Rubovian History

Small enough to be easily managed yet not so small as to be easily overlooked, the kingdom of Rubovia has been ruled by an unbroken line of royal succession for many centuries. And even though much of Rubovian history remains rather obscure, all indications are that it has been at peace with its neighbours for at least several of those centuries.  Indeed, during the middle part of the 20th Century, relations with the neighbouring kingdom of Borsovia could not have been more cordial.

The BBC's marionette television series, A Rubovian Legend, and its stop-motion successor, Rubovia, bring the kingdom of Rubovia to life in a way that mere words on a page cannot. Although set in the mid 20th century, you could be excused for thinking that the tales of Rubovia belong more to an earlier, simpler time. When asked if the Rubovian costumes might suggest that the setting is 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, 19th January, 1963)

Gordon's list of technologies that were familiar to the Rubovians only scratches the surface. There are actually far more numerous examples of modern technologies portrayed in the Rubovian Legends, ranging from photography and the speaking tube, to gramophone records, vacuum cleaners, and even fire engines. Whether any of these technologies were invented in Rubovia, or somehow diffused in from neighbouring countries, is anyone's guess. In any case, it was to our great benefit that Gordon Murray had his ear to the ground about the goings on there, which through his great skill as a story teller, became the now legendary tales of Rubovia. Asked about the present goings on in Rubovia, Gordon said, “I don’t know what’s going on there now. It’s probably turned into some sort of Lichtenstein or something like that.”

Rubovia is said to be located in Eastern Europe, but the fact that it is not shown on any existing map could mean that it exists in a world parallel to our own, rather like King Arthur's mythical island of Avalon, said to have disappeared into the mists as the modern technological  and less mystical age came upon us. It is also possible, given the Rubovian penchant for magic spells, that Rubovia existed in our world, but through the use of magic it was at some point hidden away to protect it from our modern age. Indeed, like the mythical village of Brigadoon, perhaps the kingdom of Rubovia still exists behind the scenes in Europe today, if only we knew where or how to look!

Eastern Europe c. 1550
Adapted from map of Europe during the Reformation, by I. S. Clare

The Rubovian historical period that we know the most about is the reign of King Rufus XIV and his wife Queen Caroline. The so-called “Rubovian Legends” are the stories of this royal family and their loyal subjects, as recorded for posterity by the Court Historian, Mr. Albert Weatherspoon. 

On the question of language, whether by royal decree or national preference, at some point quite early in their history, the Rubovians adopted English as their national language. Indeed, in the voices of various Rubovian characters, one can hear a variety of regional English accents, as if one had somehow stumbled into England itself. The educated English accents of the Rubovian royal family members, and also too of King Boris of the neighbouring kingdom of Borsovia, are no doubt due to time spent attending educational institutions in England during their younger years. 

Now if you will, please join us in travelling back in time to mid 20th century Rubovia...

Unlike many of their European contemporaries, King Rufus and Queen Caroline tend to be spared many of the mundane matters that normally go hand-in-hand with running a small country. Through good luck or good fortune, Rubovia usually seems to run itself, more-or-less. This is just as well, since there are often matters closer at hand, in the royal court itself, that are potentially a lot more troublesome than the usual gamut of national taxation issues, bank holidays, and the like. These matters principally concern the penchant of some of the more eccentric members of the royal court for dabbling in magic spells, which invariably produce hilariously disastrous results. The trouble usually starts when the Royal Gardener, Mr. Albert Weatherspoon, who is also Court Magician, accedes to the King’s desire to entertain a visiting guest, or get something done quickly, and for no reward, pecuniary or otherwise, other than the King's "Well done, Weatherspoon!" After all, who can argue when the King backs up his every wish by a written royal command? The Lord Chamberlain has the job of delivering the commands, usually written on a large parchment scroll.

A scene from the “Rubovian Legend” episode,
Clocks and Blocks, transmitted 28 October, 1958.

L-R: The Lord Chamberlain; King Rufus of Rubovia; Queen Caroline
of Rubovia; Pongo the Queen’s pet Chinese dragon; and Rubina the cat,
assistant and companion to Mr. Albert Weatherspoon Court Magician
and royal factotum, who is shown at  right.

Originally published in the September 1958 issue of Ariel, the BBC's house magazine, © BBC.
Colourisation © 2003 Alastair Roxburgh.

Often working behind the scenes to keep things in tip-top running order is the multi-talented Mr. Albert Weatherspoon. Holding more titles than most people can shake a finger at, Mr. Weatherspoon is Royal Gardner, Court Photographer, Royal Plumber, Master of the King’s Horse, Master of the Rolls, Decorator-in-Chief, and Postmaster General, to name just a few. Mr. Weatherspoon also carries the title of Court Magician, although he feels that his dabbling in magic(which is strictly of the self-taught kind that often goes hilariously and disastrously wrong) hardly justifies such a grandiose-sounding title. Mr. Weatherspoon was also made a Knight of the Realm for a day, to help ward off a marauding dragon.  And while he has never received an official title for such, Mr. Weatherspoon is also a prolific inventor, as well as a scientist of sorts. Mr. Weatherspoon's most important invention, and one that still has not been surpassed by so-called ‘modern’ technology, is the speaking tube (“It's the speaking tube, puss.”). He is also founder of the old, established, civil engineering company, Weatherspoon and Cat Ltd.  

With so many official duties, it is not surprising that Mr. Weatherspoon does not get much opportunity to practice with his magic wand ahead of time. The long list of official titles notwithstanding, Mr. Weatherspoon's most important job at Rubovia Castle is royal gardener, looking after the Queen's cabbage patch, as well as the Rubovia Castle's more ornamental gardens.

Mr. Weatherspoon’s constant companion and assistant deserves special mention. This is none other than his pet cat Rubina, usually called just ‘puss’ (“Come along, puss.”). Constant companion or not, Rubina has learned that when Mr. Weatherspoon picks up his magic wand, it is safest to become rather scarce. One of Rubina’s special jobs is to press the air-pump on the Royal Rococo organ during  Mr. Weatherspoon’s regular music recitals, as Master of the King’s Musick (“Pressure up, puss!”). 

To fill in some more details about King Rufus, he is (in the Queen’s view) usually up to no good, more often than not in the company of The Lord Chamberlain. There is always something for them to discuss, and always time for another round of their favourite game, draughts. Invariably, just as the King and Chamberlain are getting into a new game, they are sure to be interrupted by the Queen (“Stop playing that silly game! It would be most undignified for you to be found playing tiddlywinks!” To which the King will reply, “It’s not tiddlywinks, it’s draughts—a game which needs a great deal of...”). The King very much enjoys visits from friend and cousin, King Boris of the neighbouring small coastal kingdom of Borsovia.

When the Queen is not entertaining guests or harassing her (somewhat lazy) husband to get something done, she spends time pampering her baby Chinese dragon, Pongo. Pongo tends to have has a calming effect on the Queen. When Queen Caroline sits in the garden rubbing olive oil into Pongo’s wings, her usually assertive, somewhat loud personality can become quite soft and loving. The Queen does not directly take part in affairs of the kingdom, preferring to make sure that her husband the King performs that role. In-between running the Royal household and working on various money-making schemes, Queen Caroline very much enjoys visits from her good friend and cousin, the Grand Duchess Arabella of the neighbouring small kingdom of Humperstein.

A few more words about Pongo are in order. Pongo’s favourite food is fresh green cabbages, although he is also partial to peppermint creams. Although Pongo is very fond of his mistress the Queen, when things get too intense in the castle, he can often be found quietly beetle watching in the rose garden. 

Another character we might meet in Rubovia is Farmer Bottle, whose catch-phrase is, “I knows the rules.” Finally, there’s MacGregor, a turban-wearing Indian with a Scottish name and a Chinese accent (“Velly good. Me vellee solly!”). MacGregor has the reputation of being the biggest rogue in Rubovia, and also one of its strangest characters. He is  frequently seen giving hints to Weatherspoon over the garden wall from the top of a ladder, and doesn't do anything unless it is for his own personal gain.

Point of interest: For reasons of political correctness, and in recognition of the continued ethnic flow from former colonies back to Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, MacGregor, who throughout the ‘Legends’ series was portrayed as an Indian, albeit a very unusual one, in the later stop motion series was changed to the Red (Native American) kind of Indian. This is also how he is portrayed in the Pippin in Playland comics and Pippin annuals that were produced starting with the stop motion series. The ‘MacGregor issue’ first came to the fore when the BBC received a complaint from a black woman who wanted to know why Gordon Murray had made the villain of the piece a black man. As Gordon recalled years later, “I answered [her] through the BBC that so far, I'd not had any complaints from the Scots or the Chinese (laughter).” Indeed, perhaps MacGregor's multi-national makeup had been originally designed to deflect any such criticism. In any case, although the change in MacGregor's nationality simply replaced one stereotype (albeit complex) with another simpler one, the stories needed a villain, and as Gordon went on to say, “...Red Indians where rather rarer than black Indians, so [the choice of a native North American] was probably a safety thing. They were less liable to sue...S-i-o-u-x (More laughter).”

Being primarily an agricultural country, Rubovia’s major export is quality vegetables. Top among these are Queen Caroline’s award-winning cabbages, grown under the expert eye of Mr. Weatherspoon.

Whereas in most kingdoms the royal coffers are filled from taxes, this is not so in Rubovia. Due to a happy accident with a magic spell that went wrong, Henrietta the royal hen lays golden eggs. As a result, the royal treasury is never completely empty, and taxes on the populace are minimal.

At this juncture, we need to point out that what little we know about the history of Rubovia contains a lot of inconsistencies, due no doubt, to the large number of King Rufus XIV’s ancestors who have shared the same name. In writing this history, therefore, we’ve had to take one or two liberties, and make some choices. Therefore it’s entirely possible that further uncovering of the historical record may force a reconsideration of the chronology.

King Rufus and Queen Caroline hold court in Rubovia Castle, the ancestral residence of the head of the royal house of Trum de Trum, ruler of Rubovia. Tastefully appointed, the castle is a mixture of several styles, having been added to over the years. According to Mr. Weatherspoon’s copy of that long out-of-print, and now exceedingly rare book, Castles of the world by Alloitious Trample, the oldest parts of the castle date back to medieval times.

Castles of the world (ibid.) goes on to say that Rubovia Castle was built in 1066 by Rufus I (known as ‘Rufus the Ruffian’), when he became tired of living in a sheepskin tent. Over the centuries, and as the need arose, various improvements and extensions were made. For example, the eastern battlements and the lower half of the Round Tower date back to the fifteenth century, with King Rufus III. The South Wing was added later by Rufus VI, and the West Wing by Rufus IX, while the spacious kitchens were added by Rufus XII (‘Rufus the Ravenous’). In more recent times, King Rufus XIV has been responsible for certain improvements to the plumbing, the work being carried out by the old-established Rubovian firm of Weatherspoon & Cat Limited.

In one of the few war-like actions ever experienced in Rubovia, the main entrance to the castle was destroyed in 1107, bombarded in a (fortunately short-lived) fit of pique by the Borsovians.  Although it was rebuilt the following year, the entrance was not just simply restored. In what has become an increasingly strong element of Rubovian character, the reconstruction incorporated a number of improvements. The restoration was performed by Ampumpo, the court magician of the time, who is very likely one of Albert Weatherspoon’s ancestors. And even though Rubovia Castle is built to imposing dimensions and possesses very spacious grounds, the thing that impresses visitors the most is the air of peace and tranquility which pervades its rooms and corridors—a peace which is shattered only when Queen Caroline has one of her money-making ideas, which tends to happen every week or so.

As to the actual period in history occupied by King Rufus XIV and Queen Caroline, the similarity of the clothing fashions in the Rubovian Royal Court to those of Queen Anne of England, or perhaps King Louis XIV of France, would put it in the 1700 - 1715 timeslot. And certainly the King’s prized organ dates back to the same time, the start of the Rococo period. On the other hand, the use of technologies such as steam power, photography, the speaking tube, and wind-up gramophones would put it much later, say in the second half of the 1800s.  Nevertheless, we have it on Gordon Murray’s say-so, that in the Rubovian Legends, 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, 19th January, 1963.) 

Interestingly, the date of 1955 for the start of the “Rubovian Legends” gives an average reign of 65 years for each Rufus in the unbroken Rubovian royal succession. While this is long, when we consider Rubovia’s ideal situation, it is not an unreasonable span of years. Assuming an age of forty-five years for King Rufus and Queen Caroline, if either of them still survive, they would both now (in the year 2003) be a good 90 years old. Even though such ages are not at all unusual in Rubovia, we could expect the King and Queen to have been succeeded ten or twenty years ago.

The heir apparent to the kingdom of Rubovia is (or was) Prince Rupert (“Pwince Wupert” in Rufusese), introduced as a young man in Gordon Murray’s later “Rubovian Legends” stories. We may assume that Prince Rupert’s childhood occurred prior to the period covered by the ‘Legends’. The fact that he did not appear in the earlier “Rubovian Legends” stories, is plausibly due to the old royal custom where young royals are sent away somewhere to get an education. Therefore, as to the question of who is ruling Rubovia now, as we write this in 2003, it is probably King Rupert. When we asked Gordon Murray about this recently, he laughed good humouredly and said that he was out of touch with what was going on in Rubovia, and it probably has turned into a sort of a Liechtenstein by now!

The above history of Rubovia has drawn upon many sources, including Tim Worthington’s Rubovia article (Printed Media section), several articles in the Radio Times, a handful of books, and Gordon Murray himself. Our aim has been to create another page of Rubovian history that overlaps nicely with everything that has already been written, but which also explores a little deeper. As in any ‘imaginary’ history, we have had to be quite resourceful in order to mesh things nicely together. Being the creative story teller that he is, Gordon Murray has sometimes come up with slightly different versions of Rubovian history, and indeed different looks for the characters themselves! Such differences are to be expected, and indeed make for a richer tapestry of authentic ideas to tap into. -Al & Jan Roxburgh, August 2003.