Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An imagined childhood

A recent discovery of the Rupert the Bear theme on Youtube sparked childhood nostalgia memories in me. However afterwards i wondered if i was actually having real nostalgic memories of my past or whether i was simply imagining a more publicly acceptable constructed childhood past.

The truth is Rupert the Bear did not feature that highly in my real childhood, my Mum bought me the annuals but i preferred the Beano. My memories of watching Rupert on the TV are vague, the only programme i can truly remember watching as a young (pre-school) child is Paint Along With Nancy (who sadly passed away a few days ago, RIP).

However i no doubt did watch a lot more TV, childrens' included though little of it registered with me until later when i did get into Grange Hill. I suppose i should fondly remember Playschool, cartoons and the like but to honest my only vivid TV memory of my days before i went to school was watching an old lady paint with a knife.

It was the first programme showed on ITV (back then TV wasn't on all day, indeed it didn't start until lunchtime and then ran until just after midnight) and i used to watch it with my Nan as she looked after me while my Mum was at work. This is where my true nostalgia lies but of course if i spoke about this in casual conversation i would no doubt get blank looks from people. If instead i mention Playschool and Rupert the Bear then we would all start swapping fake anecdotes like the inane talking heads in cheap Channel 4 clip shows and all would be well.

So i suppose we all construct an imagined childhood because much of what really happened we have either forgotton or doesn't fit into people's expectations, it doesn't fit into the accepted narrative. Why do we do it i wonder? Why do we imagineer this new narrative of our lives? Of course if we have dark childhoods with events we wish to forget then we may wish to imagine something different and better but for most of us we have had perfectly normal average childhoods where we don't really need to imagine something different to the reality but so often we do.

The media plays a role here of course, presenting a view of childhood which may or may not tally with reality. Often these media constructed childhoods are either too idealised or too brutal to reflect most people's experiences but an average, inoffensive and maybe slightly boring childhood does not make for good TV/copy. These imagined media childhoods must have some effect on our own memories though, especially if there are a lot of holes that needed to be filled. I personally think the rash of "I love..." clip shows on TV a few years ago polluted people's true memories by filling holes with a fake narrative.

The BBC series "I love the 1970s" i enjoyed but much of that decade was lost to me so the show filled the gaps in my memories. When the series moved onto the 1980s however i started to notice the mistakes. The show was falsely presenting the past in order to fit into their narrative, no doubt the same happened on the 1970s version of the show but the difference there was i did not know it was taking place. Now i wonder which of my 1970s memories are true and which are as a result of later media conditioning. Luckily i can still remember the reality but shows like Rupert probably have a higher "score" in my memories now because of later media influences.

In the end though it is useful to be more mainstream sometimes, and have some shared memories with people even if they are not strictly true. It helps break the ice at awkward social occaisions.

In summary, no Rupert the Bear meant little to me as a child but i appreciate it nowadays. There is no harm in claiming Rupert as part of an imagined childhood of course but we need to also remember the reality and not be afraid to be different and move away from the group narrative. So Nancy Koninsky >> Rupert the Bear.


  1. Another problem with all those TV-led nostalgia shows, certainly with those that target the 1970s or 1960s, is that they exaggerate the role which TV played in our childhoods back then. Apart from Watch With Mother, and a sprinkling of Schools programmes, there was no daytime telly back then, for kids or for anyone else. Most of my childhood nostalgic memories (say, 1962 when I was 5, to 1973 when I hit 16) revolve around radio (Jimmy Young and Raymondo's "What's the recipe today, Jim?"), comics (issue 1 of TV Comic, with its cut-out-and-glue cardboard model of Supercar), books (various kids' annuals, and the eventual discovery of the Aladdin's Cave of the local library), playing over the nearby fields (unsupervised! What un-paranoid times those were!), and seaside holidays at Rhyl (mock not! It was a fabulous glittering wonderland to these eyes!). TV really didn't figure that strongly, because there wasn't much of it. But "I Love The 60s" would have it otherwise.

  2. Yes i agree with you, i spent most of my early years playing with boxes (always more fun than the actual toys the boxes had contained) and riding my tricycle down the steep hills of Erdington (unsupervised and probably no brakes). How i am still alive is unknown.

  3. U worry way too much about what others think.

  4. i don't think i am worried i just find the concept of false memories interesting