Trumpton: The Complete Series Review
"Here is the clock, The Trumpton Clock. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time... for Trumpton!"
So begins each episode of Trumpton. Read by Brian Cant - one of the great icons of seventies British children's television alongside Noel Edmonds, John Craven, Johnny Ball and Floella Benjamin - it could well describe his own narration. Not too quick nor too slow, Cant read each of the thirteen scripts for Trumpton steadily, sensibly and with a warm, soothing voice, gently building the events of the town from the moment the clock struck nine to when the Fire Brigade played out each episode from the bandstand in the park.
Almost perfect entertainment for the pre-schoolers - as well as for those who prefer their entertainment to reflect a slower pace of life - Trumpton is an unhurried show from a time before success was measured in the sell-through of merchandise. Set in a market town where it isn't so much that everyone knows everyone else's name as where they live, what they do and when they do it, Trumpton reflects a time and place that's almost disappeared from the British countryside. Not far from Camberwick Green and the gentle farmland close to Windy Miller, there's no bustle of market forces in Trumpton, only a willingness to somehow get along. And, being a television show, to entertain in the most easy-going of manners.
Easy-going indeed, Trumpton works two basic principles - one of repetition and the other of a gentle inquisitiveness into the lives of those who live there. Each episode begins with the clock in the gothic town hall striking 9am and the appearance of the mechanical figures of Sir Rufus and Lady de Trompe. Below them, Mrs Cobbit, the flower seller takes her place in the middle of the town square, Miss Lovelace opens the hat shop whilst her three dogs yap about her feet and Mr Clamp sets his fruit'n'veg outside of his greengrocer's shop. Inside the town hall, the Mayor and Mr Troop discuss the affairs of the town, which doesn't extend to much more than opening the town fete or to the judging of a vegetable-growing competition, whilst outside a milk float rattles through the town only shortly before a van belonging to carpenters Chippy Minton and his son, Nibs.
As the cast of characters are revealed, the plotting of each episode gets underway, often in as relaxed a manner as the pace of life in Trumpton might suggest. In the opening episode, The Bill Poster, Captain Flack and his fire brigade search for a place to post stickers to advertise their concert in the park shortly before Nick Fisher comes to their rescue whilst in Miss Lovelace and the Mayor's Hat, said titfer gets stuck up a tree, requiring a call to the fire brigade. There's a problem with the town hall clock in Mr Platt and the Painter when a tin of grey paint stops the movement of the mechanical figures and there's drama, of a sort, in Mrs Cobbit & the Ice Cream Man, when Mr Antonio parks his van in the space normally occupied by the flower seller, with any notion of competition for space soon defused as Mrs Cobbit sells ice-creams as Mr Antonio joins with Captain Flack to remove the branch that had prevented her reaching town to take up her usual spot. With problems with the telephones that are resolved by The Post Office (Telephone), thus showing Trumpton's age, a drive to clean up the town (The Rag and Bone Man) and a mislaid auntie (Cuthbert's Morning Off), Trumpton's plotting won't trouble anyone, least of all impressionable young children who'll doubtless be attracted by the town hall, the various keyholders and the gleaming red fire engine.
Speaking of Trumpton's Fire Brigade, they are, to a man, the most memorable aspect of the show. Over thirteen episodes, Captain Flack strikes a disappointed figure as he pulls down a chimney, looks for a rag and bone man and rescues a pot of grey paint but is never called upon to put out a fire. He drills his men with a, "Pugh! Pugh! Barney McGrew! Cuthbert! Dibble! Grubb!" and drive through Trumpton with their bell ringing, their enthusiasm undimmed. The show actually makes much of the repetition in this with its one running joke - regardless of the emergency, the firemen are always ready with their hose, which is met with a sharp rebuke from Flack, "No, no...not the hose!" - becoming more enjoyable as the series progresses. The same can be said of the little treats in the animation such as Barney McGrew looking behind him for one of the Pughs as he pulls out of the Fire Station or chaos caused by Miss Lovelace's dogs in the town, who seem to be a neverending source of confusion. There's even enjoyment to be had in the one instance it breaks with tradition as Cuthbert has a day off and the fire engine drives through Trumpton with no one in its hoist.
Unlike some television shows from childhood, Trumpton has aged very well indeed. Where Bod, for example is a tough watch these days, Trumpton is an endearing show, much like Ivor The Engine and Mr Benn in that it's as enjoyable now as it was in childhood. As easy-going as the market town itself, these thirteen episodes glide by in a flash of bright colours, simple-but-effective animation and charmingly repetitive stories, never appearing to contain quite as much in its three hours as it actually does.
It begins so well. In fact, so well that for the first minute of the first episode, I thought that Trumpton was a perfect example of how children's television ought to be presented on DVD - clear, colourful and with a palette sympathetic to the show. And then it starts to wobble about one minute in and although you think that this must surely have been noticed during the transfer, Trumpton keeps on wobbling and you find that you're watching the wobble at the edges of the screen rather than the actual show. I've tried to show this in the following screenshots, during which the camera doesn't move but the image on the screen does (look at the objects at the edges) but the effect is much more pronounced in a moving image.
Although most aspects of the transfer are more than adequate, this ruins what is otherwise a respectable release and with both Chigley and Camberwick Green slated for release over the coming months, it would be a shame if this wasn't fixed.
Otherwise, the 2.0 Mono soundtrack, though a little hissy, is fine but there are no subtitles included.
Creating Trumptonshire (2m46s): This interview with Gordon Murray isn't actually specific to Trumpton, more his actual technique and of animation in general. Seated beside Windy Miller's windmill, Murray is interesting but at less than three minutes, there simply isn't enough of it.
Trailer Gallery (3m31s): As well as a trailer for the Trumptonshire releases (Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley), there are also ones for Trap Door, Lavender Castle, Postman Pat and the Great Dinosaur Hunt and Little Red Tractor - Glorious Mud.
Produced in less than a year, these episodes were shown throughout the seventies and eighties, which probably led to many being surprised at there being so few episodes, only thirteen. And yet I can remember so little of them other than the clock tower and the charge of the firemen, although that may have had something to do with owning a toy fire engine that said, "Pugh! Pugh! Barney McGrew! Cuthbert! Dibble! Grubb!" on pressing a button. Oh, for those pre-Playstation days once again.
With Camberwick Green and Chigley on their way, prior to a three-disc set to follow, it would be disappointing if Universal didn't find a way to fix the wobble in the picture, otherwise, these attractively-packaged discs won't serve much purpose by actually playing them. Here, there are some wonderful memories and the show certainly isn't bad either but it's a fight to look past that wobble.