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.
“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.”
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.”
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]