Oliver Postgate's Introduction to 'The Burglarproof Bath Plug' and an extract from The Milkman's day



Coming to the end of my life, I find I have retained a heap of pictures, which have stayed in my mind, not because of their relevance to story or subject, but like moving snapshots, seem to have a memorable character of their own.

There is a reason for this . . . when I was young, in the 1930s, I used to read children’s books, and I was often puzzled by the sparse line-drawn illustrations which, it seemed to me, were nothing like what was happening in the story I was reading. I found the scenes that my imagination produced were often far more real than the illustration in the book, and I passed them by.

Nowadays children’s books often present themselves as a visual sequence supported by text – the colourful picture is in your face and the imagination has no part to play. 

This collection has no illustrations or photographs. It is strictly for reading – by grown-ups as well as children – and it has no plot, except where necessary to establish the pictures. It is essentially a sort of verbal snapshot album. Incidentally, it contains several incidents already in my autobiography. I do not apologise for including these and only ask you to read them and enjoy them as if you were there, as an onlooker or maybe a participant. Either way I hope you will enjoy the pictures which I hope they will evoke.

To tell the truth, that I sat down and wrote anything at all is the fault of the milkman

It was in the early ‘fifties’. I was standing with my father, Raymond Postgate, looking out of the  window of his study, watching the milkman. I thought this might be a propitious moment to discuss my own career and future prospects.

“I have decided to become a ‘creative writer’.” I announced.

No such thing.” he unhesitatingly replied.

Pressed to elaborate, he added that writing is not something you are, it is something you do.

“Writing itself is not creative, writing is essentially descriptive. It is a craft used to convey information. How good or how bad a piece of writing turns out to be depends on how effective is it at conveying the information it is attempting to deliver.”

“But what about style?” I asked, “Literary distinction?” I asked anxiously.

“Stuff style!” he replied. “Write what is in your mind, or describe what you can see as clearly as you can, and that will one day be your “style”, but to pursue nuances of “style” simply to gain for yourself a literary reputation is a dead end.”

I pointed out through the study window to the milkman opposite.

“What about him?” I asked crossly. “Do I just have to describe his boring life?”

“Who  says its boring?” laughed my father. “Nobody says you have to tell the truth!”

And he went away, chuckling, leaving me thoroughly confused.

So, rather surlily at first, later with a sense of liberation, never sure what was going to happen next, I wrote the story of:


Sunday dawned as a Sunday does every year in October, when the sun was up early and was busy drying off the bits of leaves that were clinging to wet things, so that the wind could blow them into corners.

The roadsweeper was wondering how anybody could expect him to do anything, and the wind, impatient to get going, was shying handfuls of rain drops in his face.

Fishburden the milkman gripped the wet metal handle of his wire basket and, head down, he waded into the wind.

"Lor, this is going to be a day." he muttered to himself, and he banged wet bottles on the doorstep of 19A Claremont Road, Mrs Wilie, widow, one blue top and a small cream Saturday.

She had left him a note, written in pale ink on blotting paper, and the rain had got to it.

"No Gluff till Uffley and Oblig, thank you - Wilie" it said, and having served its purpose, it fell to pieces in his hand and blew away.

"Thank you Wilie", he laughed out loud and the trees bobbed and the dead leaves blew past him.

"Come with me down the wind" said the man standing by him "touch my hand". "Who me?" asked Fishburden, "Who else?" said the man. So Fishburden touched his hand, and up they soared. "Wow! it's a day for flying!" shouted the man. "Turn under the wind like I do!" and he rolled and swooped like a curlew.

Fishburden turned with him down the wind, and the roofs and the wet roads and the dead leaves and the patches of sunlight swept past far below him, and the wind dived in the collar of his shirt and out of his trouser legs.

"Shall we go up now?" called the man over his shoulder.

Fishburden laughed and waved his wire basket.

"Don't care!" he shouted, "Have a pint of Jersey!"

And they went swiftly up, through thick dark rainclouds, and out above them to where there were mountains and caves and pinnacles of cloud which looked as solid as cotton wool in the morning sun, and higher still, to where the sky was dark and starry and the air was endless all around them.

"Who are you?" shouted Fishburden. "I shall be late".....(c) Oliver Postgate 2008 All Rights Reserved