On set with Paddington Bear from the BBC Archive

My apologies for the long wait between posts, life has somewhat got in the way of late. Hopefully this will more than make up for it.

Barry Leith Animating Paddington

Barry Leith Animating Paddington

In 1980 the area surrounding Baker Street in London was looking to be re-developed. Shopkeepers and businesses that had made their home there were not happy with the new scheme and looked to put a stop to it.

The BBC programme ‘Nationwide’ went to investigate and see what made this area so special and why it should be saved. After it’s early fame through Mr Sherlock Holmes it was now Paddington Bears turn illuminate this corner of London. At the time Barry Leith at FilmFair’s Blandford Studios was busy animating everyones favourite Peruvian Bear. By this time Ivor had left FilmFair but the footage below shows a rare glimpse into the studio that he called home for so many years. It is also really nice to see the sets and puppet that he helped create. Make sure you stay watching to the end as there is a great interview with the charismatic Graham Clutterbuck, owner of the London arm of FilmFair.

Many thanks to Tony Clark for pointing this one out! You can see the full film here or watch the part from Paddington below:

The Magic Roundabout Behind the Scenes

The Magic Roundabout studio - September 1964

The Magic Roundabout studio – September 1964

I’ve been meaning to show some of these amazing photos for a long time. A huge thanks to Tony Clark who is a follower of the blog for these incredible finds. After scouring ebay he managed to gain some negatives of the sets and production of the original Magic Roundabout series shot in Paris! Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of my favourites with you and we can witness Ivor, Serge and the team all hard at work bringing the magic to life.

To start things off I’ve include two photos. The first one, above, is how the set looked as the crew animated the show, which obviously would have included Ivor. What is amazing to see is the vivid, striking colours that are presented, bearing in mind the original airings were all in black and white. The attention to detail to make sure that each character and prop stood out when translated into black and white would have been a real technical achievement. Notice how a lot of the characters are in high contrast, for example the difference in tone on Ermintrude between her pink and red body.

It’s also interesting to note the shallow depth that it was filmed at as the sky background is very close to the front edge of the set. To achieve an increased depth the camera would have had to have been given a large aperture in order to blur out more of the background thus creating an illusion of a larger world.

Ivor Wood and Serge Danot checking The Magic Roundabout props - 4th June 1965

Ivor Wood and Serge Danot checking The Magic Roundabout props – 4th June 1965

This idea of forced perspective can again be seen in the photo above showing Ivor Wood and Serge Danot checking through The Magic Roundabout props. If you look closely you’ll notice that there are two roundabouts. One larger and one smaller. The larger one would have been used for close and medium shots as in the first image, whilst the smaller one would have been used in long distance or to have far away in the background. As Tony has also pointed out to us it would have been likely used to take press shots with all the characters in, allowing the roundabout to be in the background and fully seen. Obviously this is perfect for forced perspective giving an increased depth to the whole production.

Also if you look closely on the shelves you’ll see an array of different props including some umbrellas (top right), a theatre set (middle left), some benches and coat stand (middle right) and possibly some really small trees next to Ivor’s left leg.

Well I hope you enjoyed those photos as much as I did. There are some more to show you all so keep those peepers peeled for the next post!

John Cunliffe – Creator of Postman Pat dies

John Cunliffe -Author and creator of Postman Pat

John Cunliffe -Author and creator of Postman Pat

Sadly yesterday announced the death of writer and presenter John Cunliffe. His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of much of the nation through his most famous and popular character Postman Pat. He died where he had created those endearing characters of Greendale, in Ilkley in Yorkshire.

Many will have read the fitting tribute in the Ilkely Gazette but for those who haven’t I include it here:

 “John Cunliffe left his Ilkley home in a deluge of rain on 20 September, never to return.

“Even the skies wept for John, the gifted creator of Postman Pat, Rosie and Jim, and author of many earlier published collections of poetry and picture story books for children.

“John’s last poetry collection, significantly entitled “Dare You Go”, has now come to fruition for John [who] has dared to go and has gone.”

Many tributes have been sent out via social media and I have been notified by many people who share in the sadness. John’s creations were a one off and have delighted children for over 30 years and still do to this day with the many incarnations of Postman Pat. His collaboration with Ivor in the early 80s would spark a career in children’s television where he went onto both write and star in Rosie & Jim, a 90s children’s classic.

John’s descriptive writing style enabled Ivor to work with him on a level and depth that he had not previously done. There were probably double the amount of characters involved in Postman Pat, each with their own house and intricate personalities. John and Ivor clearly relished and thrived off of each others creativity which can be seen in the show they created. In the early days of Postman Pat Ivor went up to Kendall to visit John and they spent some days travelling around the neighbouring villages getting inspiration for what would become their career highlights.

Ivor was driven by this project, especially as it meant starting up with his own studio Woodland Animations along with his wife Josiane,  famously re-mortgaging their house to start the production. There has to be credit to John here as Ivor’s determination and confidence in the project must have been down to his confidence and trust for John and his imaginative writing.

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

Not so long ago we took a look at the character descriptions of all the Postman Pat characters written by John Cunliffe. If you haven’t already or fancy another read then follow the links below and re-acquaint yourself with some of the most endearing and loveable characters ever created for children’s television.

Postman Pat original character descriptions – Part 1

Postman Pat original character descriptions – Part 2

Postman Pat original character descriptions – Part 3

John Cunliffe died on 20 September but the world he created in Postman Pat will live on forever. Thanks for a creating my favourite childhood programme.


Last Sunday myself, Joseph Wallace and Ivor’s son Sean had the pleasure of celebrating Ivor Wood’s work at the BFI Southbank. Huge thanks to everyone that came down and it was great to meet some people who followed the blog. It was great to meet people like Kevin who I’d spoken to in the comments and put faces to names.

Ivor Wood: A Celebration - BFI Southbank

Ivor Wood: A Celebration – BFI Southbank

The whole event was really well organised and compered by Justin Johnson. Unlike the Manchester event last year we included episodes of Ivor’s work inbetween the talk. We were first joined on screen by The Herbs, The Wombles, Paddington and Postman Pat before Joseph got up and gave us all a run through of Ivor’s career. In 10 quick minutes he managed to detail Ivor’s beginnings at La Comete and the Magic Roundabout through to his time at FilmFair then onto his own studio Woodland Animations. As he rounded up we were treated to episodes from Gran, Bertha and Charlie Chalk before we all took to the stage for a Q&A.

Ivor Wood: A Celebration - BFI Southbank

Ivor Wood: A Celebration – BFI Southbank

Compered by Justin we talked about what Ivor meant to us as fans and Sean gave some really great detail in what it was like growing up with an animation studio beneath his house. As he explained it was very much the norm and when asked what his dad did for a living he would reply “he plays with dolls”. Sean went onto explain the very different personalities that Ivor had, one being very shy, especially in the limelight but mostly a very eccentric and creative man.

Sadly we weren’t able to film this event as before but we do have the moment a very special guest joined us on stage thanks to my wife. What talk on Ivor Wood would be complete without an appearance from one of his best loved creations…Parsley. Carried all the way from his home in South London by Sean he was revealed to the audience to great applause. This then sparked a great conversation piece where we discuss how the puppet moves and how parts of the sets were made. You can watch it below:


Thanks again to all that came and for those that didn’t we’ll hopefully see you at another event, as I’m sure they’ll be more! I’ll be back to the blog next time so keep those peepers peeled. 

Ivor Wood: A Celebration at the BFI

Hello Ivor Wood fans, I have some exciting news! On Sunday 26th August at 1pm there will be a celebration of Ivor Wood’s work and career at the BFI Southbank, London!

Ivor Wood: A Celebration - BFI Southbank 26th August 2018

Ivor Wood: A Celebration – BFI Southbank 26th August 2018

Hosted by the BFI the panel will include Ivor Wood expert Joseph Wallace, Ivor’s son Sean and myself. We’ll be talking all about Ivor’s work and long lasting career in stop-motion animation. Everything will be covered from his days at La Comete in Paris working on the Magic Roundabout all the way through to Woodland Animations and some sneak peaks at some ideas that never quite saw the light of day.

If you missed the great talk we all did at Manchester Animation Festival last November then make sure you grab a ticket for this at https://whatson.bfi.org.uk. There are still some left so we hope to see some of you there

The talk will be a part of the BFI’s animation season, which covers a plethora of animation events, screenings and talks. August is all about Children’s TV and boy do the Brits to it well. Here’s a bit from the BFI about what they are looking to achieve:

Not Just For Adults (August)

“He has bequeathed us a rich legacy of programmes that will continue to be shown for many years to come, all bearing his unique touch”
Michael Bond on Ivor Wood

The UK is envied across the world for its high-quality animated TV shows – Justin Johnson and Jez Stewart present a month of children’s animation.

Much of our focus so far has concentrated on work made by independent pioneers or experimental artists, so this month we look at an area more commonly associated with quality British animation: animation for children, and in particular for TV. As well as having a nostalgia moment as we revisit the great work of stop-motion director Ivor Wood – who produced many beloved shows such as Postman Pat and The Magic Roundabout – we also look at the companies who have taken Wood’s baton to ensure a new generation are well served. Karrot Animation, Blue Zoo and Studio AKA are just three of many UK animation studios thriving in this area.

Justin Johnson and Jez Stewart

It’s going to be a fantastic event to be a part of and really nice to celebrate Ivor’s career in the city he called home. It’ll also be great to have Ivor’s son Sean on the panel ready to give an insight into his fathers life and what it was like to live with a sometimes quite eccentric creator.

Hope to see you all there and if you do pop down then come say hi!


Finally it’s time for me to get part 3 over to you of the Postman Pat descriptions. Let’s delve in with some of Greendales best loved, yet secondary characters.

Dr Sylvia Gilbertson - Postman Pat

Dr Sylvia Gilbertson – 35 – She holds a surgery three days a week in Garner Bridge and drives about the valley in a bright new yellow Renault visiting patients. She also does some work in the small hospital and maternity unit in Pencaster and delivers many of the Greendale babies. She is capable and efficient with a reassuringly competent “no nonsense” manner. She also has a good singing voice and is an important member of the Pencaster Amateur Operatic Society. Her husband, also a doctor, has a thriving practice in Pencaster and her daughter, Sarah, goes to the village school in Garner bridge.

Well nobody can doubt that Dr Gilbertson has a backstory, it’s got lot’s of detail. We sadly never get to see her in her ‘yellow Renault’ and I don’t believe that she ever delivers a baby, so we’ll have to take author John Cunliffe’s word for that. However an interesting note is that she was actually called Nurse Gilbertson in a previous version and was joined by a Dr Pepperell. So let me introduce the good doctor and nurse to you:

Nurse Gilbertson – 37 – District Nurse. Drives an old Morris Miner and has delivered every baby in the valley for the past fifteen years. Capable and efficient, she stands no nonsense from young or old. She inspects children at the village school and runs the clinic with Dr Pepperell in Garner Bridge.

Dr Pepperill – 41 – More interested in hunting and Gilbert and Sullivan than medicine but is a good friend and advisor to all who know him. A strong member of the Pencaster Amateur Operatic Society and a J.P.A waggish humourist.

Well there we are. Now we know why he wasn’t included, he’s got no interest in medicine. Ideal for a doctor! However Gilbertson takes on his operatic talents and retains her demeanour, even gaining an upgrade in car.

Reverent Peter Timms - Postman Pat

The Reverent Peter Timms – 61 – Vicar of St Thomas’, Garner Bridge with a small sister chapel at High Thwaites also in his care. A comfortable fellow he looks very like John Betjeman and is well fitted to a rural parish. Miss Hubbard often bullies him into organising much more than he has wish to do.

Not quite sure Ivor carried over the look-a-like to the puppets design as I don’t remember Betjemen having curly grey hair and round glasses. However we once again get a really great insight into his life and also a mention of a new place, High Thwaites, which helps to broaden the area around Greendale. Also nice to see some character interplay with Miss Hubbard, seems very typical behaviour of her.

Sam Waldron - Postman Pat

Sam Waldren – 28 – Mobile shop owner. He lives in Pencaster and visits Greendale two or three times a week. A town man with town ways he could never live in Greendale. Smartly dressed, toothbrush moustache, likes going to the races. Quick, knowing and something of a fixer.

I was excited to see Sam’s name in the documents as he’s always intrigued me and the description doesn’t disappoint. He seems a bit of a chancer and very much a ‘townie’. Ivor really captured his essence in his model.

Well that’s it for the character descriptions. Quite the run through and quite the detail. It’s really nice to see that the majority of the written word seems to translate into the show. It really goes to show how meticulous Ivor was in trying to bring to life stories and characters that went far beyond mere puppets on screen. Ivor and John Cunliffe’s partnership, much like Michael Bonds before, go beyond animation to create a world and sense of belonging that these characters inhabit.

I’ll leave you with some notes below from John as he came to the decision on the children’s names and who should attend the school. He was very aware that they should be linked to adults from the village and not just a random bunch of students.

Bill Thompson, Charlie Pringle, Sarah Gilbertson, Lucy Selby, Tom and Katy Pottage - Postman Pat

Bill Thompson – To be reduced in age to 11.

Charlie Pringle  – 9 – son of the headmaster. A boy of many hobbies and interests – the school “brains” and amateur scientist.

Lucy Selby – 7 – the policeman’s daughter. A quiet, dreamy child. You never can tell what she is thinking.

Sarah Gilbertson – 8 – Lively, bouncy and inquisitive.

Tom and Katy Pottage – Twins aged 6.

Postman Pat original character descriptions – Part 2

So here we are again (if somewhat delayed!) for Postman Pat character descriptions part 2. As promised here are the rest of the original descriptions of some of the characters that inhabited Greendale and beyond. Some are familiar faces, some are changed and some were never featured.

I must point out before we start that eagle-eyed follower Alex the Pensmith revealed that the elusive Mr Pottage was never actually seen in the show, as mentioned, but he was referred to which I didn’t realise. He is mentioned in “Pat’s Rainy Day” when Pat speaks to Ted Glen who is fixing a wall for none other than Mr Pottage. Great spot Alex!

Postman Pat promotional postcard -Pat has to borrow an old pair of glasses when his are broken, and Ted Glen drives Pat in his lorry to deliver the post.

Ted Glen

Ted Glen – 35 – Black Moss Cottage. A slow speaking, lazy-seeming man; small, compact, somewhat untidy in his dress. He has great but hidden energies. A man of numerous part-time activities; odd jobs, blacksmithing, horse doctoring, poaching, building/repairs, carpentry etc. He is said to do very well for himself.

Ted Glen was always my favourite. Basically the valleys handyman. Nothing is mentioned about his family in this description so we’ll have to assume he is a bachelor…too busy for a wife. I love the way he also does horse doctoring which seems like a odd pastime amongst his more creative and laboured pursuits.

Mrs Goggins and Granny Dryden - Postman Pat

Granny Dryden – 77 – Black Beck Farm. Her son farms better land on the other side of Pencaster and her daughter is a nurse in London. Her husband died five years ago and she now lets her land to a neighbouring farmer, Jim Newton. She keeps bees and sells honey and home-made jam at Pencaster market. She dresses in the manner of fifty years ago and is an active and friendly old lady. Pat often brings her pension or a prescription from Dr Pepperell or a dozen eggs from Greendale Farm.

Mrs Goggins – 55 – a widow and the village shop-keeper and post-mistress. Another ample personage she is confessor and advisor to the valley and chief transmitter of Greendale gossip. What she doesn’t know, she says isn’t worth knowing when it comes to local life. Although she is plump she has a sharpness in her expression which shows a quick native wit.

These two in my childhood mind were interchangeable, one just seemed to live a greater distance away. It’s lovely to read about Granny Dryden’s backstory and where her family are. If I’m right in saying her daughter is mentioned a few times in the show when she goes off to visit her in London. A mention of a new character Jim Newton is surprising, bearing in mind we never hear from him again.

Mrs Goggins pretty much stays unchanged yet at 55 she certainly ages a bit in Ivor’s creation. This perhaps was to soften her and make her less of a gossip and more a friendly, cosy shopkeeper. Also nothing is mentioned about her Scottish accent, which would essentially make her not entirely local??

Mr Pringle - Postman Pat

Mr Pringle

Mr J Pringle M.A. – 51 – Headmaster of Garner Bridge C.E. School. A rotund personage, he is the valley’s local historian and representative of the scholarly world. He took his degree at London University and publishes papers in the proceedings of the county archaeological society. Somewhat Pickwickian in appearance with his spectacle and watch-chain draped over an ample abdomen.

Mr Pringle looks to have been more included from the start but we only see him bought to physical life in the second series. He’s not as rotund as described and somewhat younger than mentioned. In a time when teaching was becoming increasingly modernised perhaps a stuffy old headmaster wasn’t seen as very contemporary.


Miss Rebecca Hubbard – 48 – Southlands Farm Cottage. The valley’s busy spinster. She keeps horses which she breeds for sale and hire and hens. It is guessed that she also has a private income. She works assiduously at all the valley’s activities and some town ones too- church choir, flower show, fetes, amateur drama, cubs and brownies, mothers guild etc. She organises collections for church and charities or for national and international disaster funds. She will not take “No” for an answer and is persistent and determined. This sometimes brings her into conflict with Mrs Pottage. She thrives on the close community life of the valley. She is tall and angular and rides a sit-up-and-beg bicycle in all weathers, though she could easily afford a car.

Mrs Hubbard was such a wonderful character full of personality. Always seen bustling here and there in her own little world. You can certainly see from her description where her personality comes from. She certainly doesn’t change at all and continues to be at the centre of community life in the valley.

Last of all is P.C. Selby. It’s short description but gives enough reference to build a fuller character.

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 12.48.13

P.C. Selby – Police House, Garner Bridge. A foreigner in valley terms, he comes from East Yorkshire and has lived in Greendale for only ten years. He is well like and knows when to (reasonably) turn a blind eye.

That’s it for this week but believe it or not there is still one more part to this post. We’re yet to delve into the lives fo Reverend Timms, Sam Waldron and Dr Gilbertson!

All the quotations are taking from the BBC Written Archives with permissions given from the latter.

Postman Pat original character descriptions – Part 1

Postman Pat was Ivor’s biggest success in his own right but it would have been nothing without the writing of John Cunliffe, who came up with the whole concept of the show including storylines and characters.

Whilst at the BBC Written Archives I stumbled across the original descriptions of the characters of Postman Pat. If you take a look below you’ll see the original descriptions sent to the BBC from John Cunliffe for them to approve. I’ve included a few below so take a look and see how much carried over into the final show:


Pat Clifton – 35 – Forge Cottage, Greendale. Popularly known as Postman Pat. A tall, slightly angular man, he generally has a smile flickering over his face, as though he’s relishing a good joke or contemplating a word that he considers to be decidedly comical. He enjoys his work since there’s nothing he likes better than to chat to all kinds of people and he does this all day, He also enjoys helping people ; it makes him feel valued.

So Pat really hasn’t changed much for the original description, remaining a jolly chap full of kindness. There is however no mention of his faithful companion Jess as yet, so I’ll do some more digging on that front.


Thompson Ground – This is a small farm high on the side of the fell, looking down into the valley. It has been in the Thompson family for countless generations, hence it’s name.

Mr Alf Thompson – 52 – small, tough, sturdy as a fell farmer needs to be. He follows his sheep all over the fells. The weather has ruddied his face and knotted his joints. He has a dry humour.

Mrs Dorothy Thompson – 49 – also small and quick moving in word and deed. She looks frail but is really very strong, and copes easily with a women’s large share of the work. She keeps, on her account, hens, ducks and a few geese.

Bill Thompson – 25 – “Young Bill” retains many youthful hobbies, such as model-aircraft. A keen member of the Young Farmers’ Club and an indispensable help to his father. He has no ambition other to keep the farm going when his father is gone, and to breed a Herdwick ram that win first at the county show.

Alf and Dorothy remain largely un-changed but their son Bill certainly makes a significant leap. John changes the character of Bill as the show progresses and notes in this letter “Bill Thompson to be reduced in age to 11”. This is most likely to allow him to part of the school. He still remains one of the eldest children along with Charlie Pringle but means all the children can congregate as one and requires less back stories.


Greendale Farm – A large mixed farm on the valley floor, near to Birkmere (the valley’s largest lake) and the valley mouth. It is the most prosperous of the farms, having the best land and being the largest.

Mr Henry Pottage – 41 – something of a gentleman farmer, he sports a moustache and side whiskers, sporty tweeds and a shooting stick. He is though, closely involved in the farm’s work but has sufficient workers to allow him reasonable leisure to enjoy country life.

Mrs Julia Pottage – 39 – quite fashionable dressed, but practically for country life. A leading member of the W.I. and Mothers’ Guid, she is busy with the social affairs of the dale and to this purpose attends meetings in Pencaster, and sometimes, even, in Carlisle. has “help” in the house and with the twins.

Katy and Tom Pottage – 6 – twins. Dressed quite expensively in good quality denims, t-shirts and brightly coloured wellies. Katy is bright, quick, enquiring, humorous, full of inquisitive activity. Tom is quiet, inward, thumb sucking, thoughtful and follows unquestionably where Katy leads.

Peter Fogg – 21 – the Pottages’ shepherd. Sun-browned, brown eyes and a Zapata moustache, Lithe and energetic; handsome and popular with the ladies. Has a motor-bike and often goes to the disco in Pencaster, returning late a t night, to waken the valley with the roar of his bike.

The first thing that you’ll notice is the exclusion of Henry Pottage, the father of the twins. This character is never mentioned throughout the first 2 series and also not in any of the future series. An odd exclusion but probably explained by him being busy working on the farm.

Peter Fogg is a very interesting character with his galavanting, womanising ways. He certainly comes across as a charming, affable character in the show and certainly has one of the more interesting back stories. Also I would have loved to see him with that moustache!


Intake Farm – A moor top farm; really remote, without even a view of the valley and very marginal land. Two bachelor brothers scrape a poor living there, mainly from sheep. They also keep hens.

George Lancaster – 49 – a large boned, sad looking man, dressed in clothes bought at jumble sales, often ancient suits sizes too small or too big and in advanced stages of disrepair.

Wilf Lancaster – 39 – his dress is similar to George’s, but he has a jaunty air about him, the foil to his elder brother’s lugubriousness.

George remains the sole owner of Intake Farm throughout all the series but sticks to his get-up of 2nd hand clothes and un-uniformed appearance. He seems to have taken on the personality of his brother Wilf though with a wide smile instead of being a “sad looking man”

I’ll have some more characters next time when we move onto the characters without farmsteads.

All the quotations are taking from the BBC Written Archives with permissions given from the latter.

Jess the Cat – The original cat scan

In 2001 Ivor had achieved what he’d set out to achieve with his company Woodland Animations and it was time to call it a day. He’d been able to generate more freedom in his work especially with the likes of Charlie Chalk, his only truly original show. He’d also created Bertha, Gran and not one but two series of Postman Pat. This doesn’t include all the Pat spin-offs he created along with some great work for Ronald Searle.

It was the end of an era and time to sell up and move on. The company was sold to Entertainment Rights who took everything in the buy-out, from tapes all the way through to the puppets. As it currently stands there is no knowledge of where the puppets went for Bertha, Gran and Charlie Chalk despite continued digging by Ivor’s wife Josiane. This is such a shame but we will not give up hope in the fact that they are out there somewhere.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that many of the sets, props and puppets of Postman Pat were indeed kept and stored with the care and attention they deserved. None more so than everyones favourite cat, Jess. In 2003 Cosgrove Hall revamped Pat and his friends for a brand new series. They were careful to create a show that exactly mirrored what Ivor had achieved and this meant creating new versions of the puppets in their exact likenesses.

Puppet creation was all down to Manchester based puppet makers Mackinnon and Saunders. They were lucky enough to gain access to Ivor’s originals and use them as a guide when creating the new armatures. However when it came to making Jess it proved difficult at face value to tell exactly how she was made. With a deep respect for Ivor’s work and puppets, it was not an option to strip Jess down to find out.

It was co-owner Peter Saunders who then had a brain wave. He had a friend who worked at the Royal Infirmary, so he took Jess down there and got her x-rayed. Resulting in the original ‘black and white cat’ you see below:

An x-ray of Ivor Wood's original Jess the Cat puppet for Postman Pat Series 2.

An x-ray of Ivor Wood’s original Jess the Cat puppet for Postman Pat Series 2.

As you can see from the above it worked a treat and the x-ray showed up all of Jess’s inner workings even down to her wire whiskers and bendable ears. It’s so nice to see that the stop-motion community is so understanding when it comes to others work and also great for all us fans to actually be able to see how Ivor’s puppets were made.

The model is most likely made for hand-made ball and socket joints joined together with brass rods. The lumpy bits are more than likely foam or similar to help pad out the more muscular areas. Wire was used for the ears and whiskers so that Jess’s features could gain more expression. Also note the pin and pin head used for Jess’s nose!

The Technicalities of Postman Pat

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

In early 1979 Ivor Wood was coming to the end of the lengthy pre-production and concept design process of Postman Pat. Scripts were honed and budgets were agreed. It was now Ivor’s job, at his newly formed Woodland Animations, to create the world and characters that would inhabit and bring to life John Cunliffe’s stories.

Whilst looking through the Written Archives at the BBC I stumbled across this ingenious and remarkable letter that Ivor had written to, the then Executive Producer for Childrens BBC, Cynthia Felgate. Whilst I am unsure as to what the preceding letter had outlined, it appears to have mentioned the fact that within the scripts there was a lot of action regarding roaming cattle and wildlife. This is something Ivor wasn’t so keen to encourage as he details in his reply:

My first reaction was one of complete misery; How on earth does one animate herds of cows, ducks playing on water, herons and hawks flying, lambs frisking in a field, not to mention the hens…


Having read and reread the material, I laid the project to rest and, whilst going about my business, gave the matter much thought.

And much thought he did indeed give it. Ever the optimist and always willing to create the best possible solution to problems, Ivor came up with some very clever ideas on how to overcome this horrendous obstacle:

Mountains, valleys, lakes, woods and farmland: If the landscape is a wide extensive and extensible set, the human figures will have to be rather small. This in puppet form makes rather unmanageable or stiff animation, not to mention coping with the cat who will be minute.

If you wish to maintain this “rolling hills into the distance” atmosphere and keep characters to a manageable size, a little cheating will be necessary. I suggest that we use either very simple one tone segments that fit like a theatre set…

Now this is pretty much what was created in the show we know and love. A simple yet effective use of forced perspective, something film makers and set designers have been using for years and years. However Ivor doesn’t give up there and goes onto outline another idea….

Or maybe a back projection for the far distance with the foreground in true decor style.

Example of the back projection for Postman Pat sets by Ivor Wood

Example of the back projection for Postman Pat sets by Ivor Wood

Now this is a bit ‘out there’ but nothing compared to the other idea he had to alleviate the need for flocks and herds of animals:

No amount of animation could possibly compete with nature, therefore would it be possible to introduce ‘Motorised Photography’ – the still camera that can take up to 5 frames per second (with a special magazine: 250 frames before reloading).

These running sequences could then be put onto 16m/m film, each photo linked by quick or slow cross-dissolves, giving a motion effect with maybe a freeze frame start and finish to underline the switch from animation – real photography – back to animation.

Note: Motorised Photography would be less expensive than a camera crew using 16m/m. But there is a snag – ie how long do you wait for the ducks or the heron?

…Amazing! It’s certainly creative but wow what a headache if the BBC had said yes. Drawbacks that spring to my mind are endless, adding a further stop-motion element to an animators schedule that relied on them not only animating the puppets but also making sure the live action footage was being held at the right frame each time. The ability of photographing animals doing exactly the right thing and making sure all perspectives etc were correct…the list goes on. If this was put into practice it would turn into the puppet animation working around the ‘live action’ due to that fact that animals aren’t always going to do exactly what you tell them. This could have led to long pauses and stilted action.

It certainly was ambitious but something tells me that Ivor’s complex wording and subtle negativities were all part of the plan to put the BBC off doing anything over complicated. I’ll leave you with Ivor’s last paragraph and see what you think.

I really think that this project is in need of a style to express itself without giving nightmares to the animator. (Is this wishful thinking on my behalf?).

All quotes and ‘back projector illustration’ are from a letter written by Ivor Wood to Cynthia Felgate at Children’s BBC. The letter is dated 8th February 1979 and permission has been granted to the author by the BBC Written Archives.