4 January 2015

Tales of Chinatown

Tales of Rubovia was a TV puppet show for children airing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was seriously and addictively bizarre, owing much to steampunk. The creator was Gordon Murray.

“When asked if the costumes might suggest that Rubovia is set in the Queen Anne era, Gordon Murray made it quite clear. ‘That would be a big mistake,’ he said. ‘The time is the present. It’s just that Rubovians are out of touch. Everything in their blissful country stopped at gas and steam. They love clockwork, and spring-driven gramophones, and things worked with bellows and bits of string. They’ve no telephones either. You see, they’ve never heard of electricity. That’s why they're so happy.’” (Radio Times, 19 January, 1963): quote found here.

The hero was the ingenious Mr Albert Weatherspoon, who bore an unsettling likeness to a younger Winston Churchill. His inventions and interventions often saved the day, likewise his companion, a misshapen cat named Rubia, whom he used to address as “Puss”.

You can see that the production was not very sophisticated, but then neither were we. We liked the simple plot-lines, the gentleness, and, without then being aware of it, the confection of English values and sensibility. Fairness and right always triumphed.

Certain sayings from the show became playground mantras: “Ye-es, my love” was one, taken from moments when the henpecked king assented to yet another intractable demand from his haughty queen. These demands always seemed to devolve upon Mr Weatherspoon, drawing from him the ejaculation “Ooh, Puss!” once he and Rubia were alone again.

This last has remained with me all my life. Now and then I find myself thinking or even uttering it when faced with an imponderable. Usually, these days, the imponderable is nothing like those that once beset Mr Weatherspoon.

Anyone with an internet connection can explore alternatives to the mainstream media. Here conspiracy theories are aired, potentially libellous material is posted, and ordinary people try to make sense of globalism and its integral themes of social division. We read of powerful individuals corrupting the institutions of state. We are told about horrible crimes committed by the highly placed, about victims and whistleblowers silenced – some permanently. How much of it is true? I have no idea.

Another filmed production has lately come to my mind: the 1974 movie Chinatown. Its world is the very obverse of Rubovia. I think especially about the final line of the script. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Now that I am much nearer the end of my life than the beginning, that seems to me a better response to the imponderable.

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