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The 500
Mare Humorum

Jordan Harrison-Twist

20.07.19

A duckegg blue thing ‘sailing majestically among the myriad stars of the firmament’ is, for all intents and purposes, the Moon. But the home of Peter Firmin’s The Clangers is distinguished — explicitly so — by co-creator Oliver Postgate. This barren, cratered rock is actually, he says, a star.

The Clangers, an intelligent race with zeppelin-buggy technology, neo-medieval fashion sensibilities and techno-whistle voiceboxes, seem quite content with their little world, stretched over a core of soup, guarded by a snowbird dinner lady dragon. A star’s tendency to be quite hot, and quite massive, doesn’t perturb the little mousepigs it accommodates, as they contentedly go about their business, pleased not to have become crackling.

At about the same time that this quintessential British stop-motion was put together, a similarly extraordinary sequence of photographs was being sent back from another world, as the Hasselblad cameras of Apollo 11 scooped the imagination of millennia into vitrines, all gold visors and gold foil lander’s legs and gold flagpoles, and gold on the podium. But Postgate was sensitive to the real possibility that a manned space programme could end in disaster, and so the Clangers became star-, not Moon-dwellers — for if the unthinkable should happen (again), it ‘would have been one of the blackest jokes in television history’.

That such a pure artefact as The Clangers was initially criticised by the BBC for “bad language” (hearing-impaired producer Ursula Eason accurately picked out the whistle-inflected swear-word ‘bloody’ amidst Major Clanger’s beration of a sliding door) is reminiscent of the Moon as universal signifier — some vessel for Earthly interpretations. It has an unchanging gaze, yet transformative magic; it gives light for both dancing, and killing; it is the most grandiose human achievement, or the most flagrant conspiracy. Perhaps to dichotomise even further: it was muse to the sparse, psychedelic wonder of The Clangers, and the comparatively trashy Button Moon (1980)*.

*Trashy in that the puppets were built from found materials. And that it was shite.

And peering across all of these creations is the most famous comic Moon of all: the pathetic, half-blinded figure of George Méliès’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902), with the arcuate brow and exquisite lips of Pierrot, and the wince of abject humiliation as a gob of some other clown’s pie sops from his eyesocket. Méliès’s experiments caught the public imagination by the artist’s ability to stop, and refigure the world between the frames — just as NASA’s crowning image unveiled from the bottomless black hat of space the most familiar bluegreen ball. Refreshed.

Owing a great deal to the clown-prank aesthetic of Méliès, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt’s The Mighty Boosh opted instead for shaving foam, harking back to the DIY bathroom beards of kids everywhere. And indeed, the surreal genius of Boosh’s Moon is that far from the silent sobriety of the Ever Watchful, this is a character held in a permanent state of benign childhood, who instead of expressing an endless awe at the beauty of his terrestrial brother, is more taken with himself. 'If you are a Moon you don’t have a mirror, so if you want to see your face you have to have a little look in the rivers. I had a look in there — I’m flipping beautiful! I’m all handsome, and a smooth, white moon. And he’s all— I haven’t got any eyebrows but I think that only gives me a bit more an edge'.

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