He told us all about how he was inspired to create characters like Basil Brush and Noggin the Nog, and let us into a few secrets about how they made and animated the puppets.
That was the amazing bit for me; you got the sense that he and his partner Oliver Postgate were always nudging at the edge of the technology of the time. Playing with whatever materials were available to them to get something done at the quality they wanted and in the time they had. It made me think that if he was working today, you'd possibly find him at a table at a Hackspace with a soldering iron and an Arduino. Or in a studio making games.
Then at the weekend we went to the Museum of Childhood for the first time. And I got lots of the same feelings there. While on the one hand it was weird to see my old He-Man toys behind a glass cabinet, the effect of seeing everything on display was to compress history a bit. It was like there was a time lapse between the Wrenn Master Mariner and Scramble and Astro Wars.
And, though it might be blindingly obvious to say out loud, it made me think about how toys are also a form of technology that helps us tell stories about the future. Whether it's about growing up to be a real life sea captain or being a space adventurer who blasts zombaliens. They help us extrapolate a position about our world and our place within it.
And maybe our (my?) nostalgia for old toys comes from the same place that likes our media choices today to be turned inside out. We like to have the option of seeing the making-of feature, the deleted scenes, the out-takes and the Film 4 interview with the director. We like to simultaneously suspend belief, and see the strings, the less-than-perfect special effect, the flaw in the performance. It makes us (me?) value those things more, because it gives us a way into the invention.
For example: You can't help but love the original Star Wars trilogy more when you discover that the sound of the TIE Fighter was made by combining an elephant trumpeting with a car driving in the rain.
That's great hacking. And I'm not really sure where that takes me to, except, it takes me back to that idea of media inventors and tinkering in the internet shed (I'd like to do more of that in 2011). And, isn't that the kind of inventiveness you'd like to take to the work you do?