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.

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