Case F: Pingwings
Due to the fact that Pingwings was only broadcast once by Associated Rediffusion as part of their ‘Small Time’ programming, and was then considered lost between 1965 – 2007, 1 with no pre-production materials surviving in the BFI’s Associated Rediffusion archive, it is hardly surprising that the show is often overlooked in historical accounts of the studio, especially when other more colourful and accessible shows, such as Bagpuss and Clangers, enjoy such popular adoration and widespread circulation. This is unfortunate because in several ways Pingwings is a remarkable and important series: it was the first British TV series to be filmed using stop motion animation; it represents and reflects a moment of transition for Postgate and Firmin, when their Smallfilms operation began to shift from 2D hand-drawn cut-out animation to 3D model-based animation; and it remains a rare example of a TV series employing stop motion model-based animation to be filmed outdoors (and therefore at the mercy of the natural elements).
The diminutive stature of the pingwings afforded Firmin and Postgate an alternative frame through which to look at the world, taking them beyond their previously wide-angled views of the locomotive, Norse, and deep-sea worlds that had gone before to a more close-up, intimate engagement with the natural world that surrounded their studio. Of course, pingwings are not real or natural, but the matter-of-fact register with which they are introduced, typical of Smallfilms, grants them a zoological authenticity. Our acceptance of the pingwings as a hitherto unseen farmyard creature is perhaps supported by the stop motion process of their animation, with viewers in possession of adequate resolution television sets being able to recognise their material composition as knitted wool, thereby hinting at what it would be like to touch a pingwing. Their physicality, which is foregrounded repeatedly throughout the series, also promotes a greater appreciation of the weight and tactility of these creatures.
Dr Chris Pallant
Reader, School of Creative Arts and Industries
Faculty Director of Enterprise (Arts, Humanities and Education)
Canterbury Christ Church University
Chapter 4: Aesthetic Transition and the Persistence of the Hand-Made in The Seal of Neptune (1960), The Mermaid’s Pearls (1962) and Pingwings (1961-65), in Chris Pallant, Beyond Bagpuss: A History of Smallfilms Animation Studio (London: BFI, 2022), pp X – X