Telegraph Friday 4 October 1996
Flowerpot Men set
on a pedestal
By Paul Stokes
where the children's characters Bill and Ben the
Flowerpot Men were conceived wants to erect a
monument to them.
in West Yorkshire hopes to pay tribute to 82-year-old
Hilda Brabban, who planted the word "flobadob"
on the lips of succeeding generations.
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.
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
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."
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."
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
Telegraph Saturday 19
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
Do we look
forward to wallowing in nostalgia as we sit
beside our children? No, we do not.
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?
Jeffries, author of a new book on television
history called Mrs Slocombe's Pussy, pinpoints
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."
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.
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
|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
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
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
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