On set with Paddington Bear from the BBC Archive

My apologies for the long wait between posts, life has somewhat got in the way of late. Hopefully this will more than make up for it.

Barry Leith Animating Paddington

Barry Leith Animating Paddington

In 1980 the area surrounding Baker Street in London was looking to be re-developed. Shopkeepers and businesses that had made their home there were not happy with the new scheme and looked to put a stop to it.

The BBC programme ‘Nationwide’ went to investigate and see what made this area so special and why it should be saved. After it’s early fame through Mr Sherlock Holmes it was now Paddington Bears turn illuminate this corner of London. At the time Barry Leith at FilmFair’s Blandford Studios was busy animating everyones favourite Peruvian Bear. By this time Ivor had left FilmFair but the footage below shows a rare glimpse into the studio that he called home for so many years. It is also really nice to see the sets and puppet that he helped create. Make sure you stay watching to the end as there is a great interview with the charismatic Graham Clutterbuck, owner of the London arm of FilmFair.

Many thanks to Tony Clark for pointing this one out! You can see the full film here or watch the part from Paddington below:

POSTMAN PAT ORIGINAL CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS – PART 3

Finally it’s time for me to get part 3 over to you of the Postman Pat descriptions. Let’s delve in with some of Greendales best loved, yet secondary characters.

Dr Sylvia Gilbertson - Postman Pat

Dr Sylvia Gilbertson – 35 – She holds a surgery three days a week in Garner Bridge and drives about the valley in a bright new yellow Renault visiting patients. She also does some work in the small hospital and maternity unit in Pencaster and delivers many of the Greendale babies. She is capable and efficient with a reassuringly competent “no nonsense” manner. She also has a good singing voice and is an important member of the Pencaster Amateur Operatic Society. Her husband, also a doctor, has a thriving practice in Pencaster and her daughter, Sarah, goes to the village school in Garner bridge.

Well nobody can doubt that Dr Gilbertson has a backstory, it’s got lot’s of detail. We sadly never get to see her in her ‘yellow Renault’ and I don’t believe that she ever delivers a baby, so we’ll have to take author John Cunliffe’s word for that. However an interesting note is that she was actually called Nurse Gilbertson in a previous version and was joined by a Dr Pepperell. So let me introduce the good doctor and nurse to you:

Nurse Gilbertson – 37 – District Nurse. Drives an old Morris Miner and has delivered every baby in the valley for the past fifteen years. Capable and efficient, she stands no nonsense from young or old. She inspects children at the village school and runs the clinic with Dr Pepperell in Garner Bridge.

Dr Pepperill – 41 – More interested in hunting and Gilbert and Sullivan than medicine but is a good friend and advisor to all who know him. A strong member of the Pencaster Amateur Operatic Society and a J.P.A waggish humourist.

Well there we are. Now we know why he wasn’t included, he’s got no interest in medicine. Ideal for a doctor! However Gilbertson takes on his operatic talents and retains her demeanour, even gaining an upgrade in car.

Reverent Peter Timms - Postman Pat

The Reverent Peter Timms – 61 – Vicar of St Thomas’, Garner Bridge with a small sister chapel at High Thwaites also in his care. A comfortable fellow he looks very like John Betjeman and is well fitted to a rural parish. Miss Hubbard often bullies him into organising much more than he has wish to do.

Not quite sure Ivor carried over the look-a-like to the puppets design as I don’t remember Betjemen having curly grey hair and round glasses. However we once again get a really great insight into his life and also a mention of a new place, High Thwaites, which helps to broaden the area around Greendale. Also nice to see some character interplay with Miss Hubbard, seems very typical behaviour of her.

Sam Waldron - Postman Pat

Sam Waldren – 28 – Mobile shop owner. He lives in Pencaster and visits Greendale two or three times a week. A town man with town ways he could never live in Greendale. Smartly dressed, toothbrush moustache, likes going to the races. Quick, knowing and something of a fixer.

I was excited to see Sam’s name in the documents as he’s always intrigued me and the description doesn’t disappoint. He seems a bit of a chancer and very much a ‘townie’. Ivor really captured his essence in his model.

Well that’s it for the character descriptions. Quite the run through and quite the detail. It’s really nice to see that the majority of the written word seems to translate into the show. It really goes to show how meticulous Ivor was in trying to bring to life stories and characters that went far beyond mere puppets on screen. Ivor and John Cunliffe’s partnership, much like Michael Bonds before, go beyond animation to create a world and sense of belonging that these characters inhabit.

I’ll leave you with some notes below from John as he came to the decision on the children’s names and who should attend the school. He was very aware that they should be linked to adults from the village and not just a random bunch of students.

Bill Thompson, Charlie Pringle, Sarah Gilbertson, Lucy Selby, Tom and Katy Pottage - Postman Pat

Bill Thompson – To be reduced in age to 11.

Charlie Pringle  – 9 – son of the headmaster. A boy of many hobbies and interests – the school “brains” and amateur scientist.

Lucy Selby – 7 – the policeman’s daughter. A quiet, dreamy child. You never can tell what she is thinking.

Sarah Gilbertson – 8 – Lively, bouncy and inquisitive.

Tom and Katy Pottage – Twins aged 6.

The Technicalities of Postman Pat

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins

In early 1979 Ivor Wood was coming to the end of the lengthy pre-production and concept design process of Postman Pat. Scripts were honed and budgets were agreed. It was now Ivor’s job, at his newly formed Woodland Animations, to create the world and characters that would inhabit and bring to life John Cunliffe’s stories.

Whilst looking through the Written Archives at the BBC I stumbled across this ingenious and remarkable letter that Ivor had written to, the then Executive Producer for Childrens BBC, Cynthia Felgate. Whilst I am unsure as to what the preceding letter had outlined, it appears to have mentioned the fact that within the scripts there was a lot of action regarding roaming cattle and wildlife. This is something Ivor wasn’t so keen to encourage as he details in his reply:

My first reaction was one of complete misery; How on earth does one animate herds of cows, ducks playing on water, herons and hawks flying, lambs frisking in a field, not to mention the hens…

However…

Having read and reread the material, I laid the project to rest and, whilst going about my business, gave the matter much thought.

And much thought he did indeed give it. Ever the optimist and always willing to create the best possible solution to problems, Ivor came up with some very clever ideas on how to overcome this horrendous obstacle:

Mountains, valleys, lakes, woods and farmland: If the landscape is a wide extensive and extensible set, the human figures will have to be rather small. This in puppet form makes rather unmanageable or stiff animation, not to mention coping with the cat who will be minute.

If you wish to maintain this “rolling hills into the distance” atmosphere and keep characters to a manageable size, a little cheating will be necessary. I suggest that we use either very simple one tone segments that fit like a theatre set…

Now this is pretty much what was created in the show we know and love. A simple yet effective use of forced perspective, something film makers and set designers have been using for years and years. However Ivor doesn’t give up there and goes onto outline another idea….

Or maybe a back projection for the far distance with the foreground in true decor style.

Example of the back projection for Postman Pat sets by Ivor Wood

Example of the back projection for Postman Pat sets by Ivor Wood

Now this is a bit ‘out there’ but nothing compared to the other idea he had to alleviate the need for flocks and herds of animals:

No amount of animation could possibly compete with nature, therefore would it be possible to introduce ‘Motorised Photography’ – the still camera that can take up to 5 frames per second (with a special magazine: 250 frames before reloading).

These running sequences could then be put onto 16m/m film, each photo linked by quick or slow cross-dissolves, giving a motion effect with maybe a freeze frame start and finish to underline the switch from animation – real photography – back to animation.

Note: Motorised Photography would be less expensive than a camera crew using 16m/m. But there is a snag – ie how long do you wait for the ducks or the heron?

…Amazing! It’s certainly creative but wow what a headache if the BBC had said yes. Drawbacks that spring to my mind are endless, adding a further stop-motion element to an animators schedule that relied on them not only animating the puppets but also making sure the live action footage was being held at the right frame each time. The ability of photographing animals doing exactly the right thing and making sure all perspectives etc were correct…the list goes on. If this was put into practice it would turn into the puppet animation working around the ‘live action’ due to that fact that animals aren’t always going to do exactly what you tell them. This could have led to long pauses and stilted action.

It certainly was ambitious but something tells me that Ivor’s complex wording and subtle negativities were all part of the plan to put the BBC off doing anything over complicated. I’ll leave you with Ivor’s last paragraph and see what you think.

I really think that this project is in need of a style to express itself without giving nightmares to the animator. (Is this wishful thinking on my behalf?).

All quotes and ‘back projector illustration’ are from a letter written by Ivor Wood to Cynthia Felgate at Children’s BBC. The letter is dated 8th February 1979 and permission has been granted to the author by the BBC Written Archives.

Pat and Parsley make Radio Times Top 50

Happy New Year to one and all and what a start to the year. This week The Radio Times announced the Top 50 Greatest Children’s TV Shows of all time and you guessed it Ivor’s work makes not 1 but 3 appearances!

RadioTimes Front Cover - 13-19 January 2018

After all these years Postman Pat is still grabbing the headlines and holding the front page! Firstly it’s so great to see a couple of early publicity shots both on the cover and inside from Series 2. The latter being a great picture from the “Postman Pat Follows a Trail” episode. As you’ll find out below Postman Pat comes 26 out of 50 in the poll so just under halfway. A true testament to Ivor’s endearing work. Also following close behind is The Adventures of Parsley at no. 27. If I’m being honest an odd choice compared to that of the original Herbs or perhaps even The Wombles or Magic Roundabout but nonetheless Ivor’s work once more takes centre stage.

Radio Times - Top 50 Greatest Children's TV Shows - 13-19 January 2018

Radio Times – Top 50 Greatest Children’s TV Shows – 13-19 January 2018

Radio Times - Top 50 Greatest Children's TV Shows - 13-19 January 2018

Radio Times – Top 50 Greatest Children’s TV Shows – 13-19 January 2018

As if this wasn’t enough The Magic Roundabout even gets a little mention from Radio Times Editor Alison Graham. Placing it no. 2 in her Top 5 speaking about how it was “adored by all the family…thanks to Eric Thompson’s charming funny, knowing, surreal narration”.  Not only is Ivor represented through his shows but it is worth pointing out that it’s his whole career that is celebrated from start to finish. The Magic Roundabout being his first creation and Postman Pat Series 2 being the last thing he ever did. Just goes to show that Ivor’s talent and dedication never wavered throughout his 30+ year career, still enabling him to deliver timeless shows time and time again.

With a panel of experts from all fields of Children’s TV including Noel Edmonds, Peter Purves, Joe Godwin and David Walliams it’s so great to see Ivor’s work being celebrated once more. It’s also a lovely segway into what I hope will be a good few months celebrating everyones favourite postman. I’ve finally got all the permissions I need to write up the next few articles so I look forward to sharing lot’s of new things with you in the coming weeks.

 

Paddington creator Michael Bond passes away aged 91

Michael Bond and Paddington. Image sourced from The Telegraph by Geoff Pugh

Michael Bond and Paddington. Image sourced from The Telegraph by Geoff Pugh

This afternoon came with some very sad news, Michael Bond the creator of Paddington Bear and The Herbs has died aged 91 following a short illness. Best know for writing, nurturing and bringing to life Britains favourite bear, Paddington, he has bought joy to millions of children and adults across the globe. The Paddington stories have never been out of print since their first publication in 1958 and have spawned many further creations including a hugely successful film, of which a sequel is being created as we speak, and more fondly a stop motion children’s show in 1975.

Ivor Wood animating Paddington Bear Image taken from book Life and Times of Paddington Bear, 1988

Ivor Wood animating Paddington Bear Image taken from book Life and Times of Paddington Bear, 1988

Back in 1965 Michael was working as a cameraman for the BBC with a yearning passion for writing and storytelling. This passion and his BBC contacts lead him to write bits and pieces for the channel. It was this writing that peaked the interest of then head of BBC children’s television, Monica Simms. She, impressed by Michael’s ability approached Graham Clutterbuck who was the producer over at, production company, FilmFair. She approached him not with an idea but with a man.

It was here that he first met Ivor Wood who would become a crucial collaborator and later, dear friend. Ivor at the time was still living in Paris but this didn’t stop Michael immediately getting to work, eventually coming up with the concept for The Herbs. The show was a huge success after it’s first broadcast in 1968, leading to a spin off show ‘The Adventures of Parsley’ and thus spawning the start of a very fruitful partnership in Ivor, Graham and Michael. Here in Michael’s own words, he describes their next project…Paddington.

“In 1975 Ivor came to see me with the news that, “To tell you the truth, I’ve been playing around with an idea for filming Paddington.” When Ivor said “To tell you the truth …”, you knew that’s what you were getting – the truth, pure and simple – and so I was very happy to realise my stories of the bear from Peru in a new medium with him.

His idea was to combine a three-dimensional puppet Paddington with two-dimensional cardboard backgrounds and supporting cast, with Paddington the one colourful character set against muted backgrounds, rather like an early Peter Brook stage set. It sounds simple now, but at the time it was a groundbreaking departure, and it worked.

They were happy days; not always carefree, but certainly fulfilling, and I always felt very privileged to be involved in it.”

Their continued friendship over the years led to the creation of a second series of Paddington and a series of specials featuring that famous Singing in the Rain parody in Paddington Goes to the Movies. As well as this there were illustrative collaborations for both The Herbs and Paddington in the form of story books and Paddington cartoon strips that were printed in the London Evening News.

The Herbs - Parsley the Lion

The Herbs – Parsley the Lion

Michael was very particular in how his penned creations were portrayed, turning down a Paddington theatre show, films and and even an Ivor pitched 2D cartoon. His attention to detail, much like Ivor’s, shines through in his TV and illustrative work. Each collaboration is true to character and perfectly portrays their written counter-part.

Michaels writing was in a style that never looked down on it’s audience, straight talking and at times blunt but always with a dash of humour and frivolity. He will be best remembered for Paddington Bear but his writing (and animation) career started with The Herbs, proving that writers and film-makers can work work harmoniously and successfully together.

In the words of Ivor’s wife Josiane, who knew the pair well, it is now “certainly the end of an era”. Although Ivor Wood, Graham Clutterbuck and Michael Bond have now passed on, the old friends have not just left some incredible works but also a legacy that will continue to be shared, enjoyed and cherished for generations to come. Michael Bond was a true storyteller and someone that has warmed the hearts of so many with his tales of that little bear from Peru.

“I don’t worry about death. I sort of feel it’s good to get to 91 and I can’t complain. And I hope Paddington might come with me, ­wherever we go. Up or down.”

“It wouldn’t be kind to tell Paddington to come with me if I was going down.”

Michael Bond – April 2017

Michael Bond died 28th June 2017 aged 91

Ivor Wood talks Wombles in Radio Times

This post needs me to do very little talking. Whilst browsing Ebay the other week I stumbled across a great find! A Radio Times magazine article from 3-9 February 1973. This was the week that The Womble’s first appeared on air on British Television. Both Ivor and Womble creator Elisabeth Beresford held an interview on the subject of bringing The Wombles to life. Along with some words from the man himself there’s also  a rare photo of him with his trademark pipe and also some candid Womble puppet shots.

So here it is. Enjoy!

Radio Times - 3-9 February 1973

Radio Times – 3-9 February 1973

Interview with Elisabeth Beresford and Ivor Wood on The Wombles first TV appearance - Radio Times - 3-9 February 1973

Interview with Elisabeth Beresford and Ivor Wood on The Wombles first TV appearance – Radio Times – 3-9 February 1973

Interview with Elisabeth Beresford and Ivor Wood on The Wombles first TV appearance - Radio Times - 3-9 February 1973

Interview with Elisabeth Beresford and Ivor Wood on The Wombles first TV appearance – Radio Times – 3-9 February 1973

Nuggets from you the followers

Big thanks to everyone whose been in touch over the last few weeks it’s been great fun looking through all your amazing and insightful comments. The information that you put forward was so good that I thought it deserved a post of it’s own. So in no particular order here are those intriguing little tit-bits.

Firstly thanks to Nick a few weeks ago for discovering where the second Paddington Bear puppet is and most interestingly where it’s been.

Paddington Bear puppet – Image taken from the http://www.bbc.co.uk

Great blog and a very interesting read! I found this article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-36372330 which mentions Gyles (Brandreth) had an original Paddington Bear too. I have also found the the Museum of London had Paddington on display in the last couple of years and also the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon….did you know about these? Looking forward to more updates!

Nick

A great find and it’s really nice to know that both bears are now accounted for. I know that Barry Macey (Paddington animator) had one of the puppets in his shed for a long while as he used to take photos of the puppet for magazines and books. Will have to enquire as to what one that was.

Next up, with a surprise I wasn’t expecting, is Gareth Jones who has spotted another cross-over in Ivor’s work. Would you believe Charlie Chalks Merrytwit Island actually appears in Postman Pat…

Looking at that, remember Postman Pat Takes Flight and the film that was on it has someone on a hot air balloon and it looked like it was floating over trader jones store do you think there’s a connection to this character?

Gareth Jones

At first, I’ll admit, I was sceptical but take a look for yourself above. The Major is featured showing a film of his travels and he indeed does take a hot air balloon ride over Merrtwit and Trader Jones cabin. A great find and it makes total sense as Series 2 of Pat was created after Charlie Chalk so the sets would have certainly been knocking around. It is rumoured that Ivor didn’t much want to produce the 2nd series of Pat as he felt it had run it’s course. However placing a Charlie Chalk reference within it must have raised his spirits.

In addition to this point, Jay from The Herbs Homestead (a superb blog all on The Herbs www.theherbs.homestead.com) cleverly points out in reference to the article on the lost Charlie Chalk character (Max the Big Game Hunter)

Maybe the similarities with an earlier character (Max the Big Game Hunter) were just too striking ?
“Hunter…..wouldn’t hurt a fly……always in trouble with Captain Mildred”
Just replace Captain Mildred with Lady Rosemary and you’ve effectively got Sir Basil from The Herbs.

Jay

Again thanks so much for all these great finds and information. It’s a pleasure to do this blog and with you all contributing it makes it all the more satisfying. Hopefully they’ll be some more great finds for you in the next post.

I’d also like to say a big thanks to Gill who has kindly sent this months Waitrose magazine to me as it has an interview with Sir Michael Bond, author of Paddington and The Herbs. I’ll makes sure to give it a read!