1952 – Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men

We moved onto Delamere Avenue in 1950, when I was about eighteen months old. The house we moved into, number twelve, was about a third of the way down a line of semi-detached, pebble-dashed council houses facing out over the roofs of the houses opposite towards Heysham Harbour and Half Moon Bay. It was part of a new estate, Trumacar which, when we moved in, was still being built. My mum used to tell the story of how I had somehow become friendly with one of the builders and how he had taken to letting me sit with him in the cab of his lorry while he was working. One day she heard a knock at the door and opened it to find him standing there clutching a tear-stained creature covered head-to-toe in a layer of dirt –  I had fallen out of the cab into a pile of gravel. Being very small and gravity being what it is, I hadn’t fallen very hard and so, apart from a few bruises and scratches, I was relatively unhurt. That was the last time I rode in the lorry.

Bill and Ben were my first heroes. I was three when it started, but my first memory is of running home from school so as not to miss it on TV. As far as I remember it was on at about half past three and school was about half a mile away at the bottom of a hill, so it was quite a rush to get back in time – and of course there was no video recording or pause-and-rewind in 1954. The funny thing is that, in my memory, I am rushing back to number 11 Delamere, not number 12, even though we didn’t move into number 11 until about five years later (that’s another story which I’ll come back to at some point). Bill and Ben was one of three children’s programmes which were broadcast every weekday afternoon, the others being Andy Pandy and Rag, Tag and Bobtail. They all went out under the title Listen with Mother (no political correctness in 1954). But Bill and Ben was my favourite. They were string puppets whose arms and legs were made from flowerpots and they each lived in a large flowerpot watched over by a  flower called Little Weed. In each episode the man who looked after the garden where they lived went off to have his dinner and, while he was away, Bill and Ben would have various adventures, ending when the man had finished his dinner and was coming back to work. What I found exciting was that they talked in a sort of nonsense language which was almost understandable. For instance, when they were getting ready to pop back into their flowerpots they would each say ‘Bop, bop diddle weed’ (Bye, bye little weed), one in a low voice (Ben) and the other in a high voice (Bill), to which Little Weed replied ‘Weeed’. This was the only thing she said, but she could express a range of things, from pleasure to anxiety, depending on how she said it (by the way, back in the eighties I worked as a volunteer at a drop-in centre in Lancaster. One day one of the other volunteers told me that his mother had been the voice of Little Weed! Now I’ve met one or two more or less famous people in my time, but to have met the voice of Little Weed would have been on a whole other level. Needless to  say I never did meet her).

One thing I loved about Bill and Ben was the music. It was simple, rhythmic (I think possibly marimbas and woodblocks) with a strange underlying background sound. One of my pet hates (and I have quite a few) is that a lot of modern music is too complicated and overproduced. The Bill and Ben theme has, to me, a beautiful simplicity. So too have the stories. Why all this particularly interests me is that Steve and I are trying to put together a children’s TV show for which I am doing the music. When I was attempting to come up with a suitable theme tune it was the music from these early TV shows that I remembered.

Here it is. I’m not sure if it will stay as an instrumental or have lyrics added; I quite like it as it is but we’ll see. What is it they say – you never actually finish creating something, you just at some point abandon it to make its own way in the world.

It’s been great fun putting together the songs for the programme. I’ll talk to Steve and see how he feels about putting some more of them on this blog. I can also possibly do a post about the process of putting together the songs – the writing, recording (the software I use is Cockos Reaper, it’s fantastic) and arranging. I realise that this may be more interesting to recording geeks but, anyway, we’ll see.
It’s a strange thing, writing a blog. For one thing you have no idea who is reading it (if anyone!) There’s quite a bit of ego involved in that you have to think that what you are doing is going to be of interest to someone who doesn’t know you. I’ve resisted all of these things – blogs, facebook, twitter etc. – up to now but I realise that, apart from anything else, it’s great fun! And, at the end of the day, if people aren’t interested I can just stop writing it and go and do something else – like writing some songs, or doing the washing up.

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