Six years old, I distinctly remember the episode. Steve Zodiac, the square-jawed hero of Fireball XL5, was discussing space scooters with Venus, his square-jawed sidekick, everyone possessing right-angled features in this rudimentary but thrilling 1960s puppet show.
They were saying how great they were, nippy and zippy and traffic-beating, and if that kids’ series is imprinted on your memory as it is mine, and this must be the seventh or eighth time I’m mentioned it on these pages, then you’ll recall how every instalment began with our intergalactic duo saddling up for the routine journey along the length of the eponymous Fireball to the pointy bit at the front.
As a child of the Space Race I believed in Zodiac and I believed that one fine and futuristic day I’d have my own scooter. It could yet happen, given that the show was set in the year 2062, but, what with Brexit and everything, this is probably unlikely now.
So do I think that the TV of my childhood conned me? Should I consider suing Zodiac for spinning a big, Milky Way-sized lie? Do I indeed feel like those fire chiefs accusing Peppa Pig of sexist stereotyping? No, I don’t, and really, what a load of bilge. I mean, didn’t they watch right to the end?
Where once I knew every episode of Fireball XL5 off by heart – and this when video recording was as far-off fanciful a notion as space scootering, a pretty neat trick, even if I say so myself – now I know every episode of Peppa Pig off by heart. There might have been some adult shows I watched in between times but really I can’t remember them and my fourth child is as enraptured by the five-minute adventures of the precocious pink porker as the others were, not least the offending episode involving the great barbecue conflagration.
This is the one where Mummy Pig is on firefighting practice with the other mothers. Yes, this is how unsexist they are in Peppa’s world. The females are trained to enter burning buildings and prevent the occupants from turning into bacon. It is understood, though, that the opening shot prompted a young viewer to remark: “Mummy Pig is dressed as a fireman”. Hearing this, the child’s mother went online to complain about the highly inflammable “-man” part of her remarkably perceptive little darling’s critique of the show. Then London Fire Brigade got involved, tweeting: “Come on @peppapig, we’ve not been firemen for 30 years. You have a huge influence on kids & using out of date stereotypical gender-specific wording prevents young girls from becoming firefighters.”
As I say, didn’t anyone watch all the way through? Initially sneering of their blaze-busting better halves (“Just an excuse for a cup of tea and a chat”), Daddy Pig and his cronies end up having to be rescued by them. It’s a brilliant episode, and as usual, gives more power to the fairer sex (Miss Rabbit seems to hold down at least 27 jobs simultaneously, many of them what used to be termed “manly”).
Maybe the complainer missed the denouement because she was having a cup of tea and a chat, using the TV as a babysitter. If so then she’s typical of the grown-ups who can’t help meddling in Peppa Pig – pronouncing on it, piggybacking on its success, exploiting and attempting to undermine.
Recently, Peppa was caught up in the Momo Challenge outrage, or non-outrage, the “online suicide game” turning out to be a hoax. And last year in China she found herself being adopted as a subversive gangster icon, sparking typical parental panic. Those of us who know and love Peppa, however, reckon it would be pointless trying to take her on in cyberspace. When she plays Happy Mrs Chicken on Mummy Pig’s boinging Amstrad-like computer, she always wins.
American parents – similar to parents here, only even more loony – have voiced concern about exposure to Peppa and her cat, dog, sheep and zebra friends leaving their children with British accents. This is a bit rich, considering the tyranny wrought by American programmes on our young, with whole generations gee-whizzing and duh-dude-ing, courtesy of Disney and their like. And the Labour Party – similar to the Conservative Party, only even more loony – have sought to recruit Peppa to the cause with the offer of a leading role at their manifesto launch only for her to decide that this would be a whole lot less fun than her favourite pastime, splashing in muddy puddles.
Humans don’t feature in Peppa Pig and a good thing, too. Our hoofed heroine has an overarching philosophy of being kind to animals, all of them. Australia doesn’t get this. We’re home to some pretty mean spiders, they whimper. Thus the Mister Skinnylegs episode is banned there. Another of Peppa’s overarching philosophies concerns the NHS but she’s made the medical profession nervous about “unrealistic expectations of primary care” by having Dr Brown Bear undertake so many out-of-hours home visits and dispensing medicines too freely. Maybe Peppa is making a political point – I sincerely hope she is. It’s not her fault the health service doesn’t have the funds for this care ideal just as it’s not her fault there aren’t enough women firefighters, or indeed male ones, with new revelations that the service Scotland is struggling to fill vacancies and must rely on unpaid volunteers.
Peppa Pig seems to attract more than its fair share of parent paranoia, kidult indulgence and PC frumpiness.
It’s a terrific show but it’s still just about pigs. Changed days from my childhood when Mum switched on Fireball XL5 and left me to it. Steve Zodiac could have been zooming round the cosmos having wild sex on every planet and fathering hundreds of illegitimate half-alien sproglets for all she knew.