Column: December 8, 2010

I WAS doing a spot of Christmas shopping, it being the season, and wandered down the boys’ toys aisle. I picked up the odd item, looking for all the world like a solicitous adult looking for a gift for a young relative, but actually thinking “Whoa! Look at that, if you press a button, wings swing out of the Batmobile. That is so cool!”

And then I saw it. The abomination. A Postman Pat figure which transformed into his own post van. Evil toymakers had turned Postman Pat, lovable, plodding, decent Postman Pat, into The Terminator. I didn’t see Jess, his black and white cat, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d turned him into some sort of robot puma with laser claws.

I am assured by those who know about such matters that this is not a reflection of the TV show, Pat still being all flesh and blood, or Plasticine, I imagine.

When I was a small boy, I liked toys which were more or less accurate replicas. That’s what toys are for.

I remember being given a Batman mask which had the Batsignal placed just above the eyes, which, as any eight-year-old boy will tell you, is NOT where it’s supposed to be, and I refused to wear it until I realised I could colour it in with black permanent marker. Which didn’t dry very quickly. Which leaked through. I was 27 before all the ink had vanished from my forehead.

Consequently, I find it difficult to understand the mindset of a toy manufacturer who thinks that a child will be happy with a cyborg Postman Pat/van hybrid which doesn’t look anything like the character he sees on the television. A child wants a Postman Pat which goes inside a van.

Nevertheless, Pat is now much more of an all-action hero these days. He flies a helicopter and delivers parcels with a sense of urgency and purpose not necessarily representative of the wider Royal Mail.

I think this is a terrible shame. I was too old to watch Postman Pat as a child and came to it only with my own children. And then I was struck by the sheer reality of the programme.

For a start, all the characters had names which sounded authentic. Lesser children’s shows would have a postmistress called Mrs Stamp and a farmer called Farmer Combine-Harvester, instead of Mrs Goggins and Alf Thompson. The adults spoke down to children, and to each other like adults, and drank endless cups of tea.

Pat’s own adventures revolved around helping to find some lost sheep after a townie had left a gate open, or delivering the mail despite roadworks in the only road into the village, things that might actually happen. It was a more accurate reflection of life in a small rural village than Emmerdale.

But the changes wrought upon Postman Pat are nothing compared with what’s happened to Noddy in recent years. The Noddy episodes from the mid-1990s by Cosgrove- Hall, the makers of DangerMouse, Chorlton And The Wheelies and, ironically, the new series of Postman Pat, are perfect little jewels, with wit running from the scripts right through to the stop-motion animation.

The Noddy episodes of today are like caffeine- free Diet Coke, utterly pointless. They are computer-generated, lowest common denominator, bowdlerised rubbish stripped of any ability to offend. And bear in mind that we are not exactly talking about Reservoir Dogs in the first place. Even the naughty goblins have been made over to look like boy-band members, a change with which I would be happy, if I thought for one moment there was any satirical intent.

Programmes of quality, like Aardman’s Shaun The Sheep, and its spin-off Timmy Time, spark just as many toy sales, but at least their hearts are in the right place.

I know they’re not for me, any more than that Batmobile was, but children deserve better than to be treated as wallet fodder. The old Pat would agree with me.

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