Thursday, 16 July 2015

[Flashback] Fingermouse

Perhaps the most important, shocking and indeed only fact about Fingermouse is that it exists in the first place. This much beloved (by me) television show about a cone of paper on a man's finger that slightly resembles a mouse was actually a real thing that was really broadcast on television in the UK in 1985. No, seriously! It was a thing that happened!

Fingermouse was a spinoff of the 1972 show 'Fingerbobs'. Apparently he was so popular that he was resurrected 13 years later for his own series. Literally resurrected as well, as Fingermouse and the other Fingerbobs were all smashed to bits on camera at the end of the original series. Fingerbobs revolved mostly around the titular finger-puppets have simple adventures and singing songs. There was no attempt made to disguise the fact that they were finger-puppets, and the puppeteer was a big part of the show.

Fingermouse replaced the original mime puppeteer for a 'Music Man' who played instruments whilst wearing Fingermouse. It's probably best remembered for the genuinely fantastic intro which is a bit of an ear worm that will never leave your head.
There's not much to say about Fingermouse. It was a simple children's show about a cone of paper stuck on someone's finger. But that was why it was great. Something like this could not be made nowadays. Television is supposed to have minimum standards of reality where what you see on screen is treated as what is actually happening. Fingermouse was one of the last gasps of the original theatrical model of television where the effects weren't as important as what was actually being portrayed.

If Fingermouse came back today, it's impossible that it would be in the form of a fifteen minute episode about a man with a grey cone of paper on his finger. This wondermouse would probably be relegated to some sort of awful CGI designed to reflect his classic conical look but allow him to scamper about like a mouse, or else some sort of cheap flash cartoon. Never again will it be acceptable to just film a crude finger-puppet and broadcast it on national television on BBC One.

Why is that? What have we lost as a society where we can't accept a television show unless it makes an attempt to be realistic? As I mentioned, television originally came out of the theatre. The idea was to make stage plays accessible to all, with sparse sets and a concentration on the actors. Any special effects tended to be symbolic rather than realistic. The idea that what you saw on screen should reflect reality, like the glossy films do, is something that came in much later and firmly had a grip on British tv in the mid 80s.

A perfect illustration of this is that in the Doctor Who story 'Frontios' broadcast in 1984, it was perfectly acceptable to use a fade-effect to show someone being dragged under the earth; by 1986's 'Trial of a Time Lord' this is unthinkable and a similar scene has a character being physically dragged underground. Representation used to be viable, now everything must be realistic.

As a result of this mindset, there's a whole strata of children's programming, and programming in general, that is lost. Classics like Mr Ben (which were barely animated), Button Moon (a puppet show with puppets made from kitchen supplies) and yes, Fingermouse, wouldn't happen because there is a baseline of quality that is measured with how slick something looks. What potential classics are forever unseen because people only want to watch things that act like mini films, rather than creative ways to tell stories?

Come back, Fingermouse. You marvellous, musical mouse. Your country needs you.

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