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:

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 designing The Wombles

In the early 1970’s Ivor Wood embarked on what would become his most successful show to date, The Wombles. Ivor had just shipped over from France to head up the animation department at FilmFair. The new London offices were set up under the watchful and creative eye of producer Graham Clutterbuck, a man always on the hunt for investing in new shows and ideas. On their arrival he was given a copy of Elisabeth Beresfords, The Wombles and the knowledge that the BBC was set to commission it under the proviso that the characters changed their look. This may sound like an easy task for the king of characters Mr Ivor Wood but this was not to be as easy as first made out.

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford - Illustrations by Margaret Gordon, Puffin 1968

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford – Illustrations by Margaret Gordon, Puffin 1968

After some digging I’ve unearthed the very first book with the original Illustrations of The Wombles by Margaret Gordon. Within these illustrations you’ll instantly see that they are very different from The Wombles that we’ve all come to know and love. From the outset we are given a description by Elisabeth Beresford that sounds a little similar to our familiar Wombles…but not quite.

The Wombles are a bit like teddy bears to look at but they have real claws and live beneath Wimbledon Common…

Perhaps it’s here that we see why the BBC didn’t like the current look. Maybe the teddybear was too cute or maybe the idea of claws was a bit scary. The juxtaposition of these characteristics also poses a problem. Are they cute and cuddly or something to be a little afraid of. Ivor certainly had his work cut out.

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford - Illustrations by Margaret Gordon, Puffin 1968

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford – Illustrations by Margaret Gordon, Puffin 1968

The Wombles as we see them in Margaret Gordons illustrations are a lot rounder and fluffier than once would come to expect. They also have little button eyes and small paws, not so good for making and inventing you might think. In Ivor’s final Womble designs he presents characters that are both faithful to the book descriptions and also in keeping with his design sensibilities. Ivor switched up those small paws, changing them to bigger more workable appendages. This more than likely would have been an animation choice as smaller limbs can be tricker to manoeuvre and ultimately create and fix.

After speaking to Barry Leith it was the noses that were a sticking point and it took a few, frustrating, back and forths with the BBC to get it right. The second design “developed a snout and a bit more of a tail and it was standing on two feet, not on all fours but we looked at it and thought it was a bit bloody rat like” so it was back to the drawing board. Finally Ivor elongated the snout, made the ears floppy and made them all a little less rotund. Interestingly they kept their little button eyes, which in my opinion helped their aesthetic. As a whole The Wombles are quite large limbed, nosed and eared and cleverly keeping those eyes small creates difference and makes them all the more cute and cuddly. No claws also makes a huge difference.

Overall it’s an interesting comparison and one that really shows off Ivor’s ingenuity and talent in character design. He ultimately created characters that were simple enough to be shown on those small grainy TVs of the 70s whilst keeping a charming style that mirrored that of the original books descriptions. I’ll leave you with Elisabeth Beresfords original description of Great Uncle Bulgaria and you’ll see that he really hasn’t changed at all.

The head of the Wimbledon Wombles is Great Uncle Bulgaria. He is very old indeed and his fur has turned snow white and he feels the cold rather badly. So during the winter months he mostly sits in his own room in a large rocking-chair wearing a tartan shawl and two pairs of spectacles. He uses one pair for reading The Times newspaper and the other for looking at the young Wombles who have misbehaved…

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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.

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!

Technical side of Paddington

After the success of Michael Bond and Ivor Wood’s first venture ‘The Herbs’, it was only a matter of time before another spark was ignited. After The Herbs Ivor moved to London with FilmFair and created the most successful British animation to that date, The Wombles. As the first series drew to a close he handed animation duties over to animator Barry Leith, focusing his attention on a new project, animating Paddington Bear.

Ivor was not one to rest on his laurels and was always seeking a new challenge, wanting to continually push boundaries. After approaching Michael Bond with his concept for Paddington they decided to go full steam ahead with Michael expressing his pleasure in a letter to the Head of Children’s programmes at the BBC, Monica Simms that Ivor had “come up with a very exciting and visually effective way of presenting the Paddington stories”

Lighting Paddington. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

Lighting Paddington. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

The technique as many will be aware was revolutionary within children’s programmes and commercial animation as a whole. Having 2D paper cut outs for 90% of the show with only Paddington and his personal objects being created as 3D models, the production method was ambitious and risky, having never been attempted within such tight production schedules and budgets. In many ways it was economical in that the sets could be quickly created and changed but aesthetics such as the lighting and the marrying of 2D and 3D was to be a tough technical challenge for all involved. We can see it in the image above how there were lots of bright white card layers to light correctly. Having this abundance of reflective 2D layers made it a great challenge to create the right depth and shadows. Once more Ivor knew it was going to be difficult but as always was looking at the end result, knowing that it would be entirely worth it in the end. Animator on the second series and specials, Barry Leith goes on to explain the image in an article for Animator Mag, winter 1982, “I wouldn’t say I was the best lighting cameraman in the world. I use things such as cut out shapes in front of a lamp to make the lighting look more interesting. It looks like the sun coming through trees rather than being splashed with light“.

Paddington and the Brown family. Image sourced from www.paddington.com

Paddington and the Brown family. Image sourced from http://www.paddington.com

This technical and artistic challenge wasn’t to show off the talents of Ivor and the team at FilmFair but was an ingenious aesthetic choice to express Paddingtons character. From the moment we meet him he is an outsider, sent from Peru by his Aunt Lucy and in need of being looked after. To all those around him he is different. It is therefore a clever decision by Ivor to make Paddington the only 3D character within the show. This, from the get go, reveals him as a singularity, an oddity, helping us all to sympathise with his endless misunderstandings and calamities. And obviously he’s a teddy bear at heart so it’s great to have him looking cuddly.

Paddington must have felt like a risk for all involved from Graham Clutterbuck at FilmFair, Monica Simms at the BBC and Michael Bond himself after a run of failings bringing Paddington to the screen.The unwavering and ambitious Ivor Wood was not deterred and along with his infectious optimism and backing of all those around him he created a programme that not only surpassed all other screen incarnations of Paddington but perhaps created one of the most definitive characterisations of the famed bear from Peru.

Quotes taken from the following sources:
Letter from Michael Bond to Monica Simms, 31st January 1974. BBC Written Archives
Barry Leith interview by David Jefferson for Animator Mag, Winter 1982