A tribute to Trumpton creator Gordan Murray

The Ivor Wood blog is breaking with tradition for today, but for very good reason as we regrettably inform you all of the death of another important stop motion animation pioneer, Gordan Murray.

Gordan Murray and Trumoton puppets

Gordan Murray with his most famous Trumpton characters (2006)

Gordan Murray was the man behind the much loved characters and worlds of Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigleywere. Born in London on 3rd May 1922, Gordan led a military life in his early years fighting in the Second World War on the beaches of Normandy. It wasn’t until after the war that he set his heart on the world of children’s entertainment, setting up his own touring puppet company in the 1950s.

This soon led to bigger and better things and he was soon creating content for the BBC. As he progressed he was given the opportunity to become Head of BBC Children’s, of which he turned down to set up his own production company. This was certainly the right avenue to go down as it was from this studio that Gordan and his team created the loveable array of characters that we’ve all grown to love. Who doesn’t remember “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub”, and all the merry villagers of Trumpton and Camberwick Green. The first of Gordans creations, Trumpton was shown from 1966 on the BBC before the midweek news and ran for only 13 episodes.

The Trumpton Fire Brigade

Trumpton Fire Brigade – “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub.”

Much like Ivor, Gordan seemed to have a natural flair when it came to creating memorable characters out of simple materials. All the puppets were made from a ping pong balls for a heads and foam latex for the bodies and it was these perfectly spherical heads that we’ve all come to remember.

As Gordan Murray was creating his most famous works Ivor was just finishing up on his, The Magic Roundabout. Ivor was still in France in 1966 but was verging on a move to England under the banner of FilmFair. We’ve spoken in the past about the real surge in stop motion in Children’s Television at the time. Programmes like The Magic Roundabout and Trumpton were hugely influential in this movement and paved the way for Ivor’s further career and all the much loved shows he created.

Gordan Murray has died aged 95 but long may he live in his celebrated and cherished creations that countless generations have grown and continue to love.

Postman Pat series 2 with George Laban

Picture the year it’s 1994 and Ivor Wood is finishing up at Woodland Animations. At Woodland alone he’s created the hugely successful Postman Pat along with Gran, Bertha and fan favourite Charlie Chalk. As he began to wind down to retirement the BBC reared their head and persuaded a reluctant Ivor to produce a second series of Postman Pat. As usual Ivor looked to fresh talent to animate Pat and looked to a young George Laban to fill this role, as George goes onto explain:

I went to Manchester poly and did my degree there and then took my first job at Bumper films.When I was just finishing there I sent my CV out to loads of people and got a phone call from Ivor asking “Have you ever heard of Postman Pat?”. Funnily I got two offers at the same time, one for Molly’s Gang based in Clerkenwell Studios, so I went for interviews for both on the same day. I got both jobs but took the chance to work for Ivor.

George Laban with Postman Pat Courtesy of Toy Trader, March 1996

George Laban on the set of Postman Pat series 2          Image sourced from Toy Trader, March 1996

George Laban with Paddington Bear

George Laban with another Ivor Wood creation, Paddington Bear

Georges decision led him to start work with Ivor in January 1995 at Woodland Animation’s studio in Fulham. This was a change for George in terms of studio set up. (You can see an earlier post on this here and see Ivor’s letter to George offering him the job).

It was a very small studio about 20ft square. We had a set in the middle on a big table with access down one side and the other. We hung all the houses on the walls down the side and a chap called Ian Jones, who was production manager, helped me set up and make the props. He’d been to the same college as me so he knew me well. It was the three of us eventually that would set up, Ivor, Ian and I. All the props were in boxes piled on the sides, with no order to them. A lot of times parents used to write in and say “Why has Granny Dryden got the same furniture as mrs so and so?” This was because when we set up we’d have the rough layout of the rooms and just dress it with anything that came out of the box.

It was a little cottage industry, everyone in that little room. We’d have Ian in there smoking his roll ups, so the room would be full of smoke. Then there was a little corridor with a room for the toilet and another for a coffee machine. Then Ivor had his little office. He’d be on his pipe so it would get quite smokey but it was nice. You’d go in and they’d be no sort of regime, you came in and then left when you were done. It was all really relaxed and that was probably because Ivor had had enough it all. He’d always be saying “Oh I’m fed up of all this” but you knew deep down that he liked it.

Ivor Wood with Mrs Hubbard's bike Courtesy of Toy Trader, March 1996

Ivor Wood with Mrs Hubbard’s bike. Image Sourced from Toy Trader, March 1996

Georges relationship with Ivor and Ian truly made for a family atmosphere. George was the only animator working on the second series so much different to todays high production costs and employees. We have more from George next time where he’ll be speaking all about the animation process. For now though I’ll leave him with the last word.

Ivor really looked after us, even after the production was over. He was a really genuine bloke, who took a risk with me, who’d barely done any production animation. It took me the first episode to get into the flow of things and Ivor said he amazed that I’d even managed to get Pats limp into it. But I don’t think it was deliberate it was because one of the puppet legs was slightly longer that the other.

[All quotes are from George Laban]

Postman Pat sketches by Ivor Wood Part 2

Following on from the other weeks post I thought I’d share some more rare sketches of Postman Pat by Ivor Wood. They were created for the booklet that accompanied the video ‘English is Fun with Postman Pat’ which aids French children to learn English.

I love these sketches and Ivor’s style is so expressive, really getting to the heart of the pose and the attitude of the characters. Anyway enough from me. I hope you enjoy all his many characters. Some familiar faces I think you’ll agree.

Postman Pat sketches by Ivor Wood

Peter Fogg, Postman Pat, Doctor Gilberson and Ted Glen. Sketches by Ivor Wood

Postman Pat sketches by Ivor Wood

Mrs Pottage, Mrs Goggins, Postman Pat and Jess the Cat. Sketches by Ivor Wood

Postman Pat sketches by Ivor Wood

Postman Pat in all manner of poses. Sketches by Ivor Wood