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
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!