Dolls houses were always a source of fascination to us as a youngster starting out in the world. They were refined little buildings with both feet planted firmly in the past. They were a far cry from the gloomy, angst ridden rock landscape of Castle Grayskull that, as a boy, we were expected to play with. Not to say that we hated He-Man, we loved it and we loved Castle Grayskull, but there was something terribly quaint and English about a dolls house. Sadly, social expectations meant we could never get close to one for long. Perhaps that's why we loved Pinny's House.
Pinny is small wooden doll, so small that she's comparable to a pin, hence the imaginative name. Her abode is a rather delicate china house which sits atop a shelf beside a model sailing ship. Manning the ship is Victor, a pin-sized sailor, who's found himself stranded on land, far away from the high seas. Pinny and Victor are inspired to embark on fantastic journeys, but being trapped high up on a shelf means life is rather dull. Luckily, help is literally at hand via Tom and Jo - two youngsters who grab hold of the dolls and whisk them away to various locations around the house.
Pinny's House was the last production by the legendary Smallfilms team headed by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. This final hurrah for Smallfilms first aired in October 1986 on BBC1 and was repeated several times throughout the 80s. Episodes were 5 minutes long and 13 episodes were produced. Matilda Thorpe provided the calming narration whilst the talented hand of Peter Firmin wrote and animated the stories. Stuck in the recording studio drinking Skol were the Welsh folk band Ar Log. No commercial release of Pinny's House has emerged, but a short clip surfaced on a CD-ROM which accompanied Oliver Postgate's autobiography 'Seeing Things'. Curiously, a series of books emerged before the series aired which introduced the world to Pinny's House. The series was regularly repeated on BBC1 and BBC2 as late as 1993.
1986 saw us beginning to understand that consolidating memories about television would come in useful around 25 years later. Pinny's House was lucky enough to catch our inquisitive glare and we never forgot it. Although we didn't forget it, we have to admit we frequently got it mixed up with Tottie which we must have watched at some point too. We could remember that Pinny's House was an animated adventure about a little doll, but that was about it. Searching the internet we found comments here and there, the odd section on a website and, praise the Lord, a complete episode on YouTube.
Pinny's House uses that childhood fantasy of 'toys coming to life and mucking about' and uses it as it's central theme. It had been done before Pinny's House and it'll be done again and again in the future. It stokes the fires of imagination in a child and still keeps them under the impression that there's a little magic in the world.
Like most of Smallfilm's back catalogue, the yarns spun in Pinny's House are gentle tales which won't have you sat on the edge of your chair. Neither will you fall asleep either. There's a lot of mild adventure going on as Pinny and Victor explore the unknown realms of the house. It's something the target audience could also relate too, so draws children in as well.
Our favourite aspect of Pinny's House is the wonderful folk soundtrack provided by Ar Log. It's a multi-layered soundscape composed with a mixture of fiddles, accordions, harps and clarinets amongst other instruments associated with bearded folk musicians. Arcade Fire would absolutely love the frenetic sea shanty mournful folk sounds. We'll certainly be investigating Ar Log a little further.
Small criticisms are that the animation is a little jerky whilst Pinny and Victor are a bit too small to have any character. Tom and Jo are nicely rendered, but don't really stand out against any other illustrated children from the same era. Matilda Thorpe gives a calm and serene reading, but maybe she could have tried injecting a little more character into her narration.
Pinny's House isn't hailed as a classic of children's TV and is mostly forgotten, but it's got merits and we would love to view more adventures of that little wooden doll.