3. RUBOVIA (BBC1 1976)
Mention Camberwick Green or Trumpton to anyone of a certain age, and they'll probably know what you're talking about. Mention the slightly less well-remembered Chigley, and you're likely to start to get a few blank looks. And if you mention Rubovia, you'll probably just get accused of 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 titular magical medieval mittel-European 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 by the then-extant BBC Puppet Theatre. 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 'Trumptonshire'. The BBC would continue repeating Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley for years to come, though Murray was keen to continue making new shows, and in the early seventies he began work on a remake of Rubovia in his now familiar style.
King Rufus XIV and Queen Caroline presided over the decidedly madcap kingdom, aided and abetted by the put-upon Lord Chamberlain, industrious Farmer Bottle, Rubina the exasperated cat, Caroline's pampered pet dragon Pongo, MacGregor the Chinese Native American wheeler-dealer, card game-loving neighbouring monarch King Boris of Borsovia, and court 'magician' (as well as practically every other job title he could affix his name to) Albert Weatherspoon, whose ineptitude with all things sorcery-related was usually the root cause of the odd happenings with exploding wine and levitating noblemen. Brian Cant, who had narrated the Trumptonshire shows, was unavailable, and so character voices were handled by Roy Skelton - who had contributed to the earlier Rubovia plays - and narration by Gordon Murray himself, with music from Murray's longtime collaborator Freddie Phillips.
Although Rubovia was exactly the sort of wacky surrealist stop-motion sitcom that the above description suggests, the BBC - for reasons best known to themselves - decided to air it in the Watch With Mother timeslot. 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 Watch With Mother viewers. The fact that it never really caught on and disappeared after only a couple of years would seem to suggest he was correct. His next shows, the equally humorous Skip & Fuffy and The Gublins, would go out as inserts in Noel Edmonds' Multicoloured Swap Shop.
There was absolutely tons 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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