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 with puzzle solving and poetry reading.
Pob was in part 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. He has his origins in Pod, a puppet created by the late John Blundall (more information here).
Channel 4 doesn't have a reputation for children's programmes akin to BBC and ITV's, but Pob got up to some classic mischief during his late '80s run. He gained renewed recognition when Pob's Programme came in at #60 on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids TV Shows and through comparisons with a prominent British politician (see below).
Without wanting to steal thunder from other Pob websites, past or present, 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.
If you're here because you share the widely made observation that Michael Gove MP looks like Pob, welcome. You may think that Mr. Gove had the look first, seeing as he was a teenager when Pob started. But the credit is due to Pob's '50s forerunner, Pod.
Until we are told otherwise, let us assume that Pob's trailblazing influence on younger viewers was an inspiration to Mr. Gove in his work as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and as Secretary of State for Education... but perhaps not too much of an inspiration. In other words, don't blame Pob.
Perhaps the crucial difference between the two is that, while Pob was summoned when somebody tugged on the wool of his jumper, Gove is seen by many as better at pulling the wool.
Of course this is an apolitical nostalgia website, so I couldn't possibly comment.
To explore the comparison further, I recommend a look on Twitter.
"When people compare Michael Gove to Pob ... you don't need to stick up for Pob?"
"Well, no ... Pob's what he is. He's legend, isn't he?"
Toby Earle interviewing Anne Wood for London Live. Watch the video here.
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 second 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 Hattie the dog (his brother's) 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.) The Dick King-Smith YouTube channel has clips in this playlist.
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, 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. (See the Pob Books section below for information on how the doll came to be.) 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:
Kjartan says: '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:
Nick says: '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 input in one of the next ragdoll productions Tots Tv ,the garden around the puppets' cottage was real and done by me even [if] 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 development 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 are known to have had a return visit (or filmed two in one go). Includes:
Bill Pertwee, actor
Rupert Frazer, actor
Kjartan Poskitt, author, musician
Charlie Williams MBE (1927-2006), comedian
Madhur Jaffrey (twice), actress, cook
Brian Blessed, actor. Some of Old Deuteronomy, a song he sung in the musical Cats, was incorporated into the background music.
Josette Simon, actress
Polly James (twice), actress. Including a Pob special where she was in hospital.
Hannah Gordon, actress
Bernard Hepton, actor
Roy Castle (1932-1994), entertainer
Su Pollard, actress
John Duttine (twice), actor
Brian Patten, poet
Anni Domingo, actress
Tony Armatrading, actor
Kathy Staff (twice) (1928-2008), actress
Cheryl Campbell (twice), actress
Peter Howitt, actor, director
Ross Davidson (1949-2006), actor
Susan Gilmore, actress
Pat Coombs (1926-2002), actress
Pob’s often-seen companion was a standard teddy bear, called Teddy (pronounced "'Eddy" by Pob). 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.
Wanda says: '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 two rabbits or a girl & her dog (Maxi-dog). Others include:
Quido, a yellow alien
Pob's Picture Show: 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). This was credited to Garth/Wagner Animation.
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. Latterly a choreographer.
Perry Douglin, dancer
Oona Beeson, rhythmic gymnastics with skipping rope
Simon Horrill, acrobat
Often accompanied dancers. Include:
Bronwen Naish played double bass, using different ways of playing to represent different characters in the story of the instrument, Bartholomew. Latterly 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, once 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 his hiding place by his face growing larger.
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.
Alan Dart currently works as a professional designer of toys, handicraft and knitwear. I contacted him in 2012 and was very pleased to receive a reply.
Alan says: 'How nice to hear from and and learn about your webpage. It was especially kind of you to add a link to my website too. It's great that you've done so much research on the programme and its background, and you may like to know that I also made the rag doll toy holding a candle that was used for the end credit.'
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 see-saw, 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. Rod Campbell is an author and illustrator of delightful toddler and baby books, including Dear Zoo.
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 (a black Labrador called Hattie) to find it, taking in countryside, farmland and old buildings. Pob sometimes followed Dick’s progress on a map. Dick King-Smith (1922-2011) was a well-known author of animal-based children’s books, including Babe The Sheep-Pig.
The Pob books included 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 AND FRIENDS
Chosen by Anne Wood. Illustrated by Jonathan Hills. Red cover.
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.
Thank you to Alan Dart for telling me that Malcolm Bird was the illustrator of this book and of the Pob newsletters, as well as the Ragdoll Productions logo, which he based, on Anne Wood's request, on the Columbia Pictures logo showing a woman holding a torch. The actual ragdoll seen at the end of episodes of Pob, inspired by the logo, was originally a gift for Anne that Alan had made.
In 2007, 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. The segment featured an interview with Anne Wood and various Pob clips, including - at my suggestion - Spike Milligan's guest appearance.
An ongoing thank you to Robin Stevens, Pob’s puppeteer, for contacting me via the guestbook. He has given Pob a presence on YouTube, Pob's Place - and a later channel on YouTube, Pob's World, here. There's also a Pob Facebook page with exclusive photos.