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OpenLearn Live: 30th June 2016

Updated Thursday, 30th June 2016

The actor who couldn't turn cinematic gold into political success; views of Trumpton from academia; and Dolly The Sheep remembered. Free learning from across the day.

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OpenLearn Live is the place where free learning makes sense in your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we caught up with some of the latest thinking around Brexit

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Today's posts


Steadily, sensibly: The work of Gordon Murray

At any time, the death of Gordon Murray, creator of Trumpton, would feel like a blow. But in the week we're living through, it's hard not to see his passing as somehow related to the tenor of the age. A man who reduced Britain (more honestly England) down to a simple, understandable facsimile of itself (a place of steady, sensible, clockwork order) has left the nation just as the clockwork springs apart.

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From the BBC News coverage:

The Trumptonshire Trilogy - Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley - were shown weekly by the corporation from 1966 for 20 years.

The programmes were later repeated by Channel 4 and then Nickelodeon Junior.

Camberwick Green, which was made using stop-motion animation, was the first children's show to be aired in colour on the BBC in 1966.

Trumptonshire has been visited frequently by academics. Here's just a few examples.

In 1990, a meeting under the auspices of the Royal Society of Medicine gathered to discuss the impact of television on young people. Máire Messenger Davies - now Director of the Centre for Media Research at Ulster University - explained the value of British children's programmes in helping prepare youngsters for the wider world:

She sees British television, unlike its American counterpart, as having taken its responsibilities seriously, offering a public service in which children are taught about their own society, past and present. They are introduced to literature and to music, they are encouraged towards activity, as anyone who has watched Blue Peter will know.

They are introduced also to their own world, the culture of childhood. This point was perhaps the most powerful of all, Trumpton and more recently Postman are a very long way indeed from the caricature of the Dark Ages, both in concept and execution.

Perhaps. But in this year's book, Hand-Made Television: Stop-Frame Animation for Children in Britain, Rachel Moseley suggests the culture being reflected might not be totally recognisable. From the chapter The Pastoral Past:

Stop-frame animated children’s television of the 1960s and early 1970s constructs a palliative space of childhood play and imagination rooted in a vision of a traditional, even archaic, rural South of England. From the magical woodland settings of Smallfilms’ Pogles, through the orderly country villages of Gordon Murray’s Trumptonshire and into the gardens and parks of FilmFair’s The Herbsand The Wombles, and even the displaced, unspoiled outer-space environment of Clangers, this television leads the child viewer through real spaces in which magic still resides, orderly toy towns where everyone has their place and gradually into more urban green spaces now under threat. In these programmes, tradition and modernity co-exist in a complex and negotiated relationship.

(As a sidenote, it's not entirely accurate to say that the Clangers lived in an unspoiled environment - more than one episode had a plot centred round a bit of space junk crashing onto the Clanger's home.)

As an afterword to their Geographies of British Modernity: Space and Society in the Twentieth Century, David Matless, Brian Short and David Gilbert also picked up on how Trumpton fitted with a strange passion for an unreal-yet-real image of Britain:

Merrivale model village, Great Yarmouth, opened in 1961, offered a 'typical selection of the English countryside in miniature' [...] 'All in all, nothing has been omitted from this Lilliputian land of make believe; it is the most authentic and realistic of models that delights young and old alike.'

The simultaneous claim to authentic realism and make-believe indicates the space such sites could occupy in cultural life, at once evidently contrived yet signalling a supposed cultural truth about rural English life, traditions laid out in the middle of the modern seaside yet with their own modern elements.

[...]

This particular pastoralism of ideal rural settlement - farm, village, market town - not unlike the contemporary visions conjured in the miniature television worlds of Trumptonshire, or the later children's collectable model village toy 'Sylvanian Families', would repay further study. The survival of such sites today might well exercise the Twentieth Century Society.

Abhilasha Bhartiya contributed a celebration of the techniques that made Chigley and environs come alive for Shrinkhala: ‘Stop Motion’ –A Study on the Most Usefull Technique of Experimental Animation. Murray was part of a movement - albeit a very tiny one that needed a lot of photographing:

Other European productions included a stop motion-animated series of Tove Jansson's Marc Paul Chinoy directed a puppet animation feature-length film based on the famous Pogo comic strip in 1980. John Hardwick and Bob Bura, of British Animation teams were the main animators in many early British TV shows, and are famous for their work on the Trumptonshire trilogy. Disney experimented with several stop motion techniques. Animator-director Mike Jittlov do the first stop motion animation of Mickey Mouse and some impressive multi-technique stop motion animation in 1978 & 1979. Titled Major Effects, Jittlov's work stood out as the best part of the special. 

The indie reimagining of Trumpton as a hotbed of discontent in the Trumpton Riots was a joke:

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However, Rupa Huq was struck by the prescience of the gag when watching suburbia burn during the London riots of 2011. In Suburbia Runs Riot: The UK August 2011 Riots, Neo-Moral Panic and the End of the English Suburban Dream? Huq states:

Mid-80s indie music is not usually noted for its prophetic qualities but in August 2011, when reverberations of events that began with a fatal police shooting of a black man in Tottenham spread to Birmingham, Salford and Manchester, it seemed that life was imitating art – or at least the events of yesteryear in song. “Panic in the Streets of London” Mancunian warbler Morrissey declared back in 1986 in a song that paints a picture of urban dysfunction in a dystopian vision that engulfs a roll call of British cities in chaos. Unusually, however, unlike say the inner city riots of the 80s which occurred in Brixton and Moss Side on the inner ring of South London and South Manchester, respectively, London’s suburban boroughs were not immune in 2011 as shops were looted, cars were overturned and both were set alight in London’s outer boroughs, the much maligned suburbs. It was as if Liverpool indie band Half Man Half Biscuit’s 1986 track “the Trumpton Riots”, describing the incongruous situation when power is overthrown in a sleepy stop-animation village, was coming into fruition as looting and rioting made it to locations not usually associated with such disorder.

We know. They're from Wirral.

And if cramming in one reference to end-of-the-millennium indie gods isn't enough, last month the Academy of Contemporary Music was reporting that Murray's family were about to take on Radiohead:

William Mollett, the son-in-law of Trumpton creator Gordon Murray, has expressed displeasure atRadiohead’s reference to the classic children’s TV series and implied the family may consider the video for ‘Burn The Witch’ a breach of copyright.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Mollett said “Radiohead should have sought our consent as we consider this a tarnishing of the brand. It is not something we would have authorised. We consider that there is a breach of copyright and we are deciding what to do next.”

The video was released in the first week of May ahead of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, their ninth studio album. Animator Virpi Kettu claimed Islamophobia and the ongoing refugee crisis were inspirations for the video. Kettu has previous worked at Aardman Animations, the company that created Wallace & Gromit, another well known stop-motion cartoon.

You might like our free course that explores how children learn


BBC Four, 9pm tonight: Freud

Our series looking at three of the minds that shaped the 20th Century concludes this evening when Bettany Hughes turns her attention to Sigmund Freud.

Read more about the Freud programme

Freud: a brief introduction


Dolly the Sheep turns 20

On July 5th, it'll be 20 years since Dolly The Sheep was born, the first mammal ever to be cloned from an adult cell. Marking the occasion, Nature have gathered together many of those involved in the experiment - from the embryologists to The Observer's Robert McKie, who may or may not have leaked the story before the team were ready to share with the wider world.

Mckie: I didn't see that stuff inNature. I don't blame him for being angry, but I went to great pains to avoid the things that would get me to be accused of that. I had helped a couple of guys who were making a TV programme about genetics, and they said, “Oh, by the way, they've cloned a sheep in Edinburgh.” I didn't believe them, but I phoned a few people in the field, and one of them in America confirmed it. But I was very, very worried. I was saying something quite sensational, with absolutely no paper proof of anything that had gone on. I told my deputy editor everything I knew, and he made me write it. Then the shit hit the fan.

[Harry Griffin, scientific director, Roslin]: Ian gave me a call and said he'd just been called up and told that The Observer was going to run the story on the Sunday prior to publication in Nature.

Ian and I went into the institute at about 9 a.m. on the Sunday, not knowing whether or not people could get through. The phone rang continuously. We had a bizarre circumstance where a phone started ringing in a cleaning cupboard. When I answered it, it was, I think, the Daily Mirror, who had somehow got this particular connection. About half past nine at night, we went home.

Read the full article at Nature: Dolly at 20: The inside story on the world’s most famous sheep

More from OpenLearn on Dolly The Sheep


It's my party: Sivaji Ganesan

As our major parties struggle with questions of leadership, we've been starting each week with some stories about people who have briefly led political parties. Yesterday, we focused on Peter R De Vries, a Dutch investigative journalist who founded a party which shared his initials. Today, we're dipping a toe into Indian politics, with Sivaji Ganesan.

Sivaji Ganesan Creative commons image Icon Velachery Balu under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license

There aren't many politicians who get golden statues raised in their honour, but it's fair to say this one, on Kamarajar Road in Chennai, is dedicated to his on-screen success rather than his other career. 

Dubbed the "Marlon Brando of Indian cinema", Sivaji made over 150 movies in three different languages between 1952 and 1999, and was garlanded with pretty much every award an actor in the Indian movie industry can earn.

Politically, he had originally supported the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, but fell out with the atheistic DMK after being criticised for worshipping in a temple to Vengatachalapathi. In the early 1960s, Ganesan condemned the DMK as a "glamour party" (it was rather top-heavy with actors) and transferred his support. First to the Tamil National Party, then to the Indian National Congress. Prime Minister Indria Ghandi gave him a position in India's upper house, the Rajya Sabha. That patronage was ended abruptly, though, with Indria's violent death in 1984.

Sivaji's next major act was to found a party of his own - the Thamizhaga Munnetra Munnani. Part of a rapidly fracturing political scene in 1980s Tamil Nadu, TMM was created by Sivaji out of splinters of the  All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Founded in 1988, the Sivaji leveraged his acting skills to launch the new movement with a movie, En Thamizh En Makkal (My Tamil Language And My People). Politically, the most noteworthy of the party's policies was a call for the Indian peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka to be withdrawn. To Tamil nationalists in India, the Indian peacekeeping presence appeared to be concentrated on trying to eradicate the pro-Tamil Independence fighters, the Tamil Tigers. The TMM wanted India to hold talks directly with the Tamil Tigers without any preconditions.

The party wasn't a success. Every seat the TMM contested in the 1989 elections it lost, even the one fought by Sivaji himself. He transferred his alliegance once more - to the Janata Dal, which effectively swallowed his party whole.

Later, he would reflect ruefully on his political adventures:

Many of the people with me were professional politicians. They had to remain in politics necessarily to make a living. I was compelled to start a party for their sake, although I did not require it.

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