Bill and Ben and my Uncle Tommy, by Eton master

Ian Burke at Eton

REPEATED almost until the film wore out, the crude children’s TV puppet shows of the 1950s and 60s left an indelible impression on generations of children.

Finally, in a Yorkshire seaside gallery, they will be immortalised as works of art.

From Ian Burke's Watch With Mother exhibition at Staithes Gallery

Ian Burke, an artist from Redcar who rose to be only the 13th Master of Drawing in the 577-year history of Eton School, has chosen Muffin the Mule, Andy Pandy and the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts as the subjects of his latest exhibition.

It is said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but for Mr Burke, it was the skirmishes between Bill and Ben in their flower garden that had the greater significance.

In the drawing room of his family’s house on the Yorkshire coast, the dim glow from the black-and-white receiver had burned into his consciousness.

Too young to tell the fictional characters from the real ones who populated his life, he conflated them all.

From Ian Burke's Watch With Mother exhibition at Staithes Gallery

“It all blended into a cocktail in the mind,” he said.

I don’t know if I was a sickly child or I just had a vivid imagination, but those characters were really quite freaky.

“Even as a boy, I remember thinking they looked very odd.

“Bill and Ben and that big talking flower of theirs - that must have been drug induced.”

But not even the producers of the day could out-do his real Uncle Tommy, who was in the habit of dressing up as a cowboy and riding a horse through the streets of Redcar.

“He was actually a removal man,” he said. “I suppose he must have had transport in his blood.”

Tommy and the TV characters share one of the canvases in Watch With Mother, Mr Burke’s latest show at Staithes Gallery from September 9. It will form part of the town’s arts and heritage festival.

A resident of nearby Leaholm, he has exhibited there for years, and still considers the area home.

“I couldn’t afford to live in Eton,” he said.

“But I did show some of the old TV characters to the boys, and one of them was freaked out so much that he dropped art.”

Mr Burke, 62, said the scene from Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Gold Rush, in which the tramp eats his own boot for Thanksgiving, was his favourite from his childhood watching.

“Those films were shown all the time in those days,” he said.

He also admitted to having a crush on Marina, the puppet love interest in Gerry Anderson’s undersea fantasy, Stingray.

He said: “It’s not a sentimental exhibition - the past seen through the rose-coloured lens of time. These are real images from the archive of my mind. They are presented as I still see them.

“The fact is, we can’t recall with real honesty, but collage together our own mental landscape and history with characters who probably did not exist as we choose to remember them.”

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