Rare glimpse on the set of The Magic Roundabout

Serge Danot and Ivor Wood on set of the Magic Roundabout

Serge Danot and Ivor Wood on set of the Magic Roundabout
Photographed by Jacques Crausaz
Image courtesy of Josiane Wood

Thanks to Ivor’s wife Josiane we are privileged to share with you this rare photo from the set of The Magic Roundabout.

The shot was taken in Paris and features The Magic Roundabout creator Serge Danot and Ivor Wood directing an episode right from the helm of some aptly named chairs. It’s still under debate but the photograph was probably shot in Danot’s flat where most of the The Magic Roundabout,  or La Manege Enchante as it was known in France, was created and filmed.

Josiane remembers writing some of the scripts for the show in it’s early days and not knowing the full capabilities of what the animators and puppets could do. She would be forever popping onto the set to ask if she could make the puppets  jump etc and be surprised and pleased with the response that anything was possible.

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Ivor Wood – At Woodland Animations

After a decade of working on TV shows for other producers Ivor Wood decided in the early 1980’s to venture forth to pursue his own endeavours. He, along with his wife Josiane, opened up their own studio, Woodland Animations.

Postman Pat

It was however whilst at FilmFair that talk started about a certain postman who lived in the Yorkshire dales. The BBC approached Ivor about this concept and it was here that he decided to produce Postman Pat instead of merely directing and animating. This was to be Woodland Animations first show and one that would pave the way for all their future productions. Based on stories by John Cunliffe the show was pitched by the BBC to juxtapose their already successful show Pigeon Street that was set in a modern, urban environment. First airing in 1981, Postman Pat was certainly the opposite, set in the charming fictional village of Greendale, it followed the rounds of a postman as he went about delivering letters to an array of colourful characters. Once more Ivor designed and directed the series pulling inspiration from his years working on many a successful show. He introduced, his now trademark, papier-mache heads and large hands and it really seems like the culmination of a life’s work all rolled up into one production.

Again, much like The Wombles, merchandising was to be a key factor within Woodland. Postman Pat became an instant success and proved fruitful with many marketing companies, releasing further stories in book form and plethora of toys, clothes, videos and much more. The show went on to be broadcast in over 40 languages and particularly in Ivor’s second home of France as Pat became a teacher of the English language.

Gran

Gran

Postman Pat’s success deservedly put Woodland Animations and Ivor Wood’s work firmly on the map. However as the studio began to progress the success of future shows never really rivalled that of Pat’s endeavours. During the production of Pat, Woodland created a series called Gran which retained the same warm cosy feel that Pat and his previous shows had had. Set this time in a more urban environment it was perhaps a parallel to its predecessor centred around only two characters, Gran and her grandson Jim. The show only ran for a single series starting in 1982 and only saw it being repeated a handful of times over the rest of the decade. Like-wise Ivor and Woodlands next show Bertha, only ran for a single series. Shown just before 4 o’clock on the BBC it was again set in an urban environment following the everyday lives of factory workers and their production machine Bertha. Unlike Gran there were a lot more characters involved and seemed more in tune with Wood’s ideals. The 13 episodes were shown in sporadic segments spanning 2 re-runs where further unseen episodes were tagged onto the end of each run. After three productions based on day to day living it was time for Ivor to express his more creative and surreal side and this came in the form of one Charlie Chalk.

Charlie Chalk

Charlie Chalk

As well as being Ivor’s most weird and wonderful work it was also to be his last. Whilst it was the only show that Ivor personally created from scratch it was written by, now renowned writer Jocelyn Stevenson and first aired in 1987, running for only one series of 13 episodes. It did however prove to be Woodlands most successful show since Postman Pat, allowing him to go out with a bang. It’s surreal and extraordinary wealth of characters were solid to Ivor’s style and design and much like Postman Pat was a culmination of a life’s work played out in something that was clearly right up Ivor’s street. Much like Pat, long after the series finished production the merchandising and commercial rights benefited it’s producer and later on it’s new owners.

Broadcast Magazine Tribute

Broadcast Magazine Tribute

After Charlie Chalk Ivor decided that he would sell up and relax into retirement and in 2001 Ivor and Josiane sold up Woodland Animations to the tune of £5.1m. This figure included the rights to all their shows including their big success Postman Pat and was bought by Entertainment Rights. Sadly his retirement did not last long and on October 13th 2004 Ivor Wood sadly passed away leaving a legacy that not only shaped the animation industry but nearly every British child, and adult for many generations. In appreciation of his work his friends and colleagues took out a full page in Broadcast magazine reading You will be missed. Your legacy will remain in children’s hearts for all time.”.His work is still remembered and paved the way for new series’ of Postman Pat, a film of the latter and of The Magic Roundabout and Paddington. His work will always be remembered and so too should the man.

Ivor Wood – At FilmFair

Whilst working on The Magic Roundabout, Ivor Wood once more had a chance encounter that was to change his life. During the production stages of the show, creator, Serge Danot had invited producer Graham Clutterbuck down to see it’s filming. Graham, who was leading the European branch of FilmFair at the time, had previously been approached by Danot to produce the show, but in his words he “foolishly turned it down”. In talking with Graham, Ivor was struck by his progressive and fair business sense and agreed to work for FilmFair so long as he had equal rights to everything they both worked on.

Graham Clutterbuck

Graham Clutterbuck – Image courtesy of AnimatorMag

The Herbs' Parsley the Lion

The Herbs’ Parsley the Lion

Based in France, Graham Clutterbuck and FilmFair were actively producing commercials and films for the UK and in 1966 with the Magic Roundabout now becoming increasingly popular on British television, the BBC wanted more programmes in a similar ilk. Head of BBC children’s television, Monica Simm’s approached FilmFair with not a programme but a man, author Michael Bond. Bond had started to put an idea together called The Herbs and it was strongly suggested that it should be produced in stop-motion, with puppets to mirror that of The Magic Roundabout. Wood jumped at the chance and designed, created and animated the series in his Parisian apartment. The production was very low-key but despite this it proved to be very successful. This success would eventually lead to a spin-off series tailing the main character, aptly named ‘The Adventures of Parsley’. The Herbs was the first collaboration between Graham and Ivor and one that would prove to be the birth of a very illustrious relationship.

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With Wood’s charming designs, animation and attention to detail, he and FilmFair looked to the next opportunity. This came when they were introduced to Keith Chatfield who had originally come up with some stories for his children called The Hattytown Tales. Encouraged by one of his friends he looked into getting them published but never dreamed it would be animated. Once more Ivor stepped up, creating and animating them all. The style of the show resembled characteristics of The Magic Roundabout especially within the background elements of stylised trees and flowers and with everything being animated to a stark white backdrop. However this would be the last reference to The Magic Roundabout Ivor seemed to have in his work and from here on in he became increasingly more original and tended to take on quite a warm, cosy, more life-like tone to his work..

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This is no better shown than in FilmFair’s next venture, The Wombles. By now England was becoming the place to be, proving that London could be a creative force in the media world. The Beatles were at their height and the swinging 60’s was hitting it’s stride. It was this that strove Graham Clutterbuck to return to his native shores and move FilmFair from Paris to London. There to greet him was Tim Flanders, a creative who was trying to sell the idea of turning Elisabeth Beresford’s novel, The Wombles, into a film. This came at a great time for the studio and Ivor jumped on board to once again bring the characters to life. After selling the idea to the BBC Ivor started on turning Beresford’s illustrations into full working puppets. With the BBC wanting a less teddybear look to the characters, Beresford remembers going back and forth to the BBC with endless revisions of Ivor’s puppets where Monica would announce “No, Ivor, we don’t think that’s what a Womble looks like” and then it was back to the drawing board. It seems all the heartache was worth it and in 1973 The Wombles made their first appearance upon Wimbledon Common. The show was not only successful in the great number that watched but also the wealth of merchandising, was something that had not been seen in children’s television before. As Graham Clutterbuck exclaims, with such low profit on distribution “you rely on merchandising to make it profitable.” and it was Ivor’s characters that were sold all over the world and popularised the cult that is The Wombles.

Barry Leith Animating Paddington

Barry Leith Animating Paddington – Image courtesy of AnimatorMag

This success allowed FilmFair to slowly close down it’s commercial activities and focus it’s attention creating more children’s TV shows, predominately for the BBC. After creating The Herbs spin off, The Adventure of Parsley airing from 1970, it was time once more to partner up with Michael Bond for something of a more established character. Here is where Ivor Wood took on the development of one of his more ambitious and original productions, Paddington Bear. In order to get over the initial prospect of having to animate and create hundreds of puppets to populate the ever busy London scenes Ivor opted for something a little outside the box. Having Paddington as the only puppet within the show it was with the help of traditional 2D animation that saved time within production schedules. Creating paper cut outs for all the other characters, Ivor along with animator Barry Leith used cut out replacements to move the heads and appendages of all the secondary characters. It was Ivor’s most ambitious project in terms of design and remains unique within animated children’s shows.

Perhaps inspired by the 2D elements of Paddington Bear or even his time with Ronald Searle, Ivor’s next project was to direct Ed McLachlan’s Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings. This was a truly 2D affair and first aired in 1976 with its production overlapping with Paddington Bear which is assumed why Ivor only took on a more directorial role. Also at that time their were other irons in the fire and after doing so much for FilmFair, Ivor sought new challenges and using his reputation with the BBC he decided to launch his own production studio Woodland Animations along with his faithful wife Josiane. It is here that his real flare and now successful experience would culminate in his most famous and certainly more original projects.

Ivor Wood – His Early Life

IvorWood_1

An artist, a craftsman, a pioneer of stop motion animation. Represented throughout the world by some of children’s televisions most beloved characters, he is the man behind such memorable shows as The Magic Roundabout, The Herbs, The Wombles, Paddington Bear, Postman Pat and Charlie Chalk…yet who is this illusive animator, director, producer? Welcome to the world of Ivor Wood. Overlooked and little documented, Ivor Wood forged a successful and forward thinking career that not only shaped his own life but shaped the world of British animation. Generations of children and adults alike would sit down in front of their TV sets every day and night to be enthralled and whisked away to surreal places where there were creatures like wombles, bears that could talk, and herbs that would magically come to life. It is the aim within this blog to take a long overdue look at the life and work of Ivor Wood. Born in Leeds in 1932 Ivor Wood was the child of a French mother and English father. His early years were played out in the north of England but soon after the Second World War his family packed their bags and set off for a new start in Lyon, France, where Ivor’s parents took on a small hotel in the mountains. This was to be a pivotal change in Ivor’s life and his French connection would be something that stayed very close to his heart throughout his life. He always considered himself French, speaking the language fluently, even though he came to spend most of his adult life back on the blustery shores of England. After secondary school, in the late 1950’s, Ivor decided to move from Lyon to enrol at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris to study art. When this came to an end he struggled to sell his work and took jobs in factories, whilst on the lookout for a more creative avenue. This avenue opened up when he took on a designer role at Parisian advertising and commercial agency La Comete. The year was now 1963 and with television taking on a bigger and more vital role in modern culture and society La Comete was a thriving place to be full of creativity and opportunity. It was here that he would meet two very pivotal and pioneering individuals, that would help propel his career into animation.

A Ronald Searle animation storyboard

A Ronald Searle animation storyboard

Whilst working on petrol commercials for Esso and Total, Ivor gained the esteemed pleasure of working with the late great illustrator Ronald Searle. It was Searle’s job at the time to design and write gags for the commercials, with Wood taking those concepts and animating them in a 2D medium alongside fellow animator Alain de Lannoy. Searle thought highly of Ivor claiming that he was the animator most capable of reproducing the ‘Searle line’. From those commercials Searle was inspired, along with Wood, to pitch a radical idea of creating TV gag spots that would go commercials. These were actually made and are now available to watch online, however the idea being as ‘out there’ as it was sadly never saw the light of day on television.

Le Manège Enchanté (The Magic Roundabout)

Le Manège Enchanté (The Magic Roundabout)

As well as Searle, La Comete was also where Ivor first met, the now famed, Serge Danot. At the time Danot was looking into the development of a small show called Le Manège Enchanté, or as many will know it The Magic Roundabout. This chance meeting was to be Ivor’s first step into the world of stop-motion animation, something that became his trademark and much preferred medium. As his friend Michael Bond once said on the subject “It is a painstaking process: if genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains, then Ivor certainly qualified for the title.”It seemed that Wood had fallen on his feet and into something that he could truly grasp with both hands and quite literally breath life into. This chance meeting and collaboration propelled Ivor into the animation industry and once the rights to The Magic Roundabout were sold to the BBC and beyond, he never looked back.