Stephen Mangan: ‘My kids have YouTube – I had cartoons made in a shed’

I was born in 1968, and one of my enduring childhood TV memories is watching Roobarb when I was six or seven years old. It’s a five-minute cartoon from the mid-70s about an enthusiastic, hyper, bone-loving dog called Roobarb and a slightly machiavellian, sly, toothy-grinned cat called Custard, who was his nextdoor neighbour. It’s such a vivid memory – everything about it was kind of arresting. All of the voices were done by Richard Briers, who sounded like he was having a ball.

Like most children, my sisters and I were brought up on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book, Tom and Jerry and all those very slick American cartoons, whereas this was a deliberately rough-looking show that had a very particular style. I’ve done a bit of animation since and I learned it’s called “boiling”. All the pictures are drawn with marker pen and they’re all slightly out of alignment – you’re not trying to make it look as smooth as possible, so the whole thing sort of pulses and vibrates, which makes it feel exciting. There’s a lot of skill involved in the seeming amateurness.

There were a lot of weird children’s shows around at that point, such as Bagpuss and Fingermouse – which had started as Fingerbobs and was a guy with a mouse puppet on his index finger. Mr Benn was another one. It had a very laid-back style – it was just a drawing and a camera wandering around the frame, looking at various bits of it. Mr Benn is essentially living an actor’s life – he goes into a shop, chooses a costume, walks through a door … and suddenly he is somebody else. If you want to get pop psychological on it, that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much.

TV was quite strange then – and eclectic, to put it politely. There was no big business involved, so people were kind of left to make the shows they wanted. We weren’t all as connected to each other. People made these very idiosyncratic shows – Bagpuss was made in a shed.

My children are 13, 10 and four and the way they watch TV is so different. It isn’t their main interest, because they’re watching YouTube videos, but, when they do watch TV, they’re able to choose what they want to stream. At the same time, they’re probably not as exposed to as wide a range of stuff. My 10-year-old just watches Horrible Histories, Black-ish and the animated series The Amazing World of Gumball on a loop. We would watch everything from The Waltons to Blake’s 7. I remember watching Triangle, for goodness sake, which was a series about a cross-channel ferry. You think: did I make that up? Or did that actually happen?

My children are having a totally different upbringing in that respect. I hated the endless days, especially in the school holidays, where you ended up digging a hole in the ground. I’m jealous of this vast array of stuff they can choose from.

Landscape Artist of the Year airs Wednesdays at 8pm on Sky Arts. Escape the Rooms, a children’s book by Stephen and Anita Mangan, will be published in June.