After an initial pilot and concept was agreed with Michael Bond, the BBCs, Head of Children’s Programming, Monica Simms commissioned the first series of Paddington Bear. It was to consist of 31 episodes first airing at 5.40pm, just before the news, on 5th January 1975.
Mr Gruber cut-outs. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982
Even though the style was technically challenging and pioneering it was not this that caused problems, but how the stories were to be told and by whom? In back and forth letters now publicly available from the BBC Written Archives we can see how problematic it was for all parties to decide over this important matter. It was even considered at one stage to remove Michael Bond from writing duties due to him being too close to his creation. Thank goodness that was never followed through.
As if Ivor had not put enough on his plate in marrying 2D cut outs and a 3D Paddington, it was suggested by him that the cut-outs should have some sort of lip-sync! After some quick and insightful thoughts from Michael Bond it was decided against suggesting “that too much would inevitably draw attention to any defects and might in the end be distracting”. Michael at this time had had his fingers burned before in bringing his beloved Paddington to the screen and wasn’t about to lose quality with this more promising adaptation. It was therefore suggested that there would be an overseeing narrator telling the stories and no characterising of any of the characters including Paddington.
Michael Bond and Paddington. Image sourced from The Telegraph by Geoff Pugh
This approach was agreed by BBC producer Michael Cole, expressing that giving a specific voice to Paddington would “be a pity to narrow the publics image of them to one particular interpretation”. He did however insist on having “more related comment” from the star of the show in order to bring more anticipation and reaction to Paddingtons mishaps and calamities. This meant more expressiveness in the animation which Ivor was keen to exploit. He felt “that he could work better from the story and adapt it himself with Michaels [Bond] advice. The script was pinning him down too much”. Hence forth it was suggested that Ivor draw a storyboard for the initial episode, and throughout, in order to give more of a motion led and animator friendly tone. In a letter to the producer Michael Cole at the BBC, Michael Bond remarked that Ivor’s initial storyboard and drawings were “super, and of tremendous help at this stage”. This instantly must have allowed for more farce-like and slapstick moments that we have now all come to love.
The subject of narration however was still raising it’s ugly head and Michael Bond was still unsure in having the narrator characterising Paddington’s thoughts, “to have Paddington speak in his thoughts will really be a confession of failure… its is the first sign of madness – and Paddington is a particularly sane bear, with both paws firmly on the ground”. Rather ambiguously the letters sadly finish up here and as we all know it seems that Michael Bond didn’t quite manage to win over the BBC as we do hear Paddingtons narrated thoughts throughout the shows. It could however have been the choice of narrator that sold it to Michael in the end. He was keen to use the voice of Harry Worth as the narrator, as he mentions several times in letters to the BBC, however as we all know it was Sir Michael Hordern that took the role. As stated in’ The Life and Times of Paddington Bear’, “The first thing he said was ‘I don’t do voices.’. The voice he offered was the voice of Michael Hordern, which was thought to be perfect – indeed, it would now be hard to imagine any other voice accompanying Paddington.” Perhaps it was the gentle, relaxing tones of Hordern that alleviated Michael Bonds fears, taking Paddington to many successes on the small screen.
Look out for next weeks post when we delve deeper into the making of Paddington, looking at the technical challenge of the 2D/3D hybrid.
Quotes taken from the following sources
Letter from Michael Bond to Monica Simms, 31st January 1974, BBC Written Archives
Report on meeting at FilmFair by Michael Cole, 6th February 1974, BBC Written Archives
Letter from Michael Bond to Michael Cole, 20th February 1974, BBC Written Archives