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Junior Meets: Clangers' technical craft artist, Ruth Herbert

Set designer, and granddaughter of Bagpuss and Clangers creator Peter Firmin, talks LEGO, retro television, and following in her grandfather's footsteps

Posted: 25 February 2013
by Amanda Pauley

Ruth Herbert
Ruth Herbert

Have you always been interested in art from a young age?

“I was always happiest drawing away and constructing things. Coming from a large family where every adult around me was interested in art, I was certainly encouraged and inspired to love it from a young age.”

What did you enjoy making the most as a child?

“I was always a keen painter, but what I really enjoyed was making furniture for my toys out of LEGO.”

What TV programmes did you watch as a child?

“My favourite show was the Moomins. They were adorably unique.”

How do you feel children’s shows today compare to your grandfather, Clangers creator Peter Firmin’s, era?

“I’m worried about the fast pace of today’s shows. They’re so loud, fast and bright, I worry children’s attention spans will become dependant on that level of interaction.”

Why do you think classics like the Clangers revive every couple of years?

“These retro shows bring back memories where parents were allowed to let their imaginations run wild. It’s uplifting to be able to share and bond with your children over that.”

Who is your favourite Clangers character?

“I love the Soup Dragon. He’s a comical character with a hilarious voice.”

You studied technical arts and special effects at Wimbledon College of Arts. What did you learn from the course?

“I learnt the many techniques needed to create artistic pieces for theatre, film, and TV, such as puppet making, prosthetic make-up, and sculpting. The course was very technical, so it was about learning what glue works best with what material etc.”

Did you always know that you would work with the Clangers because of your grandfather's history with the characters? 

“Not at all. Originally when I did my degree I wanted to make sets and props for Bollywood films after travelling to India and falling in love with the culture. At that point, no real new projects had come out of Smallfilms, so there was no opportunities for me to partake in the family business just yet.”

You've also done work on a stage production for Bagpuss, another show your grandfather is closely linked with. How did you get involved with that?

“The director arranged to have a meeting with my grandfather, but being old, he didn’t fancy the trip so he sent me as a representative instead. I snuck along with me an animatronic puppet I was making and before I knew it she offered me the job of making the Bagpuss puppet – I was thrilled!”

What was the inspiration behind the 'Clangers' craft book? How did the opportunity to create it arise?

“We were sent all these knitting books from a publisher, and seeing as my grandmother, Joan Firmin, had originally knitted the Clangers, it just seemed appropriate to create a book using her designs.”

How did you decide which of your set designs would make the cut?

“I did lots of tests. It was about simplifying each design so children could create them while keeping it detailed realistic, and educational. Each set took about a week to make.”

How do you feel about the finished piece? Do you feel proud to be following in your grandfather's footsteps?

“I’m really pleased. The layout of the book is great and I just feel so lucky to be able to be a part of something that my grandfather had so much enjoyment doing. He's a great mentor and has lead me in the right direction.”

If you could sum the Clangers up in a few words what would it be?

“A bunch of whistling, pink creatures, living on a blue moon.”

To see more of Ruth's work, log on to her personal website, or if your child is a fan of those loveable pink creatures, why not treat her to ‘Clangers’ craft book (£9.99, LoveCrafts).

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