Entertainment & Arts

Michael Palin: Narrating The Clangers is 'Zen-like'

Michael Palin with Tiny and Small Clanger
Image caption Michael Palin says The Clangers are "a little bit subversive"

Monty Python star Michael Palin has called narrating the new series of The Clangers "a Zen-like experience".

The actor tried to recreate the "reassuring" tone of co-creator Oliver Postgate, who provided the commentary on the original 1960s series.

"I find the voice of the narrator is like getting slightly high," he told the BBC.

"Everything's happening around you, you're not quite sure what it is, but it's comforting."

The Clangers, which debuted on the BBC in 1969, tells the story of a colony of mouse-type creatures who inhabit a small blue planet not far from earth.

Eking out a threadbare existence, the knitted aliens spoke in a swooping whistle, while the late Postgate observed their activities.

A cult favourite, it ran for just two years - but has now been resurrected for a £5 million new series on CBeebies.

Image caption The Clangers get their name from the "clang" of the dustbin lids that cover their moon-crater homes

Several episodes have been written by Postgate's son, Daniel, while original co-creator Peter Firmin serves as an executive producer.

He said technological advances meant the stop-motion characters were more "sophisticated" than the 1960s original.

"They can dance, they can fly, they can jump," he said. "Our simple technology, with the feet tin-tacked to the surface of the planet [meant] we couldn't make them go up in the air except with strings.

"It's so much more exciting now because they can do so much more."

Image caption Producers insisted the new series would use stop-motion animation, rather than CGI

Postgate, meanwhile, stressed that the new series would retain the "melancholy" of the classic series.

"There's a range of emotions and there's a little bit of - not sadness, exactly, but melancholy. Sweet melancholy."

Python 'spirit'

Palin said he was a fan of the "legendary" series.

"I found it wonderful to watch with my own children. I found it very calming.

"Listening to Oliver Postgate's original voices and narrations, he just achieved almost effortlessly this tone that wasn't too big, wasn't too small. Just inquiring.

"And I thought, 'well, you can't change that'. So I would have his voice and his approach and his timbre in the back of my mind and try to approach and be as close to his as possible."

Image caption Postgate (left) and Firmin created several classic children's shows, including Bagpuss and Ivor The Engine

He added that The Clangers shared "a similar spirit" to Monty Python's Flying Circus, which also began in 1969.

"It set out to be different from any other series for children, and I suppose Python set out deliberately to be different from anything that had gone before.

"The Clangers was this planet where odd things happen to strange people and it was a little subversive, a little anti-establishment. You weren't afraid to make extraordinary leaps of credulity.

"The attitude was let's be less conventional, let's shake things up a bit. Same with Python."

Firmin said The Clangers' surrealism had led to accusations that Postgate was taking hallucinogenic drugs.

"People used to say, 'ooh, what's Oliver on, with all of these weird ideas?' he recalled. "And we used to say, 'he's on cups of tea and biscuits.'"

The new incarnation of The Clangers can be seen on CBeebies from 15 June, and a second 26-part series has already been commissioned.

You can see more photos from the show on the Entertainment Live page for 1 June.

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