Obituary: Louise Cochrane, American-born author behind Rag, Tag and Bobtail series who set up home in Scotland
Born: 22 December, 1918, in New York. Died: 13 February, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 93
Louise Cochrane wrote the fondly remembered children’s early afternoon television series Rag, Tag and Bobtail, which was seen for more than a decade from 1953 on the BBC’s Watch With Mother. Cochrane provided a witty and easily understood script that was immediately charming and captivating for the very young. The characters – Rag, a hedgehog; Tag, a mouse; and Bobtail, a rabbit – were involved in straightforward stories that unfolded at a gentle and relaxing pace. Their charm and ungimmicky simplicity endeared the programme to many. Cochrane also wrote a series of career advice books such as Sheila Goes Gardening (1957) and Social Work for Jill in 1959.
Cochrane’s niece, Helen MacKintosh, remembered her aunt with much warmth. “She just never stopped, always full of energy and ideas. Losing her sight did not deter her. I had tea with her recently and it was almost impossible to keep up with the ideas that streamed from her active mind.”
Louise Morley was the daughter of a writer and, after education in New York, won, in 1936, the League of Nations Association prize, a nationwide exam for high school students. She read politics at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania graduating in 1940 and spent some of the early war years working for Eleanor Roosevelt.
She ran the US conference programme for the International Student Service (1940-44) and at a meeting met the visiting British delegate, Peter Cochrane, in 1942.
The following year, Louise visited London and she and Peter married. Unfortunately, they did not see each other again until 1946 as he served with the Cameron Highlanders in the Italian campaign. She worked for the BBC in the news and current affairs department, concentrating on programmes for schools.
In 1950, she was appointed American member of the Fulbright Commission, which promotes educational exchanges and understanding between the US and the UK.
In 1953, she wrote her first episode of Rag, Tag and Bobtail and, until 1965, the programme became a fixture of Thursday afternoon television. It was aimed at “the very young” and told of three country animals – sometimes joined by five baby rabbits. The soothing tinkly music set up the programme ideally and children watched it avidly. The narrators spoke Cochrane’s words with obvious enthusiasm. There was one episode that featured Bobtail discovering that the baby rabbits had been playing with mud-pies and had turned black. Consternation ensued but all was soon sorted out after the baby rabbits had been given a good bath.
In 1956, the family settled in Sussex and Cochrane taught in the local school and started writing – including a book on a local ironworks. In 1968, the family moved close to Bath and Cochrane researched the life of the 11th-century mathematician, philosopher and astrologer, Adelard of Bath.
Cochrane’s research for the book, which involved studying numerous manuscripts, lasted some 40 years and the book, The First English Scientist, was published in 1994. Cochrane’s last book was completed in 2005 (Sense of Significance) and was based on the correspondence she had regarding the friendship her father had enjoyed with the inventor R Buckminster Fuller. Significantly, Fuller was an early campaigner to create a more sustainable planet.
In 1963, Cochrane published Highland Summer, which related the arrival in Scotland of hydro-electricity and its effects on the social life of some Highland communities.
The Cochranes made lengthy annual visits to their cottage overlooking the Tighnabruaich peninsula in Argyll.
Peter Cochrane had preserved his long-standing connections with Scotland – he had attended Loretto School in Musselburgh and had written an account of his time with the Cameron Highlanders. Louise, for her part, had grown to love Scotland and, in 1979, they decided to retire to the Marchmount area of Edinburgh.
They became very much part of the local community and she was much involved with the American Women’s Club of Central Scotland and both were devout members of St Columba’s-by-the-Castle and then St Michael and All Saints, Brougham Street.
Cochrane retained her zest for life and enthusiasm for writing. She was also a keen mathematician and studied geometry. Her daughter, Dr Janet Sidaway, told The Scotsman: “She remained inventive and interested all her life in young people and especially in her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and their friends. She tried out all the Rag, Tag and Bobtail stories on my sister and I and that was huge fun.
“Mum combined her enthusiasm for life and people with an indomitable spirit. Scotland was very important to her – both Argyll and Edinburgh. I think her years in Edinburgh were her happiest.”
Louise Cochrane is survived by her husband and two daughters.