In the late 60s Keith Chatfield started to create the wonderful world of The Hattytown Tales. Initially they were just stories for his son but would soon become a successful TV show of three series and writing and narrating them all himself. Together with the ingenious designs of Ivor Wood, who would animate the series along with Rory Fellowes and the ever focused Graham Clutterbuck at FilmFair it would go onto to be a great success. I spoke to Keith about this exciting time in his life, so i’ll leave most of the talking to him.
It started off as me writing bedtime stories for my son who was 6 years old. I was in marketing at the time and a guy I did a lot of work with said “this could be commercial”. With my own ideas I was never arrogant enough to think this could be commercial! But he took the idea to the BBC and Thames Television and they were both interested. It was Thames who came up with an offer first so we went with them.
I first met Ivor in Paris (FilmFair) when we flew over there with this concept of an idea. He was an incredible man whose dedication to this technique (stop motion) suddenly transformed a concept into a complete and utter reality. It was like walking into a complete township of Hattytown, a miracle really with cameras set up recording the movement of one arm and a leg just a fraction and 25 frames later you had a second of animation. Absolute dedication.
I remember Ivor himself being a very gentle and dedicated man, I suppose underneath he was quite intense but overall quite a quiet man. To me he was this god who turned concepts into reality.
As the productions moved on and they entered into the second series Keith candidly talked about how they were all improving, him with his scripting and voiceover, Ivor and Rory’s animation, pretty much the production process as a whole. Typically, even though the going was good, Graham and Ivor were still looking to push the boundaries:
The interesting development with Filmfair and Ivor was they were originally 12 minutes episodes, but after the first series of 24 they wanted to sell it to the continent which were normally 6 minutes. So they asked, could I devise stories that could be cut in half so they could be shown on British TV at 12 minutes and cut in half and given a opening jingle again to sell abroad. They never did sell abroad but we did produce 12 programmes that were interchangeable from a 12 to a 6 minute.
One thing I do remember clearly was I under wrote initially. Ivor had to add a lot of movement to fill in, unfortunately making the initial programmes very slow. Ivor never came back to me and said you could do with a bit more script here, he just filled it with his own talents. Which I think many of the younger children quite liked to see Sancho and Carrots kicking about in-between the trees.
It’s interesting to learn that Ivor was still keen to shorten the programmes and try to make them as marketable as possible. Something he, and Serge Danot on The Magic Roundabout, had strived so hard to do in those early days.
I’ve got the original model of Sancho that was made where the eyes were in the brim of the hat. But when it came to make the actual physical model the problems became the eyes looking out of the brim. It just didn’t work like it had done with the model. We had to extend the dome of the hat like you see it on the show.
At the end when it was all over they didn’t know what to do with all the hats and so I said I’ll take them. For years and years I had them in my loft but I didn’t put them in plastic sacks and the moths had a go at them. It was a tragedy really and eventually I donated them to Central St Martins in London for a guy there to recondition them. Sadly he never got round to it and I don’t what they did with them in the end.
The mystery continues. Looks like there is still a bit of digging to be done on the subject and those elusive puppets. Many thanks to Keith for this interview and his support for the blog. After The Hattytown Tales Keith went onto write other stories including his most successful set to date, those of the little panda Issi Noho. You can find out more about Keith on his website: http://www.issinoho.net/