Telling the story of Paddington

After an initial pilot and concept was agreed with Michael Bond, the BBCs, Head of Children’s Programming, Monica Simms commissioned the first series of Paddington Bear. It was to consist of 31 episodes first airing at 5.40pm, just before the news, on 5th January 1975.

Mr Gruber cut-outs. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

Mr Gruber cut-outs. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

Even though the style was technically challenging and pioneering it was not this that caused problems, but how the stories were to be told and by whom? In back and forth letters now publicly available from the BBC Written Archives we can see how problematic it was for all parties to decide over this important matter. It was even considered at one stage to remove Michael Bond from writing duties due to him being too close to his creation. Thank goodness that was never followed through.

As if Ivor had not put enough on his plate in marrying 2D cut outs and a 3D Paddington, it was suggested by him that the cut-outs should have some sort of lip-sync! After some quick and insightful thoughts from Michael Bond it was decided against suggesting “that too much would inevitably draw attention to any defects and might in the end be distracting”. Michael at this time had had his fingers burned before in bringing his beloved Paddington to the screen and wasn’t about to lose quality with this more promising adaptation. It was therefore suggested that there would be an overseeing narrator telling the stories and no characterising of any of the characters including Paddington.

Michael Bond and Paddington. Image sourced from The Telegraph by Geoff Pugh

Michael Bond and Paddington. Image sourced from The Telegraph by Geoff Pugh

This approach was agreed by BBC producer Michael Cole, expressing that giving a specific voice to Paddington would “be a pity to narrow the publics image of them to one particular interpretation”. He did however insist on having “more related comment” from the star of the show in order to bring more anticipation and reaction to Paddingtons mishaps and calamities. This meant more expressiveness in the animation which Ivor was keen to exploit. He felt “that he could work better from the story and adapt it himself with Michaels [Bond] advice. The script was pinning him down too much”. Hence forth it was suggested that Ivor draw a storyboard for the initial episode, and throughout, in order to give more of a motion led and animator friendly tone. In a letter to the producer Michael Cole at the BBC, Michael Bond remarked that Ivor’s initial storyboard and drawings were “super, and of tremendous help at this stage”. This instantly must have allowed for more farce-like and slapstick moments that we have now all come to love.

The subject of narration however was still raising it’s ugly head and Michael Bond was still unsure in having the narrator characterising Paddington’s thoughts, “to have Paddington speak in his thoughts will really be a confession of failure… its is the first sign of madness – and Paddington is a particularly sane bear, with both paws firmly on the ground”. Rather ambiguously the letters sadly finish up here and as we all know it seems that Michael Bond didn’t quite manage to win over the BBC as we do hear Paddingtons narrated thoughts throughout the shows. It could however have been the choice of narrator that sold it to Michael in the end. He was keen to use the voice of Harry Worth as the narrator, as he mentions several times in letters to the BBC, however as we all know it was Sir Michael Hordern that took the role. As stated in’ The Life and Times of Paddington Bear’, “The first thing he said was ‘I don’t do voices.’. The voice he offered was the voice of Michael Hordern, which was thought to be perfect – indeed, it would now be hard to imagine any other voice accompanying Paddington.” Perhaps it was the gentle, relaxing tones of Hordern that alleviated Michael Bonds fears, taking Paddington to many successes on the small screen.

Look out for next weeks post when we delve deeper into the making of Paddington, looking at the technical challenge of the 2D/3D hybrid.

Quotes taken from the following sources
  • Letter from Michael Bond to Monica Simms, 31st January 1974, BBC Written Archives
  • Report on meeting at FilmFair by Michael Cole, 6th February 1974, BBC Written Archives
  • Letter from Michael Bond to Michael Cole, 20th February 1974, BBC Written Archives
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Paddington cartoons in colour

After last weeks post on Ivor Wood’s black and white Paddington cartoons in the Evening News I thought I’d follow up with the colour versions. Karen Jankel at The Paddington Company, and daughter of Michael Bond, has very kindly let us share with you all some images from the collection.

Paddington digging illustrated by Ivor Wood. Image courtesy of The Paddington Company

Paddington digging illustrated by Ivor Wood. Image courtesy of The Paddington Company

Whilst all the cartoons that featured in the Evening News were black and white, Ivor actually produced them in colour and in a very interesting way. Even though they were only used for print Ivor decided to adopt a process that was similar to that of traditional animation. Myself and fellow researcher Joseph Wallace were surprised to see that Ivor had illustrated the black line with ink onto an acetate cell then on a separate piece of card coloured in the solid fills (as above). It looks laborious and quite unnecessary until I was lucky enough to talk to fellow illustrator of Paddington, Barry Macey, on the subject. He went onto explain:

First you’d do a pencil drawing and then get a PMT, photo mechanical transfer, from another artwork studio who would print the drawing onto quite a thick acetate. Then you’ve got your image on your PMT, with all your shadows and nuances. You’d then get a lightbox and put your clear acetate on your lightbox, then cartridge paper on the top that and you did your colour through your lightbox [using the black line shining through as you’re guide].

Now you have your black lines on one layer and your colour on another. Because what printers had trouble with in those days was getting your blacks black, as the blacks were made up of colours, they weren’t pure black. So the printers wanted the black lines on one layer and the colour on the other to make it easier.

And that was how we did it.

Paddingtons Cartoon Book front cover, Picture Lions 1979

Paddingtons Cartoon Book front cover, Picture Lions 1979

For each square Ivor produced a single drawing on cell with a counterpart colour fill behind. They were all around 15 x 15cm and total a number of approx. 220 different illustrations. This doesn’t include all the others that he went onto produce. Many of them after being in the Evening News went into the compendium ‘Paddington’s Cartoon Book’, published in 1979 and later in the bigger ‘Great Big Paddington Book’ published again in 1979. These later cartoons were in full colour and were the tamed down ones for children. It didn’t include the rather suggestive cartoon about Paddington playing strip poker (a post for another time maybe). I’ve included below one of my favourites of Paddington frantically digging for his beloved Marmalade. Thanks again to Karen for letting us share this with you.

Paddington digs up a vintage illustrated by Ivor Wood. Image courtesy of The Paddington Company

Paddington digs up a vintage, illustrated by Ivor Wood.
Image courtesy of The Paddington Company

We’re now halfway through our Paddington 2 month special but it’s looking like we may have to extend it! There’s just so much great stuff!

Paddington cartoons in the Evening News

Between the years 1976 and 1978, whilst producing the Paddington TV show Ivor Wood illustrated Paddington in a startling number of publications, bearing in mind is already busy workload. Overall he contributed his sketchy styled little bear to 6 books including a pop-up book and a selection of cartoons for newspaper the Evening News (now the Evening Standard).

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It is with many thanks to his wife Josiane for this great trip down memory lane. I had been aware of the newspaper cartoons for while but had only ever seen them in colour in the compendium ‘Paddington’s Cartoon Book’ and not in situ in the Evening News. Cue Josiane and with some digging she found some originals along with a nice poster advertising the fact that Paddington was bringing himself to the newspaper.

Paddington cartoon in the Evening News, 1977. Illustrated by Ivor Wood

Paddington cartoon in the Evening News, 1977. Illustrated by Ivor Wood

The little cartoons were written by Michael Bond and were in the paper from (we reckon) 3rd January 1977 until 1978. Each were illustrated by Ivor and coloured up on cels, even though they were only for a black and white paper. This probably goes to show that the end goal was always to feature them within a compendium as they do appear later in ‘Paddington’s Cartoon Book’ and ‘The Great Big Paddington Book’. I have been lucky enough to view the originals and if permission is granted it would be great to show them with you all.

Apologies for the slight vagueness of the article but it’s something I am yet to do further research into but saw it as too good an opportunity not to share.

Stay tuned as we continue our two month special on Ivor and Paddington.

Michael Bond on Ivor Wood

PaddingtoniceCream

Paddington and an Ice-Cream illustrated by Ivor Wood

After last weeks post on Ivor’s relationship with one Paddington Bear I couldn’t help but think of the fond relationship that Michael Bond had with Ivor. When first researching Ivor’s life I cam across his obituary in The Guardian written by none other than Michael Bond. It immediately struck me as different as it wasn’t just a dictation of his life but a warming, friendly account of Ivor’s extraordinary career told by one of his friends.

I wanted to share with you all these kind words about one of Britain’s greatest animators from one of Britain’s greatest writers who shared in his love of bringing characters to life and inspiring future generations.

The following is an exact copy of an obituary written in The Guardian newspaper Friday 5th November 2004 by Michael Bond

Bringing Paddington and Postman Pat to life on television

Michael Bond

Ivor Wood, who has died aged 72, was a central figure in the development of animated television programmes for children from The Magic Roundabout to Postman Pat – with many others along the way, including The Wombles and Paddington.

Born in Leeds of an Anglo-French mother and an English father, he moved with his parents to France soon after the second world war, when they took over the running of a small hotel in the mountains outside Lyon. From school, Ivor moved to Paris in order to study at the École des Beaux Arts. After completing his studies, he worked in a factory until joining La Comète, a company making television commercials, in 1963.

His work as a background artist there introduced him to the world of animation, which, in turn, led to his meeting Serge Danot, who was developing an idea called Le Manège Enchanté, first shown on French television in 1964, surfacing a year later before the BBC’s early evening news as The Magic Roundabout, to great success.

It was through working with Danot that Ivor developed his skills in stop-frame puppet animation, a technique involving the use of fully jointed three-dimensional puppets which could be moved a fraction of an inch at a time. There was nothing particularly new in stop-frame animation itself. From the early flicker-books through to the sophisticated line drawings of Walt Disney, they all rely on persistency of vision; the simple fact that when film made that way is projected at the normal speed of 25 frames per second, it appears as a continuously moving picture.

It is a painstaking process: if genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains, then Ivor certainly qualified for the title. Multiply the number of frames per second by the total number of seconds in an episode, then add in the number of movements for each of the characters involved in the action, multiply that again by the number of episodes in a long series, and you arrive at an astronomical figure.

In 1965, I met Ivor through the BBC and Graham Clutterbuck of the production company FilmFair, and we began work on my stories for The Herbs. Ivor was still in Paris, working at home on the kitchen table, and he commuted regularly to London to seek approval for his puppets, each wonderfully detailed, but bearing the distinct family resemblance which was to become his hallmark.

He soon moved to England, The Herbs were first broadcast in 1968, and then came a spin-off, a series of 32 five-minute programmes called The Adventures Of Parsley. Ivor’s next major venture was Elizabeth Beresford’s highly successful Wombles, narrated by Bernard Cribbins, and first televised in 1973.

By now busy with many projects for FilmFair, in 1975 Ivor came to see me with the news that, “To tell you the truth, I’ve been playing around with an idea for filming Paddington.” When Ivor said “To tell you the truth …”, you knew that’s what you were getting – the truth, pure and simple – and so I was very happy to realise my stories of the bear from Peru in a new medium with him.

His idea was to combine a three-dimensional puppet Paddington with two-dimensional cardboard backgrounds and supporting cast, with Paddington the one colourful character set against muted backgrounds, rather like an early Peter Brook stage set. It sounds simple now, but at the time it was a groundbreaking departure, and it worked.

Ivor also instinctively appreciated the value of using a narrator. It gave his films a feeling of warmth, much like the BBC Children’s Hour on the radio, before the coming of television. Best of all, it allowed the viewer to be a party to the characters’ innermost thoughts, where a lot of the humour lies. For Paddington, we were lucky enough to have the voice of Michael (later Sir Michael) Hordern.

They were happy days; not always carefree, but certainly fulfilling, and I always felt very privileged to be involved in it. In 1975, Ivor and his wife Josiane set up their own company, Woodland Animations, to concentrate on making series for the BBC; among them Gran (1982), Bertha (1985), and to crown their achievement, the hugely successful Postman Pat (1980-91). They sold the firm in 2001.

Not only children, but adults, too, will be the poorer for Ivor’s death. He has bequeathed us a rich legacy of programmes that will continue to be shown for many years to come, all bearing his unique touch. To tell you the truth, that is a wonderful thing to have given the world.

He is survived by his wife and their son Sean.

· Ivor Wood, animator, born May 4 1932; died October 13 2004

Really hope you enjoyed reading this and if you did you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to start a whole 2 month special on Ivor Wood and Paddington Bear. There are so many amazing things to talk about and share so stay tuned!