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Children's Television by Alistair McGown
Introduction Scheduling Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
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Andy Pandy (1950)

Andy Pandy

Puppets of all kinds have been among TV's best-loved children's characters since the days of Muffin the Mule.

The string puppet theatre tradition transferred to television in the 1940s. Puppet shows could be shown live on TV, although programmes such as Andy Pandy were being filmed for later repeat by the '50s. Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation series - Thunderbirds was the most famous - took puppetry to new heights with their spectacular special effects. Their sophistication effectively killed off live string puppetry on TV by the end of the '60s.

The glove puppet was simply a hand or two inside a cloth puppet, with its operator hidden from view. Historically, the most famous glove puppets were Punch and Judy. The method relies heavily on the puppeteer and his voice to create engaging and surprisingly lifelike characters. Glove puppets could be used in TV's early live programmes where they often interacted with human stars, a bit like the ventriloquist acts of the old music hall. The most famous glove puppets include Sooty, Basil Brush and Kermit the Frog and his Muppet friends.

Stop motion is a special effect based on the same 'persistence of vision' trick as motion pictures themselves. It's closer to cartoon animation than traditional puppetry, involving the tiny frame-by-frame movement of three-dimensional model characters. Willis H. O'Brien pioneered stop motion from 1915 and brought giant gorilla King Kong (US, 1933) to life. Ray Harryhausen was a later pioneer, and the technique remains in use today, notably in Aardman's Wallace and Gromit films. The animator becomes almost like an actor 'playing' the character while another performer records character voices, usually before the puppet films have been made.

The technique was too expensive and time consuming for early television, but by the 1960s was being used for short children's films like The Magic Roundabout and the Trumptonshire series. The Postgate-Firmin (e.g. Clangers, Bagpuss) and Cosgrove-Hall (e.g. Chorlton and the Wheelies) partnerships were also active in this field.

Animated models now face competition from realistic '3D' computer animation, which allows characters and sequences to be quickly reused time and again.

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