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.
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.
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.