Bats In The Bellfry: The Strange Story Of Noel Gallagher & Chigley
If you're a child of the late sixties, or grew up watching reruns of old children's TV shows, then chances are you may remember the old Gordon Murray shows of Camberwick Green, Trumpton & Chigley. One such child of those days was a certain Noel Gallagher who can actually thank Gordon Murray, Freddie Phillips and Brian Cant for one of his most signature lines.
When you think of classic Oasis songs, it’s almost certain that Champagne Supernova comes to mind, and above all, the line: “Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball.” For years, it’s always been thought of as some of his finest work and without looking into the story behind the line, it would never cross your mind that there’s a connection between Champagne Supernova and Gordon Murray’s stop motion children’s TV series.
The key link comes from the man pictured next to Gallagher in the photo above. If you’ve ever watched the series, you’d be forgiven for forgetting who the man is - in a world where Windy Miller and the Trumpton Fire Brigade are big celebrities, the butler of Winkstead Hall isn’t all that significant. However, if it hadn’t been for that butler, we may never have gotten such a great line. During the episodes of Chigley, Brackett the butler would always be seen walking down a green wallpapered hall for what seemed like an age which is fundamentally where the line comes from - well, the “Slowly walking down the hall” piece anyway. The second part, “Faster than a cannonball.”, is merely a piece of Gallagher’s imagination since he couldn’t think of anything else that rhymed with “hall” apart from “cannonball”, so it was placed in unwittingly and hasn’t ever been questioned since.
That scene of Brackett walking down the seemingly never-ending corridor at Winkstead Hall did have a song to go with it, much like pretty much every part of the Trumptonshire universe. A lot of Freddie Phillips' compositions, voiced by the late Brian Cant, were pretty simple ditties, especially those for the likes of Mickey Murphy's bakers' van or Captain Snort's army truck. In a similar vein, for the Chigley series, a lot of characters from the two previous series were reintroduced to save both time and money. Brackett's song is a lot different to the others though, with a much more sinister sound compared to the joyful melodies associated with PC McGarry or super salesman Mr Dagenham. The version of the song that's heard most of the time is an instrumental, but there is a version with lyrics that become all the more revealing. Brackett's words explore how it might be worth opening up England's stately homes to pay for their upkeep, as he suggests with Lord Belbrough's Winkstead Hall, but there may be a metaphor to be found about the state of England in his words, especially in the eyes of the middle and upper classes.
To be honest, this isn't the only time that people have looked to Gordon Murray's timeless television shows for musical inspiration. Most famously, Half Man Half Biscuit released an EP in the mid-eighties titled The Trumpton Riots with the accompanying title track detailing civil unrest in the quaint fictional town with a chorus of "Someone get a message through to Captain Snort/That they’d better start assembling the boys from the fort/And keep Mrs Honeyman right out of sight/‘Cos there’s gonna be a riot down in Trumpton tonight". It may not be as poetic and flowery as Gallagher's line, but for a track that's closer to the Sex Pistols than Shakin' Stevens, it's actually very clever. Even right up to now the iconic design of Murray's models have been admired and recreated in music videos as recent as the last decade. Radiohead's 2013 song Burn The Witch featured a clever music video that payed homage to the series.
In reality, it's fascinating to think that one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, for one of his most famous and talked-about lines in Oasis history, took inspiration from a children's television series in the late sixties. On the surface, it's a combination you'd never expect, but once you delve into it, you find that it's actually a surprisingly interesting story.