Colin Hamilton winds his way down the TV series of yesteryear and looks at Brian Cant's finest hour ?
There was a time when life was simple. All males had jobs, all females looked after the home and all children respected their elders. There was no crime, no homeless on the street and no diseases that lasted longer than a week. Everybody knew everybody else's name. Nobody was trying to be different by breaking the mould because everyone was content with what they had. Life was a series of minor problems which could be quickly resolved to everybody's satisfaction. Camberwick Green was about these times.
Even though Camberwick Green was a pleasant children's programme, it started with a rather sinister looking clown awkwardly turning a handle. This rotated a belt which the credits would appear on. As each name appeared, the clown would pause, turn his head and look menacingly at it. He never spoke, he just looked. He seemed to be preparing some sort of revenge for the people who gave him this mundane job. Memorising their names as they appeared in front of him, organising their fate ready for that great day in the future when he was in charge.
For those of us brave enough to remain viewing, a revolving box would appear and Brian Cant (later to see fame with Playaway) would make an announcement.
"Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside, can you guess what it is today?"
The lid on the top of the box would open and a character from Camberwick Green would slowly rise up. Brian would then chat to the puppet. To the puppet, not with the puppet. Brian would make all the conversation and the recently released puppet would agree with whatever he said by vigorously nodding his head. The puppet was relieved to be out of the box and did not want to jeopardise his new position by saying something stupid. No, now was the time to play it carefully. Suddenly, the background would appear and our friend would be back in Camberwick Green.
Camberwick Green was a place where nothing much happened. Everybody seemed to earn enough to get by. Nobody worried about prices increasing, the mortgage rate or local politics. A typical day involved Windy Miller watching his mill go round, Mrs Honeyman gossiping to the local shopkeepers and Farmer Bell driving his tractor around. Nobody seemed to worry about the slow pace of life, the sexist role of Mrs Honeyman or the lack of animals in Farmer Bell's farm. So little of note went on they didn't even a newsagent, let alone newspapers. An exciting day at Camberwick Green involved the stock of reserved walnut cakes being accidentally sold. Before any one could get too excited by this some more cakes were baked and the crisis was over.
Despite the complete lack of activity Camberwick Green could afford to finance it's own army who lived in a fort on the outskirts of the town. Why anyone would want to attack this small and insignificant little town is a mystery. There were nine people in the army, Sergeant Grout, Captain Snort, a bugler and six privates. The unit gave the impression that they were token players rather than highly trained fighting machines. They spent a lot of time marching around and being inspected and no time fighting or shooting anything. It was probably just as well that Camberwick Green had no known enemies because the army did not seem to consist of the more intelligent members of the town. Considering that these people were in charge of rifles it was disturbing to see one private have difficulty distinguishing between his left and his right. If there ever had been an invasion by say, a couple of the less mobile members of Dad's Army, it is doubtful that they would manage to defend their position for any length of time. The closest they came to the heat of action was helping in the bakers.
The reasons that the relatively low population of Camberwick Green maintained such an inadequate battalion are debatable. The best theory currently available is that the army had been formed in order to maintain full employment in the town. The younger privates were probably paid at YTS wages while they older members were just topping off their pension and given somewhere to live. It was a glorified training scheme for those who'd failed to find work when they had left school.
This was the reason that they spent so little time preparing for invasion and devoted so much time assisting Farmer Bell and Murphy the Baker. They were gradually acquiring the skills which would help them in the real world. Meanwhile, they maintained self respect by regarding themselves as soldiers rather than society's failures. Deep down they must have been aware that, in the unlikely event that Trumpton's fire brigade did launch an attack, they would be of little use.
It is no obvious why the soldiers accepted their lot without complaint but what about the rest of the residents? Why did they accept their dull lives without rebelling? Why was everybody so happy?
The answer was that they all had a secret to hide. Almost everybody of any worth had been in the musical box but no one told anyone else fearing ridicule. It must be difficult to forget the deafening music as they emerged and the strange booming voice talking to them. Remember, this was a town where nothing strange ever happens. A place where the Mrs Dingle closing the post office ten minutes early would create rumours which would spread like wild fire. Compared to life in a box another day of very little happening equated to another good day. Another twenty four hours to put it out of their memory and pretend it was all a dream.
The box also explained their behaviour towards fellow residents of the town. Imagine that someone revealed that they'd spent some time trapped in an imaginary box. they'd need all the friends they could get. This could inadvertently happen at any time so it was important to build bridges. This involved always being polite and friendly, helping people whenever possible and, most of all, not making any waves. If this involved not complaining about the rather high taxes needed to maintain an active fort so be it.
Which brings us back to the brooding clown's isolation. He must have been an ex resident of Camberwick Green. If the town can validate having soldiers having a clown would be no problem. May be he had said a little too much about the box and was ostracised by the town. Even though most of the population knew exactly what he was talking about no one was going to risk losing everything to save him. No, stay quiet and carry on with the mundane job and spend the evenings praying that there would be no reappearance of the box. As for the clown, his life has been destroyed. It's little wonder that he pauses and stares long and hard whenever he sees Brian Cant's name in front of him.
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