Why I created Torchy 

14 November 2017 tbs.pm/14153

From the TVTimes Northern edition for 8-14 February 1959

Roberta Leigh, author of 25 novels, has written the new Torchy series for five-to-eight-year-olds now being screened on alternate Sundays as part of ABC’s plan to present more top-class programmes for children.

She is the mother of an eight-year-old boy, Jeremy, and has given much thought to children’s reactions to varying situations on the screen.

“Children look for action and adventure in their television programmes,” Roberta told me. “They want the sort of situation that will touch emotions they can understand.” The Torchy adventures often have a built-in moral which parents will appreciate. “Although I didn’t set out to write a series of moral tales,” said Roberta, “any ‘message’ in the story appeared naturally.

“One of the things I found out about children while writing Torchy is that they have a sophisticated sense of humour. I’ve discovered that it’s adult nonsense to believe that children have a finger-in-the-mouth and suck-a-lollipop sense of humour.”

The series tells the adventures of a group of puppets who, with the aid of Torchy’s magic lamp, live and play in Topsy Turvy land. It is a land where the toys take charge of the children; a land where a money tree grows (with its roots in a gold mine); where bull’s-eye bushes flourish; where each toy comes realistically to life.

Among the characters are Old Mr Bumble-Drop, who lives in a little house with a large garden, where children play until a girl called Bossy Boots interferes and stops them.

To keep himself company, Mr Bumble-Drop has made a toy boy called Torchy and has equipped him with a battery so that he can walk and talk. Then there is Pompom, the only poodle in the world with straight hair (it has to be curled each night); Flopsy, the rag doll who has lost so much of her stuffing that her head is quite empty; Squish, the American space boy with a water pistol; and King Dithers, who wears a lopsided crown and a train held up by a Ting-a-ling bird.

Roberta Leigh, Torchy and Pompom

Ronald T. Rowson, Programme Controller for ABC Television, said: “Torchy will, I feel sure, be acclaimed as one of the most charming children’s television programmes. Roberta Leigh has done more than create an outstanding television series, she has added to the heritage of fairyland.”

Roberta told me: “I am particularly pleased to think I have produced another fairyland character. Apart from the Disney creations, there are few imaginary characters about which the under-10’s can dream.” By making her series bright and full of fantasy, Roberta believes that children will be encouraged to use their brains and be prevented from becoming lazy-minded.

Discussing violence in children’s programmes, Roberta said: “I deplore violence of the knifing-killing sort. Children, being imitators, may then want to rush about with knives or shout ‘Drop dead’ — or use other unpleasant phrases. But, although children are far more sensitive than adults, corpses strewn around on the screen do not usually affect them emotionally. There are no tears, for death is something they do not understand. Much is said of the desirability of encouraging children to give way to their emotions. I agree that this can be a good thing, but I think many people confuse violence with aggressive outlets. Parents who tend to bring up their children according to a manual on child psychology should be more concerned in learning about adult psychology. This often has more bearing on a child’s behaviour.

Mr Bumble-Drop and Torchy

“In the Torchy series, there is a lot of pushing around and slapstick horse-play. Children like to see the bad character get the worst of it. It is this type of action that allows for aggressive (not violent) outlets in a child.

“Ideally, a mother or companion should sit through the programme with the child, because a child, particularly between the ages of five and eight, needs to feel in a group.”

Most noticeable of the effects television has had on the lives and minds of young children has been, in Roberta Leigh’s opinion, that of musical inhibition and weariness of any tale that takes too long to tell.

She explained: “When I was a child I would want to tap my feet and join in a tune or song that I recognised. Today many children are shy of music. It embarrasses them. To overcome this I have used plenty of music and catchy tunes in Torchy. All the main puppet-characters have their own signature tunes, and I am hoping that children will come to associate a character with a piece of music and thus shed some of the hostility felt towards music.

“As for the length of stories, because television programmes are necessarily short, today’s child gets bored with any story that goes on and on. Long descriptive passages leave him cold. Children have become digest-minded. In many ways this is a good thing, for their brain-work has had to become more acute.”

You Say

5 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 14 November 2017 at 3:47 pm

There were 2 seasons of “Torchy” making 52 episodes of 13 minute stories each. In 1962, Roberta Leigh produced Space Patrol for older children set in the year 2100, where rockets became ‘a thing of the past’ & ‘galasphere’ patrolled space. An interesting junior sci-fi half-hour series shown on most ITV regions into the late 1960s.

Joanne Gray 17 November 2017 at 8:40 pm

I know I’m being bad minded here, but did anyone else laugh out loud when reading the sentence about Mr Bumble-Drop making a toy boy to keep him company? I automatically started thinking about Operation Yewtree. Sorry, but I have a warped sense of humour.

Russ J Graham 18 November 2017 at 2:22 pm

Ha! Now I’m never going to be able to read that sentence the same again, Joanne!

Shaqui 25 December 2018 at 10:31 pm

I’m currently going through the scripts for Twizzle, which was Roberta Leigh’s puppet series prior to Torchy, and the phrase ‘toy boy’ occurs there as well. But these were more innocent times, and it does simply mean a toy who is a boy, as opposed to dolls, which are usually girls.

Move along people, nothing to see here… :-P

Also, Space Patrol started in the UK in 1963, and the last screenings were in 1968 (although it did continue to be seen overseas until the early 1970s).

Dennis 24 June 2020 at 7:15 am

Very interesting to watch this series, and to see how the puppetry and sets change from The Adventures of Twizzle, to Torchy the Battery Boy, to Thunderbirds, etc –

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