HELEN MOORHOUSE VOICEOVER ARTIST / AUTHOR
My daughter loves In the Night Garden, shown on Cbeebies about three times a day although the one we tend to catch is in the bedtime hour between 6 and 7 each evening - just incase you fancy checking it out.
She's loved it since she was about four months old and would lie on her back staring at the TV - that's doing what it says on the tin, apparently, because one of the aims of it is to relax babies and toddlers. With a 14.5 million pound budget I'm glad it's achieving its aims. And I even find myself mesmerised a little - it's her must see TV - her Wire. I foresee a merchandise blitz in years to come. She's eleven months old.
The show intrigues me. The production values are incredibly high - for starters it's narrated by Derek Jacobi. According to Wikipedia, he holds two knighthoods (Danish and British), he's a celebrated actor with a film career dating back to 1965 and he's up there with Olivier, O'Toole and McKellan. And every day, on Cbeebies, you can hear him deliver deep and touching lines, inhabit a whole new character, bring to life the magic of the English language. "Makka Pakka wicky wacky picky poo", he says. And then some.
In the Night Garden is apparently filmed in a real woodland setting. Truth be told it's like an al fresco acid trip. It's HR Pufnstuf for the noughties but far far less scary. It's also filmed in HD - all we can hope is that it's never filmed in 3D. They may as well hand out acid tabs to one year olds.
The lead character is a sort of slaggy rag doll called Upsy Daisy. She looks like newsreader Moira Stewart and has a skirt which inflates when she gets excited - which is quite often. Much like a parachute, with a simple tug of an emergency string, it puffs up like a rubber tutu, revealing floral underwear much to the joy of all the other inhabitants of the Night Garden who appear to be male. She's like Lady Gaga for under fours and looks like she'd get up on a gust of wind.
Upsy Daisy has a mobile bed that follows her round, presumably so that she can pop under the sheets at any time she needs because quite frankly, she doesn't make any money out of her singing career and has to keep herself in fetixh gear and multicoloured hair extensions.
Her main attentions are focused on Iggle Piggle who is sort of the downtrodden hero of the piece/ He's a bit like Ricky Butcher. Gormless, nervous, talentless and excitable, he carries a red blanket around with him at all times for comfort and appears to suffer from stress-induced narcolepsy. This is particularly evident at the end of each episode where he realises that everyone else who hangs out in the Garden has gone to bed and he's still out there, after dark and alone with no protection. It's bloody scary and Iggle Piggle goes rigid, and collapses. Come to think of it, maybe there's something really nasty that comes out in the Garden at nighttime and that's a different show, maybe shown on CBBC after seven perhaps. Or maybe it's the same set as they use for Dr Who or Torchwood and Iggle Piggle's been exposed to all sorts of horrific creatures without the help of a sonic screwdriver. Or maybe it's where Anne Robinson actually lives.
Iggle Piggle doesn't do much, professionally speaking. He appears to have had some sort of a career as a fisherman as he's often pictured drifting around in a little boat but he insists on taking the sail down and having a kip under his little red blanket so I think maybe he's one of those guys whose actually lost his job but can't face telling Upsy Daisy for fear of recrimination. I imagine she'd probably beat him senseless with a handy log or something so no wonder he's anxious. By the looks of this, he probably made a lot of money when he had a job - the soles of his feet are red which, my 24 year old niece tells me, indicates that they have been made by Louboutin. A blue man's got to keep some of his dignity I guess.
One character with no dignity whatsoever is Makka Pakka who lives in a cave and sleeps with rocks (he actually kisses one goodnight every evening). He's brown and has two curly protrusions on his head which are probably little cones of dirt - imaginary creature-style dreadlocks - because this guy looks like he hasn't had a bath in years. He's a kind of stinky old tramp who has a trolley to push his belongings around him and he trundles around all day, pushing his little wheeled vehicle and saying 'Makka Pakka' a lot. At Christmas, he probably gets a can of beer from the producers and goes on a frenzy in search of more alcohol - puking behind bushes and scaring Iggle Piggle half to death demanding change before pissing on the Pinky Ponk and being brought home in one of the Torchwood 4WD's.
Makka Pakka isn't a nice harmless tramp, though. He 's one of those bothersome ones who has to interact - the kind you avoid by pretending to text or staring down the platform for a train that isn't there, even though he's right up in your face, shouting obscenities. Worse than that, Makka Pakka, who clearly hasn't washed in a while, has decided in his own ironic way that his mission is to wash the world and he wanders round the garden with a manky old sponge that looks like it came from a pond, fifty five years ago, and a bar of carbolic soap insisting on cleaning everyone's faces. This is where the production values really excel because not only do you get a close up camera shot of Makka Pakka clearly getting a massive kick out of rubbing down the other residents with his filthy cleaning kit, but you also get a close up of his chosen victim grimacing as they are hit firstly with the stench of filthy hobo and then the up close odour of his unspeakable apparatus as it rubs against their skin like some sort of damp nightmare. Faces washed, Makka Pakka seeks no payment but carries on about his business, seeking out new filthy victims and making piles of rocks. He's my favourite.
Then there are the Tombliboos who are clearly music students stuck in an early 90's rut. They wear multicoloured madchester pants which keep falling down because they haven't eaten a decent meal since they moved out of home in Tellytubby land. They all have hair like Bjork in the Big Time Sensuality video (but they're closer to the Dawn French version in overall appearance) and live in a dump of a house filled with tree roots and musical instruments. Occasionally they do a little practice but in separate rooms with exceptionally noisy instruments at top volume and cause all sorts of problems for the Pontipines who live nearby.
The Pontipines seem to be the most normal characters - well, I say normal in that they have a house and parents but there are a total of ten of them which I suppose makes them Catholic and therefore repressed and guilty and prone to doing odd things. Like taking picnics on public transport, and deciding to eat dinner in the woods which is facilitated by making the eight children carry a very heavy, already laid table to their destination. Then they look outraged when they end up with food all over their faces for a variety of reasons. Those crazy Pontipines.
Next door to the red Pontipines live the sinister blue Wottingers. I say they're sinister because you very rarely see them emerge from their semi detached house. Like the Pontipines, there are eight children and two parents. I think they must be on Witness Protection - where better to hide out than in a fictional surreal woodland inhabited by total crazies who are all vying for attention?.
Transport in the Night Garden is public with two forms to choose from - the airborne Pinky Ponk, an elegant way to travel which harks back to the 1930's Zeppelins. The Pinky Ponk serves drinks, much to the delight of Makka Pakka who is allowed on occasionally but has probably been ejected most times for bothering the other passengers.
The Ninky Nonk is like a completely mental tram consisting of carriages from a variety of other retired trams through the ages - a vehicle where carriages go to die. It's a far less genteel and much more dangerous yet exciting way to travel, despite the presence of safety belts and on board announcements as it keeps rolling up trees and along branches upside down. Upsy Daisy seems to like the thrill of it and likes making sure that Iggle Piggle goes on as many Ninky Nonk rides as possible with her - presumably so that they can recreate that scene from Risky Business - you know the one. They're always snogging in fact but I think Iggle Piggle does it because he loves Upsy Daisy and she just does it for attention, incase any of the Dr Who cast pop by and she can inflate her skirt at David Tennant.
There's wildlife in the garden as well - mainly in the form of the Tittifers who are exotic birds that have been trapped and kept on a branch of the only tree that isn't on the Ninky Nonk's route of danger. The HaaHoos are then giant inflatable characters that bounce gently around all day, making Jacobi shout 'Haaaah Hoooooo!' in a very Shakespearian way. I don't see the point of them, other than to keep the Pontipines and the Wottingers firmly in their places because with their size, they wouldn't stand a chance if they even got caught in a HaaHoo downwind, much less underneath their considerable bouncy bulk.
There's a lot to be learned from the Night Garden however - there's a huge spirit of cameraderie, mostly evident in that all of the residents - even the reclusive Wottingers - all get together at the end of each day and have a little song and a dance in the Gazebo - the Queen Vic equivalent I suppose. Needless to say the Tombliboos are as tuneless as most university students after a few, and Upsy Daisy uses it as an excuse to flash her underwear to anyone who cares to look and then has the audacity to take a bow at the end of it all. But it's quite sweet - I imagine they all get together and the lucid among them chat about their day while trying to avoid Makka Pakka and his potent sponge - and bless him, even his intentions are honourable. He's lonely I guess, and maybe there was once a Mrs Makka Pakka who ran off with someone, like Bob the Buidler or Chris from Doodle Doo.
Anyway - there they are, all down t'Gazebo, singing and dancing as if there isn't a care in the world - even poor, displaced, unemployed and nervous Iggle Piggle - with Sir Derek Jacobi, famed actor, celebrated and respected thespian swaying along in his little voiceover booth and afterwards you can be damn sure that they all feel the better for it. I'd like to live in that world I think.