|The Telegraph Friday 4 October 1996|
Flowerpot Men set on a pedestal
By Paul Stokes
THE town where the children's characters Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men were conceived wants to erect a monument to them.
Castleford in West Yorkshire hopes to pay tribute to 82-year-old Hilda Brabban, who planted the word "flobadob" on the lips of succeeding generations.
"I think it's a great idea," Mrs Brabban said yesterday. She wrote the Bill and Ben stories for her younger brothers, William and Benjamin, when the family lived in the town 70 years ago.
Their mother would always cry: "Was it Bill or was it Ben?" when one of them was naughty. That became a catchphrase of the stories. Little Weed was based on her sister Phyllis, the youngest of six children and "flobadob" was based on the sound when one of the boys broke wind in the bath.
The stories were broadcast on the wireless programme Listen with Mother in the 1940s and Bill and Ben became household names when they were adapted by the late Frieda Lingstrom for BBC TV in 1952. But Mrs Brabban, a former headmistress, never benefited. She said: "Frieda Lingstrom always denied having heard about my stories."
Graham Phelps, the chairman of Wakefield district council's economic development committee, said: "It would be nice if Bill and Ben could be commemorated, but the council doesn't have the money to spare. The supporters would have to raise it themselves."
Mrs Brabban, a widow, who now lives in Lewes, Sussex, said between bursts of laughter: "The people of Castleford have a great sense of humour. It's just the sort of thing they would do."
2 August 1995: Blobby uproots Bill and Ben
The Telegraph Saturday 19 February 2000
This is the thin end of the wedge. In a multi-million-pound exercise, Andy Pandy, The Woodentops and Rag, Tag, and Bobtail are also returning, courtesy of BBC Worldwide.
Do we look forward to wallowing in nostalgia as we sit beside our children? No, we do not.
We are suspicious that our treasured memories are being exhumed and shoe-horned into today's politically correct world. What will follow the feminist Weed? Noddy the Joyrider? Basil Brush the Hunt Saboteur?
Stuart Jeffries, author of a new book on television history called Mrs Slocombe's Pussy, pinpoints our fear.
"You feel your past is being stolen; your memories sullied. Probably by people my age thinking: 'We can make The Flowerpot Men better.' But they can't have my childhood memories. Those new little boys and girls should get their own."
Besides, who would want a return to the television of our youth? It is sad that these children's programme-makers, with millions to spend and all day to dream up ideas, end up raking through old filing cabinets. Wake up, guys, children's television has grown up in the past 30 years. If you include Sky, there are now eight children's channels, showing better programmes than we ever had, with computer effects instead of puppets, and wonderful jazz instead of women warbling to piano music.
Sooty and Sweep, Camberwick Green, Ivor the Engine and the rest are safe, locked away in our memories. But bring them out and they crumble in daylight like Egyptian mummies.
|22 October 2000, The Telegraph|
BILL and Ben, the Flowerpot Men who first charmed young television viewers almost half a century ago, are returning to our screens next year with a new look and without puppet strings.
Updated for the 21st century, the pair, who spoke in gibberish known as "flobbadob", have been redesigned by the BBC for a 26-episode series beginning next January. It will be accompanied by merchandising spin-offs including toys, games, videos and a Bill and Ben magazine.
The Flowerpot Men will still have their clay-pot bodies and straw hats but their faces have been made bigger and more expressive to appeal to modern children. The black and white of the old programme has been replaced by garish colours, while string puppetry has been exchanged for stop-frame animation, with movable figures captured a frame at a time as they change positions and facial expressions.
The series will also include a cast of animal friends for the pair, including a hedgehog, a worm and a tortoise. BBC executives hope that the 10-minute-long episodes, aimed at children aged between two and five, will repeat the success of Teletubbies and Bob the Builder which have been sold to television stations around the world.
Where fans of the original Watch With Mother classic were enthralled by plots largely consisting of the two characters mumbling "Flobbalobbalob, shobbalob," and their friend Little Weed crying out "Weeeeeed", the BBC has decided to introduce more complex story lines for the relaunch. These will include a greater role for Little Weed, who has been given a new image including sunglasses and a more varied vocabulary.
She has been renamed Weed and is said to have an "Earth Mother" persona. She will give advice to the Flowerpot Men and negotiate relations between the cast of characters. Enthusiasts of "flobbadob" will be relieved to learn, however, that the linguistic skills of Bill and Ben will remain as limited as in their original adventures. A narrator will help the audience to understand any confusion caused by the conversations between the two characters.
Val Taylor, a BBC spokesman, said that the makers had tried to preserve much of the look of the Sixties series while making it relevant to modern audiences. She said: "It is very much a slight progression from where they were before." A 30-strong team at the programme's makers Cosgrove Hall Films, the Manchester-based animation company responsible for Dangermouse and Noddy, has been working on the programme for more than a year. BBC Worldwide plans to exploit the new popularity of the Flowerpot Men, whose adventures were last shown on television in 1971.
A spokesman said that negotiations were being held for a range of BBC books and videos to be launched next year. Bill and Ben publicity material has been distributed to the toy and games industry in the hope that companies will license the characters to use on their products. The corporation has also drawn up plans for a magazine for pre-school children to be launched next year. A Watch with Mother video featuring Bill and Ben made £4 million when it was released in 1988.
The Flowerpot Men were first broadcast on radio before moving to television in the Fifties. Filming originally took place in a tin shed in the Lime Grove studio complex but later moved to a purpose-built puppet studio. If Bill and Ben proves popular, the BBC hopes to follow it by reviving other Watch with Mother classics including Andy Pandy and The Woodentops.
John Preston, The Sunday Telegraph's television reviewer, said he was confident the new series would be a success. "The BBC has a proven track record of showing new programmes that attract young children. However, I would not be surprised if a number of older people also have a secret look as they will have fond memories of the original series and will want to see how it has been changed."