Jess the Cat – The original cat scan

In 2001 Ivor had achieved what he’d set out to achieve with his company Woodland Animations and it was time to call it a day. He’d been able to generate more freedom in his work especially with the likes of Charlie Chalk, his only truly original show. He’d also created Bertha, Gran and not one but two series of Postman Pat. This doesn’t include all the Pat spin-offs he created along with some great work for Ronald Searle.

It was the end of an era and time to sell up and move on. The company was sold to Entertainment Rights who took everything in the buy-out, from tapes all the way through to the puppets. As it currently stands there is no knowledge of where the puppets went for Bertha, Gran and Charlie Chalk despite continued digging by Ivor’s wife Josiane. This is such a shame but we will not give up hope in the fact that they are out there somewhere.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that many of the sets, props and puppets of Postman Pat were indeed kept and stored with the care and attention they deserved. None more so than everyones favourite cat, Jess. In 2003 Cosgrove Hall revamped Pat and his friends for a brand new series. They were careful to create a show that exactly mirrored what Ivor had achieved and this meant creating new versions of the puppets in their exact likenesses.

Puppet creation was all down to Manchester based puppet makers Mackinnon and Saunders. They were lucky enough to gain access to Ivor’s originals and use them as a guide when creating the new armatures. However when it came to making Jess it proved difficult at face value to tell exactly how she was made. With a deep respect for Ivor’s work and puppets, it was not an option to strip Jess down to find out.

It was co-owner Peter Saunders who then had a brain wave. He had a friend who worked at the Royal Infirmary, so he took Jess down there and got her x-rayed. Resulting in the original ‘black and white cat’ you see below:

An x-ray of Ivor Wood's original Jess the Cat puppet for Postman Pat Series 2.

An x-ray of Ivor Wood’s original Jess the Cat puppet for Postman Pat Series 2.

As you can see from the above it worked a treat and the x-ray showed up all of Jess’s inner workings even down to her wire whiskers and bendable ears. It’s so nice to see that the stop-motion community is so understanding when it comes to others work and also great for all us fans to actually be able to see how Ivor’s puppets were made.

The model is most likely made for hand-made ball and socket joints joined together with brass rods. The lumpy bits are more than likely foam or similar to help pad out the more muscular areas. Wire was used for the ears and whiskers so that Jess’s features could gain more expression. Also note the pin and pin head used for Jess’s nose!

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4 thoughts on “Jess the Cat – The original cat scan

  1. Alex the Pensmith says:

    How fascinating Tom! It’s incredible to see even from a simple X-ray how much care and detail Ivor put it into the puppets.

    I don’t know if this will be of any help, but on YouTube just before Christmas I saw that some of the original Pat puppets – specifically the Series 2 models of Pat, Mrs Goggins and Ted Glen – were on display at the Cosgrove Hall exhibition that was at the Waterside Arts Centre in Manchester (albeit with slightly yellower hands from 20+ years of storage): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0dh8lsnunM

    My immediate guess would be that the Charlie Chalk, Gran, Bertha puppet etc were amongst those that didn’t get put out for exhibition? Probably worth a line of enquiry with whoever owns them now.

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    • Tom Sanders says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for the comment. It is great to see and a detail we don’t have for many of the other puppets.

      The Cosgrove Hall exhibition did feature some Postman Pat puppets but they were for the 3rd series of Pat which was made by Cosgrove Hall. The Postman Pat and Jess in the exhibition were the puppets that were loaned to us for the Manchester Animation Festival talk.

      This sadly means that no Charlie Chalk etc 😦

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  2. Tony Clark says:

    It looks like dressmakers pins (sowing pins) were used in Jess’s ears.

    Ivor seemed to use them a lot, the Wombles clothes are often fastened on with pins and he would use them to hold down the Wombles puppets on set.

    Lovely photo/X-ray.

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    • Tom Sanders says:

      Indeed he would and I think you’re right about the ears. I know George Laban mentioned the pins in my interview. He said some of the sets had wooden floors through which you had to stick the pins!! Ouch!

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