A puppet boy called Pob, who writes his name by steaming up the inside of the TV screen and tracing it out, invites celebrity guests to his garden to entertain him.
Pob was the brainchild of Anne Wood of Ragdoll Productions, making him older brainbrother to the Teletubbies. Like them, Pob would speak in his own unorthodox dialect.
Channel 4 doesn’t have a reputation for children’s programmes, but Pob got up to some classic mischief during his late 80s run. He regained recognition when Pob’s Programme came in at #60 on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Kids TV Shows. I managed to commit over two dozen Pob shows to video a decade ago, and I’ve amassed as much info as I can from them. So without wanting to steal thunder from other Pob websites, this page focuses on what I’ve seen of Pob’s Programme, and doesn’t aim to cover Pob’s appearances on Pob’s Playtime and Just4Fun. You can also find out about Pob’s books on this page.
March 2009: After some downtime due to the closure of this website’s previous host, it is now back online, as you can see. During the interval, I’ve discovered that Pob is back! The professional puppeteer behind (or should that be below and to the side of?) Pob, Robin Stevens, has been posting brand new clips of Pob on YouTube. You can see them here at Pob’s Place. And here is a link to Robin’s website.
I have now seen the whole of Children’s TV On Trial, as mentioned in the previous update. I’m pleased that the BBC took my suggestion to include a clip of Spike Milligan’s visit.
Autumn 2007: Earlier this year, I was contacted by the BBC. They were making a series of documentaries about children’s TV, decade by decade, and wanted to include Pob in the 1980s one. The programme, which was shown on BBC Four several weeks later, came to be titled Children’s TV On Trial: The 1980s. I never got to see the whole episode, so I don’t know if Pob featured in the end.
Also, a belated thank you to Robin Stevens, Pob’s puppeteer, for contacting me via the guestbook.
April 2007: During the past couple of years, I’ve been contacted by Wanda Szajna-Hopgood and Nick Boyes, who were both involved with the programme. You can now read extracts from their emails below.
A Typical Day For Pob
Pob’s day starts when his celebrity visitor for the show finds a label on the gates of Pob’s garden:
‘If in my programme you would be,
Wind the wool and follow me.’
They follow the trail of stripy wool attached. Winding the wool as they go, the visitor finds a 2nd label:
‘Wind it slowly, wind it fast,
A secret you will find at last.’
As the wool is wound, it tugs on the source - Pob’s sweater. Pob jumps to life, and mists up the screen so he can trace out his name.
Then, the visitor reads a story, or reads it later and now finds a label with missing words - a rhyming puzzle. Pob helps his visitor to guess the words using dressing-up and drawings. (To help one celebrity get the word ‘beat’, Pob beat her at tennis with a carpet beater, and threw in a John McEnroe impersonation).
In fact, Pob interacts with most of the guests on the programme. After Alan Dart has made his piece of handicraft for the day, Pob plays with it. (When Alan made a Pob mask, Pob told him to add more freckles.) The cartoons are often edited so it looks like Pob is influencing the action. Often, Pob draws Dick King-Smith a symbol, and Dick then takes his dog on a nature trail to investigate. (a criss-cross pattern that Pob had drawn turned out to represent the alcoves of an old dovecote, where Dick found an Easter egg.) Pob also likes to mimic his musical and dancing guests. (Pob once tried to copy a rhythmic gymnast with a ribbon, but wrapped himself up in his ribbon.)
Almost finally, the celebrity visitor reads a poem. Sometimes, they then visit Pob’s tree (see picture below), where he hangs pictures and letters and handicraft sent in to him. Then, the visitor sends Pob a toy related to the earlier story. The toy is attached to Pob’s wool, so he ropes it in, to play with while he uses ‘spit & polish’ to wipe the end credits off the screen a few at a time. (One celebrity sent Pob a pair of sunglasses, which turned him into a pop idol with screaming fans.)
After this, the celebrity says goodbye, Pob pops up to plug his latest newsletter, then closes things by blowing out a candle (held by Ragdoll Productions’ trademark ragdoll). Finally, the next celebrity visitor comes to the gate, realises they are a week too early, and leaves.
There was a special episode where Polly James, who was supposed to be visiting the programme, did not turn up because she needed an ear operation. The cameras followed her stay on a Birmingham children’s ward (i.e. demonstrated to viewers that hospital is not scary), while Pob pestered her via phone and TV screen, and donned a white coat and forced his teddy into a soft-toy hospital, claiming he was ill.
Brian Blessed told Pob, ‘It’s a privilege to be your friend.’ So there you have it.
I’ve been lucky enough to receive an email from Kjartan Poskitt, a multi-talented author and musician who both appeared on Pob and wrote material for the programme. Here are his gems of information (dare I say, exclusive to this website?) on what it’s like to appear before Pob:
‘I remember Pob with great affection. I had been working on BBC’s Swap Shop and Anne Wood had been asked to come up with an ITV Saturday morning format and she invited me to a 30 minute meeting. After 3 hours we’d abandoned Saturday morning formats and she’d outlined Pob for whom I ended up doing quite a bit of writing. I was amazed to be asked to present especially seeing who the other presenters were to be and me being pretty much a nobody! I was the first one to be filmed (the “guinea pig” really) and I’ll never forget standing in a rainy wet garden in Bushey with Bob Berk patiently explaining that I had to follow a line of yellow and pink wool then showering me with “rain” from a hosepipe. I also had to do umpteen re-takes as I kept calling him “pub”.
‘Having got completely frozen outside, I had to sit in a bath and do a couple of stories, and the bath (in the studio) wasn’t plumbed in so the well meaning scene lads filled it with kettles of boiling water and washing up liquid to make the bubbles thick. As a consequence the steam and the fumes had me completely woozy and I’ve no idea how I spoke rationally to the camera. And after that I KNEW I’d hit the big time when the Daily Star phoned up and asked if it was true that I’d been naked in a bath on a kids telly programme. Even though I had been wearing trunks, the loofa lurking under the surface did wonders for my reputation, particularly as I was a regular piano player in a gay pub at the time!’
I was also lucky enough to be emailed by Pob’s gardener Nick Boyes in April 2005:
‘Hallo from pob's garden,
We were remembering all the past tv productions here at Bushey during lunch yesterday which lead me to your excellent site. I was,and still am at present, the gardener when the pob series was recorded in our grounds. The gates are still here although the hedge behind is somewhat taller. Ragdoll would use anything and everything that wasn't screwed down and my wheelbarrows, sheds, tools and even my dog was swept along in the madness of it all. The Kathy Staff episode of her moving house was done in my tied house along with my old English sheepdog Heidi. I have fond memories of chatting for ages in the greenhouse with Spike Milligan while the rain caused a break in recording (which it often did),and an hilarious hour trying to fit Bill Pertwee into my yew hedge for one of the stories. All us chaps fell madly in love with the girl circus performer probably because she was so flexible as well as beautiful. I had some imput in one of the next ragdoll productions Tots Tv ,the garden around the puppets cottage was real and done by me even the donkey did try and eat most of it.
Unfortunately the facilities company that owns the studios, and more importantly for me the garden,is soon to move to London and it looks likely that the site will go for housing developement maybe Pob Gardens will appear soon in the A to Z of Bushey.’
Pob has a huge range of celebrity guests making up his programmes. (There are hyperlinks to biographies and official websites for many of them, below.)
Would solve a puzzle, read a story and a poem, perhaps read some of the mail hung on Pob’s tree, and send Pob a parting gift. Several had a return visit (or filmed two in one go). The list includes:
Bill Pertwee (actor)
Rupert Frazer (actor)
Kjartan Poskitt (author, musician)
Charlie Williams (late comedian)
Madhur Jaffrey (twice) (actress, cook)
Brian Blessed (actor)
Jan Francis (actress)
Josette Simon (actress)
Polly James (twice) (actress) – Including a special where she was in hospital.
Hannah Gordon (actress)
Bernard Hepton (actor)
Roy Castle (late entertainer)
Su Pollard (actress)
John Duttine (twice) (actor)
Brian Patten (actor)
Anni Domingo (actress)
Tony Armatrading (actor)
Kathy Staff (twice) (late actress)
Cheryl Campbell (twice) (actress)
Toyah Willcox (actress, musician, presenter) – See above for picture.
Peter Howitt (actor)
Ross Davidson (late actor)
Susan Gilmore (actress)
Patty [or Pat] Coombs (late actress)
Pob’s often-seen companion was a standard teddy bear, called Teddy. He was silent and largely inanimate, and so was picked on a bit by Pob. Teddy was initially operated by Pob designer Bob Berk, who owned him as a child. Wanda Szajna-Hopgood sent me further information in September 2006:
‘Hi, I'd like to put the record straight(er!). Teddy was operated by Bob in the early days of 'Pob', but later on he was managed and handled by me. We made another series of 'Pob', and then links for C4 and 'Pob's Playbox. I can say with some knowledge that 'Eddy was delightful to work with, very co-operative, and amenable. He very occasionally got one over on his friend Pob.’
Every programme featured a cartoon courtesy of ‘Czech Telexport’, starring 2 rabbits or a girl & her dog (Maxi-dog). Others include:
Quido - a yellow alien
A man who had accidents caused by Pob’s shadow (e.g. he tried to clean a window but Pob’s hand came on from the side and moved the ladder).
Sometimes, Oscar Grillo would draw a giant scene which came to life as he told a story to go with it.
DANCERS & ACROBATS
A series of Pob was like a circus, filled with mimes, rhythmic gymnasts and dance acts. These include:
The Dewhurst Family - Dancers with a piano-playing dog
Paul & Joyce Springer - Dancers, with Deidre Lovell on the piano.
Bunty Matthias – Rhythmic gymnast, who performed routines with balloons and ribbons.
Perry Douglin – Dancer.
Simon Horritt – Acrobat.
Often accompanied dancers. Include:
Ann Mackay & Anthea Gifford – singer and guitarist. Performed Hush Little Baby and There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly.
Bronwen Naish - played double bass, using different ways of playing to represent different characters in the story of the instrument, Bartholomew (A musician and politician by professions.)
When eminent musician Nigel Kennedy came on, he and Pob would play the violin and argue about football teams (Pob, a Watford supporter, told Nigel, an Aston Villa fan, that he was ‘going down’).
HIDE AND SEEK 100 YEARS AGO
Pob’s face would be hidden in a drawing of a Victorian household scene. The celebrity guest gives a voiceover about the scene, allowing time for the viewer to spot Pob. Pob eventually reveals himself by growing large.
Made a piece of handicraft each programme before our eyes. By convention we only ever saw his hands, except when he put on a mask. (Currently works as a professional designer of toys, handicraft and knitwear.)
Rod Campbell designed then constructed a kind of ‘obstacle course’ to knock open a box (e.g. a ball would roll down a series of pipes to land on a seesaw, causing the other end to rise and catch the edge of the lid, levering it up), revealing a surprise (balloons, confetti, water jets etc.). Always turned to the camera and said ‘again?’ then gave a second demonstration.
DICK KING-SMITH’S NATURE TRAIL
Pob sends Dick a mystery drawing (e.g. an animal’s footprint, or a carved symbol), and Dick goes on a nature trail with his dog to find it, taking in countryside, farmland and old buildings. Pob sometimes followed Dick’s progress on a map. (Dick King-Smith is a well-known author of animal-based children’s books, including Babe The Sheep-Pig.)
Three Pob books were brought out, including contributions from celebrities who appeared on Pob:
Chosen by Anne Wood. Illustrated by Jonathan Hills. 1986. Yellow cover. Many celebrity guests appeared on Pob, actually reading from this anthology of stories and poems. Includes the story Kjartan Poskitt wrote and then read in the bath (see above).
HERE COMES POB
Chosen by Anne Wood. Illustrated by Jonathan Hills. 1987. Blue cover. Another anthology used on the programme. Includes contributions from guests Kjartan Poskitt, Brian Patten, and some gems from Spike Milligan.
POB’S POEMS AND WORD GAMES
Chosen by Anne Wood and Robin Stevens. 1988. Red and yellow cover. Mixture of traditional children’s poems, poetry by Pob viewers (some of which was read out on the programme from Pob’s hanging tree), riddles, and the word puzzles set by Pob for his celebrity guests.
The Links Effect
o Are you after Pob on video? You may be in luck if you look up ‘Pob’ on auction website eBay.
o There are now clips of Pob on YouTube.
o Jedi’s Paradise has a splendid page on Pob, plus a fantastic collection of Pob pictures. A gift to Pob fans.
o And here is a link to Ragdoll’s official website.
o This link will take you to an archived version of Pob-tastic, a colourful Pob site with plenty of images, no longer online.
o Warning: It’s wholly inadvisable to confuse Pob, the TV-dwelling-goblin-baby-rod-puppet, with POB, the Paris Opera Ballet; but for the reckless amongst you, here’s a link. Good luck.
Any comments are welcome; you can email them here. Remember to delete ‘nospam.’ from the address before sending.
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