This short overview of Rubovia, the forgotten fourth series from Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley creator Gordon Murray, was originally written as part of a series of features on ‘The TV That Time Forgot’ – programmes, from Dear Heart to Kelly Monteith to Hear’Say It’s Saturday, that had been prominent in their moment but had been all but forgotten about since. Although I’ve since written about several of the programmes that I featured much more entertainingly and in much more detail, I’m still very fond of this series of articles and you can find the whole of ‘The TV That Time Forgot’ collected in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
There was a very specific reason why I selected Rubovia for inclusion, though. As an extremely small child, it was briefly my favourite programme – a dragon and a mischievous cat up to comedy larks were always going to appeal to me – and I was always astonished that, even just a couple of years later, nobody else seemed to remember it at all. Not just misremembered. Not just vaguely recalled the title and nothing else. Nobody at all remembered anything about it, to the extent that I was frequently accused of having made it up. Quite why anyone would invent a largely inconsequential children’s programme outside of a bad parody on a bad comedy sketch show is another question, but accuse me they did regardless. Which is why I took considerable delight in selecting Rubovia as one of my choices when I actually appeared as the guest on an edition of Looks Unfamiliar, which you can find here.
While Camberwick Green and Trumpton are widely-quoted cornerstones of any self-respecting conversation about old children’s television, it’s difficult enough to find anyone who remembers Chigley with a sufficient degree of certainty to be able to say which characters were in which. When it comes to Rubovia, you might as well not bother even asking them. In fact, it’s not unusual to find yourself being accused of just having made it up.
It wasn’t made up, though, and in fact this wasn’t actually the first that viewers had seen of the magical medieval kingdom. In the late fifties and early sixties, Rubovia was a regular fixture at Saturday teatimes on the BBC, as a series of comic plays presented by the BBC Puppet Theatre. Rubovia creator Gordon Murray then moved into both independent production and stop-motion animation, and spent the rest of the decade working on the three shows set in the fictional yet very believable county of ‘Trumptonshire’. The BBC would continue repeating Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley well into the eighties; Murray was keen to continue making new shows, however, and after a couple of false starts he was commissioned by the BBC in 1975 to produce a remake of Rubovia in his distinctive and now familiar animation style.
King Rufus XIV and Queen Caroline were the reigning monarchs of this decidedly offbeat kingdom, aided and abetted by the put-upon Lord Chamberlain, Farmer Bottle, Rubina the cat, Caroline’s pampered pet dragon Pongo, MacGregor the Chinese Native American ‘businessman’, card game-loving neighbouring monarch King Boris of Borsovia, and court magician – in addition to practically every other job title he could affix his name to – Albert Weatherspoon, whose utter ineptitude with all things sorcery-related was invariably the cause of whatever odd happenings with exploding wine and levitating noblemen were perplexing everyone that week. Brian Cant, who had narrated the earlier ‘Trumptonshire’ shows, was not available to resume his duties for Rubovia; the character voices were handled instead by Roy Skelton – who had contributed to the earlier Rubovia plays – with narration provided by Gordon Murray himself, and music from Murray’s longtime associate Freddie Phillips.
Although Rubovia was exactly the sort of wacky surrealist stop-motion quasi-sitcom that all of this suggests, the BBC – for reasons best known to themselves – decided to air it in the lunchtime Watch With Mother timeslot aimed at pre-school viewers. Gordon Murray, who had intended it for the afternoon children’s schedules and a slightly older audience, was surprised at this and felt it was too sophisticated and dialogue-heavy for the Watch With Mother audience; the fact that it never really caught on and disappeared after only a couple of repeat runs would seem to suggest he was correct. Murray’s subsequent shows, the equally if not even more humorous Skip And Fuffy and The Gublins, would find a far more suitable home as inserts in Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop.
Surprisingly, despite its latterday obscurity, there was a large amount of Rubovia merchandise available at the time – including books, a record, jigsaws, a board game, a plasticine modelling set, and a strip in Pippin In Playland comic that ran into the early eighties – but even that wasn’t quite enough to prevent it from becoming the ‘forgotten’ fourth show, and little more than a troubling hazy memory for people who can’t quite work out how a dragon would have fitted in to Trumpton.
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You can find the full set of features on ‘The TV That Time Forgot’ in my collection Not On Your Telly, a collection of columns and features with an emphasis on lost, censored and just plain forgotten television. Not On Your Telly is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Never Too Quickly, Never Too Slowly is a feature on the episode of Trumpton where the telephone lines got mixed up; you can find it here.
Rubovia was – unsurprisingly – one of my choices when I appeared as the guest on a special edition of Looks Unfamiliar, which you can find here.
Rubovia was also mentioned in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Jim Sangster, which you can find here.
© Tim Worthington.
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