Memories of Rubovia
I enjoyed [Rubovia], quite honestly I enjoyed it. I joined the BBC in the ‘50’s, 1955, and then television was all-live, going straight from the studio. At first I did puppet plays because basically I’m a puppeteer, rather than a television or film producer... Of course, going out live in a television studio, all sorts of accidents used to happen, so I got fed up with that and I bought myself a film camera. Because I had a rehearsal studio, purely for puppets, I turned it into a film studio and took the films myself, produced and directed them... I did the lot. The [BBC] didn’t really understand puppets, so they let me do it. It was very pleasant... So I enjoyed myself for about ten years, I think.
I’ve always been interested in the traditional fairy stories and folk tales...so when [the BBC] tried to make me do modern things, I resisted. At the time I suppose fairy stories were considered as being a bit old-fashioned, but my elder child was born during the middle of Rubovia, and it encouraged me to go even further into it.... But it corresponded to a time when the BBC wanted to bring children’s television up-to-date, they wanted real life. The fashion at the time was all sorts of science fiction and space age stuff...and I said it wasn’t really me. That’s what seems to attract a lot of children these days.
our efforts (through this website) to get Rubovia out for people to enjoy
again, Gordon said,
creator, producer and director of "Rubovian Legends" and
For me, working on Rubovia was a favourite time.
I remember that the first time the [Rubovia Castle] model was to be used, a huge electrical cable was let loose from the studio gantry and it smashed into the model just half an hour before the programme was transmitted. We had to hurriedly patch it up and somehow the tower was never quite as it should have been after that!
settings and costume designer for "Rubovian Legends".
Rubovia now seems a long time ago, but I still have so many very happy memories of doing the programme. It was a delight to work with Gordon Murray, who was not only immensely professional, but also so kind and friendly to work for and with. It was a real pleasure to go to work in "The Tin Shed" (which we called our rehearsal rooms at Lime Grove, Shepherds Bush, London).
—Roy Skelton, voice
actor on "Rubovian Legends", mostly as the Lord Chamberlain.
So good to know that Rubovia is still a country worth visiting. We all had such fun working on it.
voice actor on "Rubovian Legends", mostly as Sir Albert
became passionately interested in puppets at the age of four, and
watched every television programme that featured them in any shape
or form. I began to watch Rubovia at about the age of eight, and I
was enchanted by it. The scripts were well written, the puppets and
sets were beautiful, and it all had great charm. The stories had a
quite sophisticated humour (for example in the somewhat oppressive
relationship of the Queen to the King) which made them appealing to
adults without losing the child audience; and the designs, which I
believe were Gordon Murray’s own work, harked back to the court of
My parents had a photographic retail shop, and amongst their customers was a BBC television cameraman. Learning of my interest in puppets, he obtained permission for me to visit the studio in Television Centre where Rubovia was made. It was the most thrilling thing that had happened to me up to that point in my life!
We were received very kindly by Gordon Murray, who spent about an hour showing us around. Looking back on it, I am amazed by his patience with this young visitor, whose conversation could have been of no interest to him at all! The thing I remember most clearly was that all of the sets, including the model of the castle on the mountaintop, which appeared in the opening shot, were built on large tables on wheels. They could be pushed underneath the bridge which carried the puppeteers, which was a permanent and fixed structure. There were only four or five sets, and only a small number of puppets. As far as I can remember, there was only one version of each of the characters, with the exception of the Queen, who had two dresses. Part of the charm of the series lay in seeing how these familiar characters interacted with each other in a variety of situations. The Queen would always be nagging the King, who would be mildly consoled by his Lord Chamberlain, who in turn was never bold enough to refer directly to the Queen’s unappealing characteristics. But my favourite characters were Weatherspoon the gardener and his cat, who used to pump the bellows when he was playing the harmonium.
Alas, Rubovia didn’t last in that studio for very long after my visit. I believe they took the view at the BBC that it was an extravagance to allocate quite a large room to the production of 13 or 26 episodes of a children’s programme each year. The way in which children’s programming was produced began to change fundamentally. Instead of producing things in-house, the BBC would commission outside companies to do things and deliver to contract. This meant that overheads had to be kept to a minimum, which in turn meant the end of large-scale marionette productions requiring big sets. (The obvious exceptions were Gerry Anderson’s series, which were produced and marketed on a completely different scale, and which owed their financial viability to the passionate involvement of Lew Grade, one of the greatest showmen ever to work in television.)
Gordon Murray was, of course, well placed to take advantage of the new climate, and he began to produce stop-action animation, which virtually took over from puppets. I found them—and I still find them—very dreary. The movement is crude, the design basic, and the scripts extremely bland. Everyone is so nice, and they are so preachy. I don’t blame Gordon Murray for this—he was operating within the constraints of his time—but it is significant that when, a few years ago, the BBC issued a video with examples of children’s programmes from the Watch with Mother series, it became the BBC’s best-selling videocassette to date. Now, alas, the Watch with Mother puppet series like Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben are also being remade—in stop-action animation.
I really wish the BBC would issue Rubovia on video. How I would enjoy being taken back to that magical and charming world again!
I saw Rubovia on NZBC Television when I was 11 years old. My strongest memories are of the interesting conversations and accents of King Rufus and the Lord Chamberlain. However, my favorite character was Pongo the Queen’s little dragon. Pongo captured my heart, and even although I knew he wasn’t real, he came alive for me. I remember studying his movements intently, trying to figure out how he could be manipulated by just one person. When he walked, he really looked like he was walking, and he had legs, plus a head and tail for someone to deal with. His wings and beautiful scales deeply fascinated me too. As for the first time I saw steam or smoke coming out of his mouth or nose, I was almost beside myself with excitement! That’s when it seemed that Pongo really breathed and was totally alive. Pongo in my mind was absolutely perfect, and when he was on the TV screen, I hardly noticed anything else. I realize now I was quite obsessed.
I remember puss was quite entertaining, but for some reason, she seemed very mechanical to me compared with what I considered to be the fluidity of Pongo. With puss, I thought about how she was dependent on the strings. With Pongo, I could imagine him just walking off and leaving his puppeteer/s standing there with their mouths open.
I know I changed after seeing Pongo in that I had a lot more interest in puppets, although mainly the four-legged ones. While watching them, I was always trying to discover more because I wanted to find answers to my long-held questions about how Pongo worked. Was he hollow inside? How could they have managed the steam or smoke effect? How were the legs coordinated so perfectly? Was he really able to walk on all fours, or is that a memory enhanced by the passage of time? I still wonder about these things...
My hope is that the surviving episodes of the original Rubovia will be re-released again soon. Although I also have some interest in the colour stop-motion episodes, which I’ve only seen still pictures of, I can already tell that they don’t have the exquisite detail of the marionettes. Actually, Pongo the stop-motion version looks more like a droopy-eared dog to me. Without his former wings and dragon scales, he just isn’t the same.
|I was crossing Clapham Common yesterday when I experienced something I can only describe as a Proustian rush. I heard an elderly lady calling after her dog.
'Pongo!' she cried, 'Pongo Pongo Pongo!'
I was immediately transported to a country I wasn't even sure ever existed. But somewhere in the haunted west wing of my memory I uncovered the name Rubovia , and slightly indistinct images of a William and Mary style royal family.
The only other line of dialogue I could recall was, "Your move, Chamberlain!" Am I correct in thinking that it was something of a catch-phrase for King Rufus? I seem to remember it was often repeated. What I find truly extraordinary is that I can recall the line at all—I must have heard it for the last time in the early sixties.
Since then I have occasionally mentioned the programme and have only ever met with complete non-recognition from my contemporaries. I began to think that perhaps I'd only imagined that magical little kingdom.
Even as an 6/7/8 year old I recognised that the programme was slightly 'creaking'—the production values exactly mirrored the Rubovian idyll—a refusal to join the 20th century! It was very much part of its charm.
This morning I searched the internet and was delighted to find the Rubovian site. I haven't yet looked in any detail—but I look forward to doing so with enormous pleasure and anticipation.
Some fragments of
Farmer Bottle was certainly in the earlier series: his catch phrase was "I know [knows?] the rules" as he was forever digging up ancient pieces of law that the palace had to abide by. —I think it was one such rule that led to the business with the fire engine [Fire, Fire, Fire]. Incidentally, I don't think the Rubovians could have been totally ignorant of electricity, as in another episode, Weatherspoon got his hands on a cine camera, and mused about making an epic film entitled "The Battle of Borsovia". Incidentally, wasn't MacGregor an ordinary (as opposed to Red) Indian—he wore a turban?
John also kindly provided a detailed plot synopsis for Sinister Visitor (see Chronology/Episode Guide), as well as some other historical details (see History section). —Thank you! We'll recommend you for a Rubovian Royal Commendation.
The phrase I remember the most was
Weatherspoon's, "Oh! It's the speaking tube,
puss." It became something of a catch phrase for us, whenever the phone rang.
The 'speaking tube' was used by the King and others to summon Weatherspoon from his workshop. I can't remember if it was always there or whether it was added at some point. I suspect the Queen calling Pongo is the most commonly remembered phrase, certainly if you mention the series to anyone they often don't remember it until they hear that, then they say Oh yes...
I was delighted, and full of nostalgia, after finding your superb website
devoted to 'Rubovia'.
I was talking about the programme the other day with a friend, who had no
recollection of it at all. I have always carried pictures of the characters in my memory, and seeing them again is quite remarkable.
Thank you, for reconnecting me with a memorable part of my childhood. I know that I developed a fascination for marionettes as a child, and I wonder if that had something to do with the programme. I was bought a 'King' and 'Queen' (nothing like the Rubovians), among other 'topical' characters, all of which were manufactured by Pelham.
I can't quite remember individual programme plots, but the main characters are embedded in my memory, as are their costumes, hairstyles, etc. Pongo, too, is a fond memory.
I am just so pleased that I found that others share the interest and memories, as there have been times when I thought I had imagined the whole subject! It would be great to see the programmes reissued, as they were classics, and I much preferred them to 'Andy Pandy'—but I am sure that he has a legion of fans too.
—George Fairfull-Smith, UK
Playing checkers with my seven-year old the other day, she lifted her
finger off a piece after moving it, and I suddenly said in my most aristocratic voice: "I distinctly saw daylight between the piece and
your finger, and I take this and this and this and this, and I've won
It took me a few moments to realize that these were the words of the King of Rubovia beating the poor Chamberlain yet again—if my fifty-year old memory serves me, I seem to remember this was a running gag that opened many episodes. How I loved that show! Quintessentially British and wonderfully staged, and apparently, permanently lodged somewhere in the back of my mind.
I was transported back to the lovely cottage that was my home in Derbyshire in the late 50's, rapt before a small black and white TV after rushing home from school to catch either Rubovia (or Captain Pugwash, my other childhood favorite)...
...I remember the delight [Rubovian Legends] gave me as a child and the wonderful voices, particularly Derek Nimmo, who went on to such success in radio and TV.
—Charles Wyke-Smith, USA
—Steve Garratt, UK
I realise that this sounds somewhat eccentric from a 50 year old man but I feel like I found a lost old friend. All my life I have had a vague memory of a children's programme that I absolutely adored. I couldn't quite remember the name but just the characters and wonderful stories that as a child had me entranced in a world of magic.
Unfortunately nobody else seemed to recall Rubovian Legends and with the passing years I thought I had made the whole thing up in my mind until I came across your website. What a delight, not only was it real but I had the chance to meet the old characters again. I suppose my excitement is a testament to the excellence of the programme and the effect it had upon me at the time and I am sure it influenced my future career within Theatre.
Fantastic web site right down to pressing the ruby jewels, definitely logged into 'my favourites' and I'll look in now and then to see what's new.
—Ken Walker, UK
I do hope that the BBC release a video of the series. [Your website]
brings back so many happy memories. I particularly remember the
episode of Chickweed [Wine], and the 'recipe' on the
gramophone record. The needle got stuck at 'a pound of yeast', till
the cat knocked the record player and the record carried on. I think
the castle blew up!
P.S. It was actually Sarah Kennedy (known as 'Bunty' to fans of her early morning radio programme on BBC Radio 2) reading out a reader's letter about Rubovia and the Chick Weed episode that prompted my memory. Would love to see that one again! But I do remember the haughty Queen gliding along with snout in the air, ...as though on castors... Happy days!
—Everson Whittle, UK
How many people have I asked over the years if they remembered a pet dragon who liked peppermint creams, owned by someone called Caroline? Like others on this site, I began to think it was nothing but the fevered imagination of a child in the early Sixties. Only when Sarah Kennedy mentioned it today on her Radio 2 show did I believe it had been real, and searched and found this site. Thank you so much for bringing me a tiny snapshot of myself about 46 years ago! Please continue lobbying to get this released on DVD.
—Deb Elliott, UK
For the record,
what Sarah Kennedy said on BBC Radio 2 (March 23rd, 2006) is this:
I just don't believe it! For more years than I can remember, I had this memory—of a puppet show I simply LOVED when a child. My favourite character was Weatherspoon (though was VERY fond of Pongo, too!). No-one, but no-one would believe me..... I was beginning to think I had dreamt it.
Thanks to an article in today's Sunday Express [April 2, 2006, pp. 56–57] about Gordon Murray, which, in one throwaway line, mentioned he was responsible for "Rubovia", and my search on the internet began......
Thank you so much for your website, now marked in my favourites. Finally, I know I am not going mad, and my long loved favourite still exists in the minds of others.... just wish I could buy it on DVD or video!
I also discovered today that my other favourite, the Wooden Tops, was where Gordon Murray first worked for the Beeb! Wow!
—Lynnette Cannell, UK
I loved the Rubovia stories and characters—especially Pongo and puss. I'm really glad I've found the website—it's brought back so many memories. I only have hazy memories of the programme but really loved it. It was the sight of the little, rather moth-eaten cat on the bellows that intrigued me, as well as the bizarre setup at court. I was amazed that so many who signed the petition couldn't find anyone who remembered it—I've been trying for years to a) remember the actual title ( I Googled Pongo), and b) find someone else who saw the programme. I feel as though I've rediscovered part of my childhood so many thanks!
—Andrea Hearne, UK
When I was a little girl
in England in the 50's I used to watch a puppet show called 'Tales
of Rubovia' set in a fairytale land of wizards, kings and queens. There was a court
magician who played a small organ, the sound of which fascinated me
and stayed in my mind. I could even remember the sound of the tune.
Years later, I found out that the sound was the Northumbrian pipes
playing the Redesdale Hornpipe. (So, I was bound to grow up with a
love of traditional English music, wasn't I?)
—Geraldine Legard, UK
Cabbage became my
favourite food. Well done little dragon!
—Gary T. Brady
happy to have found that I wasn't dreaming about this lovely world.
I've asked so many people about it and no-one else I know remembers
Rubovia - Brilliant brilliant and thank you from Jen
As I liked, and still do, pipe organs, the phrase 'Pressure-up, puss' has stuck. —Tim
Innocent childhood, the Theme still makes me cry, Loved it. —Harry Faulkner
Charm and whimsy from a time before childhood went sour. —Amanda Nicoll
I'm too young to
remember the b&w episodes (only just found out on here that Rubovia
goes back before Camberwick Green etc.), but I can remember seeing
the colour episodes at Watch With Mother time and loved them. Of
course, back then, you saw it once and it was over - so I'd love to
see them again and I'm sure my kids would love them too. What about
the Gublins on DVD too?
I can remember being
absolutely entranced by this magical series when I would have been
about 5-8 years old (I was born in 1955). It fuelled my fascination
with late 17th and early 18th century history, the period I later
went on to specialise in at University where I read for a history
degree between 1973 and 1976. I can still remember some of the
characters today. This was a truly wonderful introduction to another
age, albeit in a fictitious kingdom. As children we need such keys
to unlock the past. I would love to be able to see the programmes
again on video.
Rubovia is still the place I want to Live in. —Lesley England
Rubovia ranks with Noggin The Nog as a children's classic. —Janet Bruce
Weatherspoon: And I sow the seeds - so! King Rufus: So what? —Brian Yardley
Weatherspoon: A pound of yeast, a pound of yeast... —Paul Burke
The speaking tube has still not been surpassed by so-called 'modern technology'. —Steve Buckel
I remember the chickweed wine episode best. —K. J. Ellis
Now for some memories that are short, sweet,
and to the point:
A potpourri of miscellaneous Rubovia memories (abridged):
King Rufus' most commonly
remembered general phrases:
What with the costumes and everything, I used to think it was all quite surreal as a kid!
It was full of magic castles, a dragon called Pongo, a wizard and, ooo, all sorts of things like that.
I can certainly remember Pongo the dragon and someone, perhaps the Queen, calling him over and over again, "Pongo, Pongo, Pongo, Pongo, Pongo, Pongo, Pongo!"
Queen Caroline: 'He—ere Pongo Pongopongopongo...!'
Rubovia: One of the magical memories of my childhood.
A newsgroup thread:
Another newsgroup thread:
I'm sure many will remember Rubovia and 'Yes my love.' And of course—PONGO, Pongo Pongo Pongo Pongo! Happy memories.
Does anyone recall 'Tales of Rubovia'? An early-60's puppet series (strings like harbour hawsers) set in a Ruritanian castle on a mountain-top, featuring, e.g., Pwince Wufus, or Wupert (something which required him to exercise his comical speech-impediment), Weatherspoon the Magician, and Queen Caroline (Wufus called her 'Cawwy, old gel...') and her pet dragon whom she summoned with 'Here Pongo, Pongo, Pongo...!' Some time in the 70's I saw a ToR plasticene modelling kit featuring illustrations on the cover plainly in the style of the Trumpton characters... —Graham Higgins 1998–08–21
We loved this thread, and yes, the later (stop-motion) version of Pongo does indeed resemble a floppy-eared dog:
And finally, here's a selection of Rubovia memories from the Rubovia petition website (abridged):