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Ivor the Engine (1959-64)

Courtesy of Smallfilms

Main image of Ivor the Engine (1959-64)
Smallfilms for Associated Rediffusion (1959-64) and BBC (1976-77)
For Associated Rediffusion: 32 x 5 minute episodes (black & white)
For BBC: 40 x 5 minute episodes (colour)
Written byOliver Postgate
DrawingsPeter Firmin
ProducerOliver Postgate
MusicVernon Elliott

Voices: Oliver Postgate; David Edwards; Olwen Griffiths (Series 2 & 3); Anthony Jackson

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The animated adventures of Ivor, a Welsh steam engine with a life of its own, and his driver Jones the Steam.

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This tale of a Welsh steam engine with a personality was inspired by the work of Dylan Thomas and the anecdotes of an engine-driver friend of Oliver Postgate's. Ivor was a traction engine for the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company, one day found out of sorts by his driver Jones the Steam. Jones soon discovered that Ivor wanted to lend his pipes to Evans the Song's choir and so helped the engine's dream come true.

Postgate used primitive stop-motion of paper cut outs, learning about timing and synchronising soundtracks as he went along (the refined technique was later used on Noggin the Nog, BBC, 1959). Also central to the series' success was Vernon Elliott's music and Ivor's dialogue chuffing ('Psst-koff').

Rediffusion executives interrupted the weekly board meeting to watch the series and asked for a further thirteen episodes, but Postgate declined, arguing that Ivor's story was told. Nonetheless, Postgate was soon writing new tales for TV Land comic - opening up the valley landscape and introducing characters such as upper-class animal lover Mrs Porty, Mr Dinwiddy the gold prospector and Idris, the little dragon who lived in Ivor's coal furnace. Before long, Ivor was back for another twenty-six episodes.

In the 1970s, Monica Sims - head of BBC Children's - was keen to revive Ivor. Enquiring about buying back the rights, Postgate was graciously gifted these by Rediffusion Holdings. Thus Ivor returned in forty colour episodes to enchant a new generation and was nominated for a BAFTA in 1977.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Complete episode (4:50)
Smallfilms studio tour
Children's TV in the 1960s
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin