Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Worzel Gummidge, Our Favorite Talking Scarecrow, Is About To Get A New (Contemporary) Head

What is it about talking pumpkin heads and scarecrows? Why are we so fascinated with these characters? Though Jack Skellington was a talking Pumpkin King of a different kind, there have been talking farm constructs coming to life in tales well before Baum's Oz version and they continue to hold a fascination with kids - and adults! - today, and not just in the West. Children's tales are almost always a homegrown version, literally!, of a naive and/or mischievous clown (except for the Japanese versions, which we will mention further down in the post) but still retain their potential for darkness*.

If you have any UK children's television in your upbringing, you're probably familiar with a certain walking, talking scarecrow and his many adventures on Scatterbrook Farm. Thanks to a popular TV series created in the late 1970's, Worzel Gummidge, the comical scarecrow with interchangeable heads, (he has one for every important situation) and his true love/femme fatale Aunt Sally, a life-sized fairground doll, brought magic to farms (and backyards) everywhere.

Well that series, specifically the original children's books the TV series was adapted from, written in the 1930s by Barbara Euphan Todd, is about to get a reboot by the BBC - which means Worzle is about to get a new head: that of Mackenzie Crook.

A representative for Mackenzie Crook, spoke to BBC.com stating he's working on:
"...a new contemporary adaptation of the original Worzel Gummidge books. It's in the very early stages of development, so scripts have not yet been written".
Mackenzie Crook (left) Jon Pertwee as Worzel Gummidge (right)
We have to wonder what "contemporary adaptation" means. Factory farms? Organic grower farms? Will it have an eco-friendly/save-the-planet angle to it? Or will it be Worzel Gummidge discovers social media and Starbucks... and AI..?! (Ah the possibilities for terrible, yet hilarious, things!)

We've included some pages from the 1971 annual which combines some of the adventures of Worzel Gummidge with illustrations from the books, which the delightful text giving insights to this wonderfully bizarre character. (You can read all the pages HERE.)
Though it's difficult to look at images from the original show and not be a little concerned about this odd-looking, vagrant-type, clown-character giving today's children nightmares, Jon Pertwee (yes, a.k.a. Doctor Who) played this mischievous character in such a way as it was impossible not to find him hilarious and sympathetic, even as he caused a lot of trouble for the two children of Scatterbrook Farm who knew him to be alive, and we hope that same trait will exist in any modern adaptation as well.
We are including this clip below specifically to show the opening titles as it's one of the better recordings/transfers currently available. Even watching only a few minutes further beyond the opening, it's easy to see why the knuckle-headed character was so beloved:
There is an interesting book available (published in 2016) that tells the story of the original TV series and goes behind the scenes. We haven't had a chance to look at much of it, but what we've seen is worth a second look. It can be found for purchase HERE.

Worzel Gummidge's 'creator' (in the story) was The Crowman, who created many living scarecrows and friends for Worzel, a few of which appeared in the show. He was a fascinating character too, worthy of a whole series just about his mysterious existence and job. Here's a clip from an episode in which he features. As a bonus you get to hear a little of '"scarecrow-ease", the language of scarecrows, which Pertwee pulled off flawlessly, delighting generations of kids and inspiring to create their own scarecrow-ease (annoying generations of parents everywhere):
We mentioned earlier that it wasn't just the West that is fascinated with agricultural man-like constructs. Japan in particular, has scarecrow festivals and shrines dedicated to them but they're a little different to the bumbling idiots causing trouble (or the nightmare-inducing creatures) we're familiar with. Japanese scarecrows are knowledgeable and wise:
In Japan... there’s even a shrine dedicated to the scarecrow. It’s called Kuehiko Shrine and it’s in Nara, near Osaka. 
In direct opposition to L. Frank Baum’s brainless creation, the scarecrow of Japanese folklore is meant to be very knowledgeable. Kuebiko is worshipped as the god of agriculture or scholarship and wisdom, kind of like the Western owl. Here (FTNH Ed. - at this Google Earth link) you can see where Japanese visitors have written their wishes on boards and hung them up outside the shrine dedicated to the scarecrow. 
In Japanese children’s books, scarecrows are kindly creatures**. Japan also imports books from overseas, and those tend to feature kind scarecrows, too. (Read more about scarecrows in children's stories here at SlapHappyLarry's site HERE)
Incidentally, in the Worzel Gummidge TV series, the actor who played The Crowman, Geoffrey Bayldon, also played another magical character, starring as the title character of Catweazle - another fabulous fantasy show that appeals to fairy tale folk, in which an accidental-time-traveling wizard comes from the 1300's (if memory serves) to the future (as in the 1960's) and not only has to come to terms with "elec-trickery" but is trying to figure out how to get back home. (Worse still his magic sometimes actually works...)

* We do not need to mention The Wicker Man, do we?
** Related to, and perhaps inspired by, the scarecrow, Japanese urban legend yokai has the kunekune. This is a long, slender white guy (or black in the city) who hangs around paddy fields. It's made out of fabric or paper, with the name being mimetic, describing how it twists about in the wind (like one of those windsock dancers used for advertising).  The kunekune has quite a dark side and can be paralleled with The Slender Man of the West. If you hold the gaze of a kunekune too long, you can go insane. You can read more about the kunekune urban legend HERE[Info adapted and expanded from SlapHappyLarry.]

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this show! This is why I love your blog :)

    One of my favorite pumpkin scarecrow creatures is the scarecrow/pumpkin/cat creature "Enoch" in Over the Garden Wall.