Rory Fellowes on Ivor Wood and animating The Hattytown Tales

After school I dropped out and tuned in, as we used to say, and went to India and got very spiritually minded. When I got back I went to London to see an Indian guru, I was basically at a time when I was going to take all this spiritual stuff seriously or I wasn’t. Anyway this guy didn’t show and we were all hanging around and I fell into a conversation with a guy called Mike. He was an animator and I’d done some illustration and comic book work. I said I’d love to be an animator and he said he hated it, continuing “why don’t you apply for my job?”. So I did and after seeing some of my comic book illustrations Ivor said he liked my camera angles and offered me a job.

Rory Fellowes and The Hattytown Tales

Rory Fellowes and The Hattytown Tales

Now introductions don’t get much better than that. This week we’re talking to Rory Fellowes who was the animator on the The Hattytown Tales which Ivor Wood directed from 1970. It was Ivor’s second production at Filmfair after The Herbs and was Rory’s first venture into stop-frame animation.

So I was there from the end of 1970 at the Jacobs Wells Studio and the first thing I worked on [at Filmfair] was Hattytown. In the first two weeks he showed me what to do. We shot a test and he told me what was wrong with it and I shot another test. Ivor then went on holiday and left me to it. On the first day I managed to break the camera‘s pelicule and had to get it repaired. That cost £100, a lot of dosh in 1970…so they all got rather cross with me. Ivor was working on some 5 minute programmes for the BBC at the time so he just directed me. He was great to work with as he thought I was doing a good enough job so didn’t really get in my face.

Rory went onto animate the rest of series 1 and then series 2 and 3 of The Hattytown Tales. As the creator and narrator Keith Chatfield also mentioned in his interview, the shows got better and better as they all improved in their fields. However, new projects were never far off with Ivor developing shows with producer Graham Clutterbuck all the time.

Near the end of my time [at Filmfair] I crossed over with Barry Leith and animated the original test pilot for The Wombles. I made models and props animated for the pilot and then got kicked off the animation team by the BBC. They said my animation was too sophisticated, which was a high compliment and mirrored my later work where I animated creatures for horror films, like Hellraiser 2: Hellbound and Nightbreed. Barry Leith came along at that stage and took over the animation which the BBC preferred. I chose to leave and spoke to Graham Clutterbuck who gave me a little £10 a week retainer, which was nice. As I left I was cutting out backgrounds for Paddington, this was before they even had a bear. Ivor was thinking about doing it as cut-outs then, and it went 3D later on. That was the longest job I held in my life [2 years] as I’m a natural born freelancer, I never want to be anywhere more than a matter of months.

Sancho and Bobby painting from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Sancho and Bobby painting

From there Rory took a step in another direction, eventually ending up creating more adult content as he goes onto explain.

After I left Ivor I had a mixed period where I worked for Dick Williams, Hanna-Barbara and pop promos. It was through his work that I gained a reputation and ended being asked to be Animation Director on Hellraiser 2: Hellbound which now has huge cult following. Funnily enough while I was working on a series at Pinewood, they published my CV for the team and one of the guys from the Tech Dept. came running down the studio because he had grown up watching Hattytown. He’d never forgotten Hattytown yet everyone forgot Captain Scarlett which we were working on at the time.

His time with Ivor is remembered with great fondness and thankfulness for Ivor’s generosity on giving him a chance. In speaking with Rory I got a real sense that he was proud of the work that he created with The Hattytown Tales and feels that it should, as a whole, get more recognition as a show. In my opinion the reason it may not have done as well as something like The Herbs and The Wombles could be that it was shown on ITV and not the BBC. ITV was a lot newer then and didn’t have the favourable time slots that children’s TV producers sought after with the BBC.

Rory Fellowes on set animating Nightbreed Image taken from www. puppetsandclay.blogspot.co.uk

Rory Fellowes on set animating Nightbreed Image taken from www. puppetsandclay.blogspot.co.uk

Ivor was a very nice man and I remember on my very first day I was taught to make a cup of tea with a tea bag, not to leave it in too long and how much milk to add and so on. I made tea for him and he made tea for me. We only ever listened to talk radio, Radio 4, which is a habit I stuck with and I still agree with. Don’t listen to music whilst you’re trying to animate as your setting two sets of rhythms against each other.

Ivor had a little office, then we had a workshop where he taught me how the puppets were made. He took me shopping once to a little place in Tunrnham Green, which has gone now. We bought brass rods and ball bearings with holes drilled in them and then hammered it together ourselves. Cut the legs and used foam, felt and papier mache which is nowadays all latex. At this time Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton were setting up Aardman and Ivor was a great help to them, showing them how to do quick techniques.

Once again Rory reveals that Ivor was a very humble and generous man always helping people out and giving them a chance. It’s been mentioned in interviews in the past that he was friendly with Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton which is so nice to hear that the industry was close in those early days. Ivor was not integral to Aardmans success at all but wonderful to hear that he passed on some of his own successful techniques. Generosity is a running theme within his character that has been picked up by a lot of the people I’ve spoken to. Ivor was certainly a team player and was open to giving  breaks to a lot of  future successful animators.

All quotes are from Rory Fellowes.

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IN PICTURES 2 – THE HATTYTOWN TALES

Whilst I finish transcribing the interview with Hattytown Tales animator Rory Fellowes here’s some more on set images from ‘The Royal Portrait’ episode. The images are taken from the book of the same name published by World Distributors in 1970. Ivor Wood’s workmanship again is on full show, it’s just a shame the images aren’t quite in focus.

Front Cover from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Front Cover from The Hattytown Tales book ‘The Royal Portrait’. 1970

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King Ethelbert from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Carrots painting from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Sancho and Carrots painting

Sancho and Bobby painting from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Sancho and Bobby painting

King Ethelbert announcing the winner from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Announcing the winner of the portrait competition

In Pictures – The Hattytown Tales

So I finally got my hands on some of the picture books for The Hattytown Tales and more importantly some images from the show. Whilst the images aren’t the best (not even in the book) you can see with increased detail the workmanship of Ivors creations, which is fantastic.

Front cover of The Hattytown Tales book "Bobby's Flower Garden. 1970

Front cover of The Hattytown Tales book “Bobby’s Flower Garden. 1970

The images below are all taken from 1970s “Bobby’s Flower Garden” and tells the story of Bobby the policeman’s garden of flowers. Priced at 25p back in the day it’s a great little find. It was the first of a series of books that eventually went fully illustrated after Hattytown had aired the first time. Hope you enjoy.

Sancho and Carrots from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Carrots from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho, Carrots, Mr Wimple and Mr Bun from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho, Carrots, Mr Wimple and Mr Bun from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Milko from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Milko from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Carrots dig a hole from The Hattytown Tales

Sancho and Carrots dig a hole from The Hattytown Tales

Hattytown Tales creator Keith Chatfield on Ivor Wood

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.

Keith Chatfield and The Hattytown Tales

Keith Chatfield and The Hattytown Tales

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.

The Hattytown Tales - Sancho and Carrots the Donkey

The Hattytown Tales – Sancho and Carrots the Donkey

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/

Ivor Wood animating The Hattytown Tales

First off, apologies for the week delay in getting a post out to you all. It’s been a busy time over the last month both with the studio and being  in the process of buying a house, so the stress just piles on! Hopefully back to it now with this little treat and and introduction to some new posts.

Ivor Wood animating The Hattytown Tales. Late 1960s

Ivor Wood animating The Hattytown Tales. Late 1960s

It’s about time we ventured into the world of some of Ivor Wood’s, dare I say, lesser known works. In the late 1960’s, and as The Herbs first series was coming to an end, Graham Clutterbuck at FilmFair bought to Ivor’s attention a little set of stories called The Hattytown Tales. Written by Keith Chatfield they were originally stories meant for his children but one of his friends noticed how good they were and an bigger idea was born.

The surreal world in which The Hattytown Tales is set, is a world made up of anthropomorphic hats (and a Donkey) led by a Mexican hat called Sancho. The characters are each made of hats that correspond to their personalities and jobs. For example Mr Bun the Baker is a chefs hat and also lives in, you’ve guessed it, a chef’s hat!

The Hattytown Tales - Simon the Detective, Sancho and Mr Bun the Baker

The Hattytown Tales – Simon the Detective, Sancho and Mr Bun the Baker

This was Ivor’s third production and we can clearly see influences from his previous shows, in particular The Magic Roundabout. The sets (as you’ll see above) are very simple, using a white floor, blue sky and very stylised trees. Those three characteristics jump out immediately in relation to The Magic Roundabout and one can only guess that the budget was slightly more constrained compared to The Herbs with it’s elaborate set pieces. The show regardless of this  is a true testament to Ivor’s ingenuity and design. The characters feel rich and playful and full of heart. After all it couldn’t have been easy creating characters from hats.

Ivor went on to animate the first series solo before Film Fair hopped over the channel to set up in London. On his arrival Ivor looked to a young animator by the name of Rory Fellowes to take over the duty of animating The Hattytown Tales. It was Rory’s first real animation job and one that he learned a lot from, both practically and from Ivor. Amazingly we have a photographs of Ivor animating Hattytown in the lates 60s (above). It’s very small but it shows clearly Ivor’s great concentration and attention to detail as he adds a little movement to Carrots the Donkeys’ leg before a photograph is recorded.

I am lucky enough to have had interviews with both Keith Chatfield and Rory Fellowes that I’ll be bringing you over the coming weeks. They are both thoroughly interesting people and give a real insight into Ivor’s process and the work that was done on The Hattytown Tales, so stay tuned!

Hattytown Tales Overview

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Image sourced from The Hattytown Tales Annual 1969

Year first aired: 1969  |  Producer: FilmFair|  Ivor Wood’s Role: Designer and Director

Hattytown Tales was a series directed and designed by Ivor Wood and animated by Rory Fellowes for the, then European, production company FilmFair. It was based on the stories by Keith Chatfield who also voiced the series. Wood designed  and created all the puppets and sets for the show.