My TV ‘career’ started during the late 1970’s, when I got fed up with my advertising and publishing ‘career’….
I only got paid every 3 months…and a lot of the time I was literally close to starving. That was because my money from ‘Agents’ was invariably late…if it arrived at all!
It was also what I had wanted as a professional career since studying animation and graphic design at The West Sussex College of Art & Design (Worthing Art School!)
But!… How to get into the industry?
That was as much a problem back then as it is today. I started in local papers, advertising, cartoons, illustration etc. eventually managing to get into the wonderful world of animation by being a ‘character designer’.
I have to thank my Dutch client, publisher and old friend FRANK FEHMERS, for starting me off along the celluloid path
I was commissioned by Frank to design and illustrate a book called ‘NO MAN’S VALLEY’. I moved to Holland and illustrated most of it at Frank’s house in Amsterdam.
Frank did a deal with American animator and producer Bill Melendez and it was turned into an animated TV one-off. I had nothing to do with the film apart from designing the original characters and background designs on which they based their production.
NO MAN’S VALLEY
After that, Frank came up with another Dutch project…Just like ‘No Man’s Valley’ its underlying ‘message’ was an environmental one. The project was called ‘The Bluffers’ which was eventually broadcast in the UK by Channel 4.
This time, after designing the initial characters etc. I went with Frank to Novato, Marin County, Northern California. He’d found and hired, ‘The Mill Valley Animation Studio’ to make a 13-episode series for TV.
Frank immediately returned to Europe…leaving me in Novato! I learned how to be an ‘Art Director’ through the guidance of the studio owner, the legendary Gerry Smith, his sons Larry and Terry and the superb British animator and animation director, Phil Robinson. The Bluffers was written by folk who did not know the cartoon world. The scripts were akin to radio plays and the song sequences, though very good, went on forever, and had to be animated!
I earnt my wings on that show…by adding gags into the storyboards. Not only that…for some reason the money ran out and I was subsequently marooned in the States!
Luckily, Gerry found work for me and I survived until the money rolled in again (although I have a suspicion Gerry bailed it out!)
I lived in Novato for a few years, and in that time moved on to other projects from both Europe and the US. Including Frank’s, ‘Sebastian Star Bear,’ for which I designed most of the characters and the storyboard. Unfortunately, as with the previous efforts, it seems that all expense was spared on production, and the end result was, to use a technical term, crap!
SEBASTIAN STAR BEAR
Then came the nightmare known as ‘Seabert’ or as it was called in Belgium, from where it originated, ‘BIBIFOC. I mean, with a name like that, what could possibly go right?
‘BIBIFOC’…Oh…alright, ‘Seabert’ (an equally stupid name!) had an imported Dutch director who simply didn’t ‘get’ ‘cartoon’ because he’d come from a live-action film background.
By this time the Mill Valley crew were my band of brothers! I had become reasonably competent at storyboarding, and they knew I could write. The ’Seabert’ scripts were as slow as a snail’s backside…So, I was asked to beef up some of the scripts with action and gags! They seemed to work, which gave me the confidence to realise I actually could write scripts. It also got me sent to South Korea as art director.
Then, came the lucky break!
I’d taken my portfolio with me from England, ‘Just in case I met someone famous’. In the portfolio were the designs and manuscript for my own creation, ‘The Dreamstone’.
A few years earlier in London, one of my closest friends, the actor Nelson Ward had introduced me to his theatrical Agent, Evan Dunstan. He in turn had introduced me to theatrical producer and voice coach Martin Gates. Martin and I hawked the project around several London publishers without success
Gerry Smith was a skilled film technician and motor mechanic. He had been a National race-car champion and had his own collection of race cars. When he saw the Nimrod (the car I had designed) he invited me to go with him to Sears Point Racetrack for a Sunday race-meet. Gerry had been a friend of the late Steve McQueen and his other friend Paul Newman was racing that day with his Newman-Haas team. A driver called ‘George’ was driving one of Gerry’s cars. George wanted to get his professional race licence which required him finishing two competitive races, in order to over-ride his ‘Novice’ status.
George’s car conked out before he could race anywhere. Gerry gave him the spare car. George wasn’t used to the spare car and it appears that during the race, he went through several barriers for an off-track magical mystery tour.
At the end of the meet we all ended up in a diner where Gerry asked George about his bent car. The result was that ‘George’ agreed to look at my Dreamstone project material.
I was mystified and asked Gerry why he was showing it to a novice race-car driver.
I’d been with the bearded, overalls clad George for most of that Sunday, without knowing it was the legendary film Director…George Lucas!… I HAD met someone famous!
The next day Gerry and I went to San Anselmo to George’s house (where he lived before moving to his ‘Skywalker’ Ranch) The long and short of it was that Lucas loved it and gave Gerry encouraging words. I relayed the message back to London, money appeared and shortly afterwards I began to direct the ‘pilot trailer’.
‘Art Director, Character creation & Design and key backgrounds!
(Apologies for the poor quality of this video transfer. I created and drew all the backgrounds which I’m reliably informed ended up in a Manila landfill site.)
Incidentally, I was asked to storyboard the first 30 seconds of the now infamous, ‘Howard the Duck’. I’m not credited on the film…but I still have the Lucas Film ‘Paid’ receipt!
Here’s the opening clip that I boarded. Unfortunately, some rabid politically correct feminist with a sense of humour failure, has blanked my (Oscar winning?) ‘Duck in the bath’ scene! Pffff!…
The Dreamstone was backed by Martin Gates Productions investors and premiered on ITV in 1990. It subsequently ran for FOUR series of 52 half-hour episodes from 1990 until 1995. It is still the UK’s most ambitious animated TV cartoon series.
While The Dreamstone was in production Martin Gates Productions set me to work creating new projects, and although I really wanted to write scripts, I wasn’t allowed to. While I was in the USA I’d sold my rights for the ‘Statutory Pound’…However, I wrote most of the plot-lines, and apart from the lame ending, most of the first hour long ‘Special’, was based entirely on my original manuscript.
Martin Gates Productions (M.G.P.) succeeded in getting my second creation ‘Bimble’s Bucket’ commissioned. The show was broadcast from 1996 to 1998.
I’d created the idea and the witch, ‘Dolly Clackhanger’, while I was at Art College. Again, I wrote the original story and several plot lines, but was not permitted to write series episodes.
I was dumped by MGP in 1998 and flushed down the animation toilet.
In 2016 I was contacted by the great British composer, musician Mike Batt. He had begun animating a new CGI version of The Wombles. I was asked to replace the Art Director. I storyboarded and created, key backgrounds and new characters for the 5 episodes that were in production. Tragically the show over-ran its budget and was axed.
This is ‘Rocket Womble’ about 90% of a complete episode, with the voices of Mike Batt and Ray Winston amongst others. ‘Womble of the Universe’ is a beautiful track and brilliantly rendered. I’ll always be proud of the ‘Rocket Womble’ storyboard!
The New Wombles may make it onto our screens one day. In the meantime…I have begun work on a new animation project. It’s based on 4 stories I wrote about 15 years ago. It’s totally speculative at the moment, but if it should ever get commissioned…Oh boy! I have some brilliant animators and technicians on the list of folk that I’ve worked with previously!
‘If you don’t try, you won’t get!’