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Crystal Tipps and Alistair (1971-74)

Courtesy of Double Take and Hilary Hayton

Main image of Crystal Tipps and Alistair (1971-74)
BBC, tx. 10/6/1971 - 15/2/1974
50 x 5 min episodes, colour
CreatorsHilary Hayton
 Graham McCallum
Production Company BBC Television
ProducerMichael Grafton-Robinson
Scripts Hilary Hayton
 Graham McCallum

The colourful exploits of a girl and her pet dog.

Show full synopsis

A BBC Children's Department Graphics Unit, chiefly servicing the story illustration requirements of Play School and Jackanory, had made gradual inroads into simple animations from the late 1960s, with Hilary Hayton and Graham McCallum creating the series Storyline featuring Egbert Nosh (BBC, 1969) despite limited resources.

Invited to contribute to an European Broadcasting Union (EBU) collaborative animation project seeking wholly dialogue-free entries, Hayton, working in her spare time, drew a girl with a voluminous purple perm in a diagonal-striped dress and pinned the picture to the department noticeboard, inviting further input. Her storyboard began: "Crystal Tipps lives somewhere over the rainbow..." It was Scotsman McCallum who added a canine companion with the words: "...with her friend Alistair". (Crystal Tipps' name came from an ice-making machine in a BBC teabar, an extra 'p' added to avoid litigation). The resulting EBU 'pilot', 'Hide and Seek' aired in 1971.

Rather than expand Graphics into a full-blown animation studio, BBC producer Michael Grafton-Robinson left the BBC to create independent company Q3 London to make this series and Fingerbobs (BBC, 1972). Using felt markers and airbrush, Hayton and McCallum drew the artwork pieces subsequently animated and filmed by Q3.

The freewheeling, open non-format was unhindered by dialogue, characterisation or logic. Most episodes involved the girl and her dog (and their colourful friends Birdie and Robert the butterfly) bouncing around in slapstick dance routines. Gradually ramping up simple visual ideas, an episode like 'Boots' would take one core idea such as trying on increasingly crazy footwear.

Crystal Tipps has been seen as a reaction to the work of, variously, pop artist Peter Blake, the Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine (d. George Dunning, 1968) and Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74), and Hayton believes these were peers all surfing the same 'creative wave'. Hayton remembers Gilliam spending time in her studio seeing what she was working on.

The psychedelic style led to predictable accusations that the makers 'must have been on drugs,' but Hayton explains that, "we were just enjoying the freedom to create, which one had in those early BBC days." Odder episodes saw magic seeds sprout a giant collage-rendered beanstalk that stretched into the clouds ('Sowing Seeds'), with the heroes returning home by sliding down a rainbow, while, in 'It's Quicker By Tube', a tube station appeared out of thin air, transporting Crystal and Alistair to a jungle, a desert and London nightspots. 'Art Gallery' and 'Sculptures' referenced and lampooned modern art.

Alistair McGown
(with special thanks to Hilary Hayton)

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete episode (4:16)
Charley Says: Strangers (1973)
Children's TV in the 1970s