her love, but the true uncertainty in the minds of the toy characters is directed not towards her, but towards the People Who Had Lost The Things, who may someday return to reclaim those items.
The PWHLTTs, as I shall call them, are even more of a mystery than Emily. We know certain facts about Emily, such as her ownership of a shop, and her love for Bagpuss, but the only two available facts about the PWHLTTs are:
The relationship between Emily and Bagpuss is one of mutual interdependence. Bagpuss and his friends require Emily to reanimate them and to provide objects for them to restore. But Emily also requires Bagpuss to do this work for her: although she owns the shop, she cannot do the work herself. Emily's unconditional love is a comfort in the void of human existence, but even this comfort does not eliminate uncertainty about the future, or about the true nature of the People Who Had Lost The Things.
So far we have only examined one possible deconstruction of
Bagpuss. Bagpuss himself could be seen as inhabiting the
earthly realm, while Emily moves on the divine plane, but this is a very
traditionalist view. A modern, more psychoanalytical interpretion might be that
the 'real' world as we know it is the outside world inhabited by Emily. Bagpuss
and his friends occupy the inner world of consciousness, and represent not
forces within society but within the mind of a human being. Not just one human,
in fact. Bagpuss could be said to exist within the mind of each one of us, a
creative force that lies dormant but full of potential. He only needs to be
awakened. Or something.