The much-loved children’s TV series “Bagpuss” is 50 years old in 2024, and who better to celebrate that milestone than Sandra Kerr who co-wrote, arranged and performed the music for the series.
As soon as I heard about this podcast, I knew it was something I wanted to share with the Culture Northumberland community, as it celebrates traditional Northumberland dance tunes, folk music and of course the famous fat cat "Bagpuss". The kind people at Folk on Foot, have shared this interview with Sandra, from her home in Warkworth, Northumberland.
The Folk on Foot episode “Sandra Kerr (and Nancy Kerr) in Warkworth” launches on Friday January 19th 2024, wherever you get your podcasts or at www.folkonfoot.com
In the latest episode of the Folk on Foot podcast, host Matthew Bannister visits Sandra at her home in the Northumberland village of Warkworth.
Sitting in her cosy music room surrounded by Bagpuss souvenirs, she sings “The Bony King of Nowhere” and reflects on the powerful impact the old cloth cat has had on successive generations of children.
Then, on a walk along the nearby River Coquet, Sandra tells the story of joining the folk revival of the 1960s and 70s when she landed a job as nanny to its formidable leaders, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. In exchange for looking after their children, she was given music lessons. Sandra tells how MacColl used techniques from theatre director Konstantin Stanislawski and movement specialist Rudolf Laban to help his students inhabit the characters in the ballads they were singing. MacColl was also a Marxist who, she says, believed a working-class revolution could be started through an uprising of folk clubs.
Sandra has been a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights and sings a song she composed about the suffragette Emily Davidson, who died after being hit by the King’s Horse at the Derby in 1913. Emily is buried near Sandra’s home and when she first visited the grave in the 1980s, she was shocked to find it neglected and overgrown.
Finally, Sandra is joined by her daughter, the singer, songwriter and fiddle player Nancy Kerr to perform traditional Northumberland dance tunes learned from Nancy’s father. It’s a fascinating and entertaining encounter with one of the folk world’s best loved characters.
“Bagpuss” tells the story of a “saggy old cloth cat, baggy and a bit loose at the seams”. Created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin with music and voices by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, it was first broadcast on BBC 1 on 12th February 1974. The thirteen episodes were frequently repeated in the UK until 1986 and in 1999 it topped a BBC poll for the UK’s favourite children’s TV programme.
Folk on Foot won the Best Arts and Culture award at the 2023 Independent Podcast Awards. It has also won Gold (2020) and Silver (2023) LOVIE Awards, a Gold Audio Production Award (2019) for its producer Natalie Steed, a Silver ARIA Award (2022) for Best Specialist Music Show and a Silver British Podcast Award (2019) for Best Arts and Culture Podcast.