The Wombles Sheet Music, Minuetto Allegretto with Uncle Bulgaria

An Ivor Wood illustrated Uncle Bulgaria for Mike Batt (and Mozart's) Minuetto Allegretto

An Ivor Wood illustrated Uncle Bulgaria for Mike Batt (and Mozart’s) Minuetto Allegretto

Little eBay find for you today. Sheet music from one of Mike Batt’s Womble songs Minuetto Allegretto. The song was first released on the ‘Remember you’re a Womble’ album and featured in the lyrics the many dancing attributes of a young Uncle Bulgaria. It was written with a little help from Mozart and his Symphony no.41 and has since ben released on a couple of Best Of’s.

What is nice to see is that the sheet music is adorned with a lovely drawing of Uncle Bulgaria by designer and creator Ivor Wood. Ivor’s trademark quick, sketchy line is shown in abundance here  and it really lends Uncle Bulgaria a lively and expressive character. Sadly I’m not quite up to speed yet as to when this drawing was produced and whether it was always intended for use on the sheet music. There are other sheet music books out there with the same Ivor illustrations on so once they are tracked down a future blog post will make sure to tell the whole story.

In case you don’t remember this song, please find a little video of The Wombles live at Glastonbury in 2011 doing their version.

Animating The Wombles by animator Barry Leith

We’ve heard from Barry Leith about all the pre-production that went into The Wombles and now it’s time to find out just how he animated the little fellows. Following on from Ivor Wood’s animation of the first series, he handed the reins over to Barry for the last few and the second series.

Barry Leith and The Wombles

Barry Leith and The Wombles

Now days the animation industry is so used to recording the voiceover before animating but Ivor was not of this school of thought and chose to take a very different approach to production. “All the sound was put on after the event. Usually you have the soundtrack first, but there was no lip-sync involved in The Wombles. We’d have the script, Uncle Bulgaria saying ‘Hello Wombles, wheres my copy of the Times’ and I’d have those lines written down and a stopwatch. You’d know the voices, so that’d be 20 frames for ‘Hello’ then 3 seconds for the next bit.. We’d animate by pre-judging roughly how long it took, knowing the nature of the delivery of the voices, and then Bernard Cribbins would fill it in afterwards.” The nature of Bernard’s add lib narration was a real favourite of both Barry and Ivor and as strange as this process may seem today it was so routine to them both. Especially for Ivor who’s previous productions had relied so heavily on the make do and mend, highly collaborative process.

Orinoco from a FilmFair advertisement

Orinoco from a FilmFair advertisement

With no dialogue and no dope sheets to animate to just how did things ever get so polished and how did they plan the scenes? “We didn’t have time to mark [dope sheets], it wasn’t don’t look at the quality, but you were against the lock all the time. We used to rely more on matchstick man type storyboards. Close up, long shots, zoom shots whatever and you’d have the basic script dialogue underneath. The type was on double space so it’s on those gaps that you’d do your timings and pace it out. So we used to work mainly off storyboards, not so much for framing but for the dialogue. Once you start filming you think a close up isn’t right, we need a medium shot or pan across to the other character. So you still had bits of freedom there to do that with. It was never that tight.”

Tomsk from a FilmFair advertisement

Tomsk from a FilmFair advertisement

This animation process worked like a charm but that wasn’t to say that there weren’t a few slip ups along the way. “There was one one lovely scene that Tomsk was in, with about three other Wombles sort of doing their thing. Tomsk was standing there from the scene some time ago and I’m animating away and I go ‘Oh **** Tomsk isn’t supposed to be here! I need him in the next scene, in a totally different part of the burrow!’ .What can I do?  I’m about 5 seconds in to animating this scene and I’ve got another 10 seconds to go… and its a long scene. Im not starting again, so from somewhere he got a comb out and combed his hair and as he’s combing he starts side stepping off screen. Stepping off and out the side of the frame. I think it’s in the first series I really can’t remember. When Woodsy was looking at the rushes he was like ‘Whats he doing?’ ‘I forgot Ivor so I was getting him off the screen so he could re-appear at the right time.'[Oops].

“So you just develop ways and means of doing things. Certainly when you’re doing that sort of programming, a 5 minute episode would take 9 days to animate, that was it. Sometimes you’d only have 2-3 puppets in it but occasionally you’d had all 7 of the buggers. If you’d got 6-7 of them in the same scene you’re thinking what do I do with them all!” Well lucky for us all Barry  and Ivor found a way to make them all move in the charming and characteristic way that we all love, however trying the little ‘buggers’ were.

Sadly that wraps up Barry Leith’s trip down memory lane divulging stories from the making of The Wombles. If you missed any of the the 3-parter then follow the links below. Barry had lots more stories to tell about The Wombles and his time animating Paddington so stay tuned for more.

Making The Wombles – https://ivorwood.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/the-making-of-the-wombles-by-animator-barry-leith/

Scripting The Wombles – https://ivorwood.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/scripting-the-wombles-by-animator-barry-leith/

[All quotes are from Barry Leith]

Scripting The Wombles by animator Barry Leith

The Wombles sets and a puppets are well into production and now it’s time to roll out those stories we’ve all come to know and love. Narrated by the warming voice of Bernard Cribbins he was not, as you’d imagine, the first choice. Heres Barry Leith to carry on the story of the making of The Wombles.

Ivor Wood and Elisabeth Beresford on set of The Wombles

Ivor Wood and Elisabeth Beresford on set of The Wombles

“Each episode was approximately 4 minutes 10 seconds, so you’ve got to do 29 stories that are going to last 4 minutes plus.” Sounds way easy enough but for original author Elisabeth Beresford it proved quite the challenge. “Elisabeth would knock up a few stories and we’d get them back and they’d only take 45 seconds to read, but she freely admitted that she couldn’t think of any more ideas. What Woodsy used to do, was sit down and say the story needs a beginning, a middle and an end, a resolution. We’d take an item of rubbish that’d be nice for the model maker to make and then once we had that item we’d write a reason for why it was needed and then how it resolves itself in the end. We tended to think of rubbish that we could collect like cardboard and think what we needed that for and then we’d present that sort of scenario to Liz and say right ‘fill that up with extra stuff’. She’d do her best on many occasions but sometimes she just couldn’t do it. This was where Cribbins came in because he’d make it up and do a lot of his ‘umming and arring’ and he’d do a tapping of the foot and look at what we’d done to fill in the time.”

Ivor Wood and Elisabeth Beresford on set of The Wombles

Ivor Wood and Elisabeth Beresford on set of The Wombles

It was this add lib process that Ivor had long favoured right from his make shift days at The Magic Roundabout. It sounds like an approach very alien to production standards these days but the magic was always there, whatever way it took to get there. “I used to say to Liz, do bare in mind, we’ve got 4 minutes 10 seconds but if you can tell the story in 3 and a half minutes we can use the other 45 seconds to pace it out. Now all of a sudden because you’ve got 45 seconds of nothing on the commentary you can start to use that to pace the story out and if you feel it needs a longer hold for someone to be pondering the nature of the universe rather than cut you can have him going ‘hmm’ ‘oh’ and just a little nod taking about 6-7 seconds. But that 6-7 seconds has come out of your 45 seconds of pacing and then you can do that all throughout the story. I mean sometimes a lot of the pacing comes with the dialogue anyway, and thats what Cribbins was good at.”

Ivor Wood and Bernard Cribbins recording The Wombles narration

Ivor Wood and Bernard Cribbins recording The Wombles narration

As we’ve revealed Bernard Cribbins was not the first choice for the narration and as Barry explains “in the Jacobs Well Mews studio we improvised a sound studio, a Ferrograph old mike and a note pined to the door requesting quiet, it was all very primitive. I can’t remember all the people we tested but Bernard Bresslaw, Derek Guyler and Leslie Philips stand out for varying reasons. But when Bernard Cribbins came along one new immediately the voice had been found.”

And what of the that oh so famous theme tune? ” It would be about now Graham Clutterbuck [FilmFairs producer] and Ivor were in conversation with Mike Batt, a young aspiring composer. The Musicians Union in [England] was very expensive so Mike went to Paris where he played most of the instruments himself, finally returning to London with what we all know as “Underground, overground…”. With everything now in place it was time to start the task of animating, something that Ivor would start and pass later on to Barry.

Join us next week for Part 3 in the making of The Wombles where Barry discusses animating the series and a rather accidental scene with Tomsk.

[All quotes are from Barry Leith]

Let’s go round again – The story of The Magic Roundabout | BBC Radio 4 documentary 12th October

It’s really been 50 years since The Magic Roundabout first appeared on British televisions. Adapted for Britain with the help of narrator Eric Thompson it was a huge success and to celebrate BBC Radio 4 have a special documentary airing today [12th October 2015] that charts this fantastical programme. To join them in conversation will be Ivor’s widow Josiane Wood, so make sure you tune in today at 4pm.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gqh8m

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

Here’s what Radio 4 have to say:

In October 1965, a new version of the French children’s television programme Le Manège Enchanté was shown on the BBC. Scripted and voiced by the Playschool presenter Eric Thompson, and broadcast with its English title – The Magic Roundabout, it soon became a firm favourite with viewers of all ages. So much so, that when the transmission time was changed to an earlier timeslot, there were so many complaints to the BBC from outraged adults, that it was moved back to its place just before the six o’clock news.

To celebrate the programme’s 50th anniversary, Sophie Thompson, Eric’s daughter, and his wife Phyllida Law tell us the story behind the much-loved series. We’ll hear tales of Zebedee, Florence and Ermintrude, and how Dougal the dog nearly caused international relations with France to break down.

With contributions from Fenella Fielding, Nigel Planer and Mark Kermode, climb aboard for one more spin on the Magic Roundabout.

Producer: Elizabeth Foster
Presenter: Sophie Thompson & Phyllida Law.

Let’s go round again – The story of The Magic Roundabout will be broadcast on 12th October 2015 and available to catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

The making of The Wombles by animator Barry Leith

It’s the early 1970’s and Ivor has just finished up on the successful spin-off series ‘The Adventures of Parsley’ with FilmFair who have now made the move over the channel basing themselves in London. No sooner have they pitched up when a young publisher hands producer Graham Clutterbuck a copy of childrens book ‘The Wombles’ written by Elisabeth Beresford. It’s from here we pick up the story from Wombles model maker and animator Barry Leith, who in our exclusive interview tells us how the little creatures from Wimbledon Common came to be.

Barry Leith making props at FilmFair

Barry Leith making props at FilmFair

It was Barry’s model making skills that had first brought him to Ivor’s attention and it was with these that he partnered up with Ivor for a commercial for Glow Worm Heating. Including this commercial and in Barry’s own words “a very primate attempt at animation I did while at Hornsey College of Art, [The Wombles] was the first professional animation I was involved in”. As Barry stepped onto the The Wombles production he remembers the struggles in creating the characters. The original book illustrations “looked like a badly thought out teddy bears” and this wasn’t what the BBC at the time were looking for. The second round “developed a snout and a bit more of a tail and it was standing on two feet, not on all fours but we looked at it and thought it was a bit bloody rat like” so it was back to the drawing board. Ivor humanised them giving them larger ears, a smaller snout and brought in his trademark big hands which convinced the BBC and the characters were green lit. Having worked with them for so many years Barry still insists that “if you took all their clothes off I’d be able to identify them, because you just get to know them. Of course Uncle Bulgaria had more of a squashed aged face, Tomsk had a bit of a long turn out, as he was big, but not a body builder”

Barry Leith making props at FilmFair

Barry Leith making props at FilmFair

Whilst Ivor went back and forth to the BBC with the puppets, Barry was left in charge of designing the sets. Due to The Wombles being set in pokey little burrows “they were impossible to draw” so Barry mentioned that ” it’d be much better if I could just make a set”, so it was straight into the physical build which certainly proved to be the better approach.

” The first set I made was the entrance and the second was the corridor. I made the entrance because that doubled up as the outside as well, which made it a reversible set. It was all done with the foliage and trees on the outside which I believe was rejected the first time round. The inside was made with a wooden base and I was just sticking cardboard tubes, getting loads of newspaper and getting the papier mache to work. The sets were very much, made up as you went along.” 

Barry Leith at home with Uncle Bulgaria

Barry Leith at home with Uncle Bulgaria

A bit of pre-planning did however go into how The Wombles would sit amongst all this human waste. “If one was standing in the room next to us, it would be about 2 1/2 feet high, so I got a 12 inch ruler and scaled it down to their height of 2 1/2 feet.” By using this ruler everything was neatly scaled so The Wombles would perfectly fit into a human world.

The world in which The Wombles lived was very much use what you find, so therefore it’s no surprise that the sets were littered with various props from all the shows. ” As the series was made, the place would slowly and slowly get more cluttered because all the models that you made would go on the set somewhere.” So by the time the entire 60 episodes were created the sets were looking more and more busy. As Barry explained, he was making incidental props as Ivor animated the 1st series so there was no big pre-production meeting where things were all decided pre-animating it was very free-form and make them as they came. “I was making all the incidental models collaborating with [Elisabeth Beresford] because some episodes I’d have to make a bicycle and another all I’d have to make was a newspaper.”

Join us next week for Barry’s insight into getting that famous narration and the even more famous theme tune. Plus he talks candidly about how the stories were put together.

[All quotes are from Barry Leith]

Uncle Bulgaria and animator Barry Leith

Barry Leith at home with Uncle Bulgaria

Barry Leith at home with Uncle Bulgaria

Here’s a quick teaser for my interview with Barry Leith coming soon, where he talks about how The Wombles first came to be and all those early days.

The photo above was given to me by Barry on our meet up and shows him sat along side the ever respectable Uncle Bulgaria. Barry went onto divulge how he came to have the original puppet and the constant care and attention it needs to stay looking the way it does.

It was towards the end of Barry’s time working for FilmFair that he got the opportunity to take Buglaria home. By this point Ivor had already left FilmFair after finishing up on Paddington and Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings and was pursuing pastures new at Woodland Animations. Barry however stayed on for one last show and worked on the production for Portland Bill. As he was finishing up and packing his things together he stumbled across a box stuffed full of Wombles sets and puppets. As any good animator and model maker he knew that they couldn’t just be left there.

After a few hours he’d de-assembled them, cleaned all their joints and put them back together again. In the mind of making sure they’d be looked after he went and spoke to the man in charge, Graham Clutterbuck, explaining that they should really be in a museum or at least stored somewhere safer. As usual Graham muttered something under his breath and came back with the offer of giving Uncle Bulgaria to Barry for all his hard work over the years. Whether he was overwhelmed by the generosity or felt it a lost cause Barry took Bulgaria and left the studio. Every few years hence Barry methodically takes Bulgaria apart and gives him a good clean. The main reason being the foam is sadly starting to react with the metal joints and disintegrate so it’s vital to make sure everything is spick and span in order to best preserve the little guy.

To this day the Wombles puppets are still not all accounted for but hopefully with the aid of this blog and others we can track them all down.