The Mail Online has an interview with Blue Peter legend Biddy Baxter, who happened to be the person who invited me to a BBC studio for the first time. How my aunt knew Biddy Baxter, I never discovered, but it was all arranged during a visit to London. My aunt packed my brother and me into a black cab and we were soon sitting in the Blue Peter studio. I was ten years old and the original team of Chris Trace, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes were carrying out a final run-through of the day's edition of Blue Peter.
The strongest memory I had was the late Chris Trace having fag breaks behind the cameras, every-time he wasn't needed on screen.
Then we were ushered through to a small viewing room to watch the monochrome broadcast of the live show.
To thank Biddy Baxter for her kindness, I drew pictures of Petra and the other Blue Peter animals. A week or so later, an envelope landed on the front mat of our Aberystwyth house. It contained a Blue Peter badge in return for the pictures.
A few scandals have rocked the show since then; The Chris Trace Affair, The Richard Bacon Sacking and Kitty Gate to name but three. However, the badge has remained a treasured item which is far more fondly remembered than that other BBC gong, the now hated Jim'll Fix it Badge.
After reading this blog, my brother reminded me that to get to the Blue Peter studio, we had to walk past the Top of The Pops studio, and there was the infamous Jimmy Savile, dressed in white, standing on a podium, cigar in mouth with arms waving about.
In 2008 Sara collected one object for each day. Being a leap year, that was 366 objects. The first 3 months of the collection have now been combined with extracts from her diary entries from the same period and forms part of the Shadow Play exhibition at The Point in Eastleigh.
Exhibiting with Sara Bor are Jamie Hill, Zoe Mitchell, Melanie Carr, Honey Cairns, Marta Deauble, Shona Davis, David Monaghan, Jon Kliein, Lizanne van Essen, Adam Fine, Rebecca Freeman, Clare Jefferson Jones and Nick Sayers.
Here's the first letter of my novel. Or rather it was the first letter of the novel until my latest draft.
I've been mulling over the story for some time, but this week I started writing the novel. I've got the whole thing planned out, but things will change as the words start to flow.
My first novel has now got a first letter, first word, first sentence and even first chapter; first draft of course. That's a white lie. I did write several chapters of the book in the autumn, but the story has moved on since then, so this is draft one of the current version.
All I can tell you at this stage is that Chapter One has the same name I gave it when I started planning the story and that the first letter is now "H" rather than the "T" I was going to use last October.
The first word changed from "The" to "He" and the first line was going to be "The bell sounded". In my latest draft the first word has been changed once again. It's the name I've given to my main protagonist, and begins with a "J".
The location of the narrative has moved 248 miles since my first version, and, according to Google Maps, it would take 4 hours 20 minutes to get from one to the other if the M40 and M6 were used.
The period the novel is set in has moved by 50 years.
I use the word "eelworms" twice in the opening chapter.
This hedgehog with at least two offspring, has moved into the mound of leaves at the base of our wisteria.
It's the first time we've had the honour of being hosts to the prickly creatures since moving into Bor Mansions fifteen years ago.
In fact you hardly ever see squashed hedgehogs on the roads of Mid-Devon, so there can't be many about these days.
Watching her face peer out from her den, I can see how Beatrix Potter and Alison Uttley were inspired to create their books.
When I was growing up, Mrs Tiggywinkle inspired my aunt to call her cairn terrier, Tiggy, as it had looked like a baby hedgehog when it had first arrived. Much as I enjoyed the world of Beatrix Potter, it was Alison Uttley's Wandering Hedgehog that made me curious. Just what was in the hedgehog's smoking pipe that produced those psychedelic images?
I owe a lot to The Little Oxford Dictionary, fourth
edition published in 1969.
Thirty years ago this month, my wife and I set up the
animation company that was to go on and produce series such as Tube Mice, Wolves Witches
and Giants, Binka, Funky Valley and Grizzly Tales.
We about to sign a contract to make a film for The
Geological Museum for a sum well in excess of the figure we had just paid for
our first house. All we needed now was a name for our new company.
We sat in our kitchen with a college friend, and went
through scores of names. It was so nearly Frame-by-Frame, but that
didn’t seem to feel right for us.
I had worked at Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s Cucumber
Studios in the early eighties. They had chosen their company name by numbers.
One of them had chosen a page number of a dictionary at random, the other
chosen a figure between one and fifty, to represent which word on that page
should be chosen. Cucumber was the result.
We decided to repeat the experiment. The first result was
unusable. So dull that it was immediately forgotten. We tried again.
25th word on the page.
Result = Honeycomb.
That sounded a possibility to us, but then we read the
definition,“structure of hexagonal cells”. Animation was made with
cells. That was a good enough link for us.
I've often wondered if our random choice has helped or hindered the company.
In an alternative universe where the first word on page 409 was chosen, would Pomegranate Animation be a billion pound enterprise listed on the stock-market or would it have been just one more name in that long list of nineteen eighties business failures.
Honeycomb has served us well for thirty years, we could of so easily selected Shoddy, the 22nd word on page 503. Where would we have been then?
Royal Jubilees always remind me of The Sex Pistols, and my missed opportunity of going to their first gig.
A group of art students, including myself, were drawing by the Thames. One of our number told us that Glen, a friend from his foundation course was going to play at St Martins, where we were studying Graphic Design.
Johnny and his Sex Pistols, as they were going to be called, didn't sound like a great name to students who were more into Pink Floyd and David Bowie, so we went to the pub instead.
The whitewashed end to this Welsh cottage was part of my
childhood. It had electricity, but not water. A chemical toilet in the
stinging-nettle garden, no bathroom, two small bedrooms and a tiny kitchen
at the bottom of the stairs. My parents rented it for one shilling and sixpence
a week, or seven and a half new pence.
My first instant camera, taken by my iPhone, my latest instant
I started making animated films while still at school. Cutout
films were produced in my back garden with my Standard 8mm and later, Super 8
home movie cameras, and featured changing lighting conditions and gusts of wind
that blew legs and arms away from my characters.
While I waited ten days for the results to come back from
Kodak, I would create a more instant form of storytelling. My Polaroid camera
was used to take stills to illustrate my early storytelling. They are far
too embarrassing to publish, but still exist. Looking at these small
black and white photos, I can still recall the excitement as, aided
by the waft of chemical, I peeled back the grey paper to reveal my
latest attempt at photography. And they haven't even faded after forty years.
This is an update to a previous story on the blog.
In The first swallow of 2012, I told of how we were required to build nesting ledges for swallows, when converting our barn five years ago. There are a dozen of these ledges, and for the first time, one of them is in use this year.
We have about five or six breeding pairs of swallows this year, around the same number as last year, and hope that more ledges will be used over the next few years.
Plain-paper-wrapped vinyl 45 rpm singles were part of my youth.
It started with "She Loves You" by the Beatles, bought for me by my father after Beatlemania reached my primary school in Wales.
The first record I bought for my self was "The Last Train to Clarkesville" by the Monkees.
As the drug scene of the sixties got its hold on pop music, my parents dissuaded me from buying records, but by the early seventies collections of singles by Slade, T-Rex, Wizzard and Roxy Music started to grow in my bedroom, augmented by LPs from former Beatles, Focus, Eno, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Doctor Feelgood.
By the mid seventies, the plain wrappers started to be replaced by printed designs. At first just for special releases, but soon this was to be the norm.
Then there was punk from The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and The Stranglers. The DIY era of the 45 had arrived. Soon my family was involved in the industry. My brother's band "The Users" releasing a couple of singles, then my sister's group "Dolly Mixture" releasing a string of singles before hitting No1 as backing vocals to Captain Sensible's "Happy Talk".
The last single I bought was "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but I continued to buy LPs throughout the eighties until the fateful day when the new CD player was installed. The age of crackles, skipped groves and fluffy needles was over.
Newly qualified as an Animator and with Britain coming out of
its double dip recession, I started to look for work in my chosen field.
In the late seventies, most of the animation studios were
based in and around Wardour Street in London’s West End, so weeks of lugging a
heavy portfolio of designs, sketchbooks and life drawings began. Most studios
did not have access to a projector for my diploma films, so often they would
hire a viewing theatre to see my work.
Some studios may have had a letter or phone call from me
first, others I decided to cold call. The story was always the same. “We’ll
keep your details on fire, but there’s nothing happening at the moment.” A line
I’ve had to repeat to many other young hopefuls over the years.
The seedy mews where Long Valley Films was based housed a
mixture of film companies and dubious massage parlours. I was to meet Bill
Sewell, who had worked on the award winning National Coal Board animated films
and The Beatles: Yellow Submarine. He animated the beautiful “Lucy in the Sky
with Diamonds” sequence. I opened my portfolio on the floor of the bohemian
studio, while Bill smoked his unfiltered cigarette and his parrot looked on.
He looked at me and told me that animation wasn’t what it used
to be. It was impossible to get funding for it and that however good you are at
it, you eventually fail at it.
I walked back through the mews, watching the ground, wondering
what to do next.
The following week I was at another studio, meeting the award
winning animation director, Alison de Vere. She asked me which studios I had
managed to see on my search for that elusive first break. I listed them. When I
mentioned Long Valley, she went very quiet.
Then she asked if I had seen Bill Sewell.
She had been to his funeral the day before. He had died soon
after our meeting.
For the second time in just over a week, I left an animation
company feeling low, but I didn’t take Bill’s advice, and carried on looking
for work. Soon I was
picking up freelance work, and starting my own animation company. But I’ve
always remembered his words, and I’ve found myself almost repeating them to
recent graduates, during the current double dip recession.
Reading aloud in English lessons, sharing a text with thirty
other boys. Books read in class have stayed with me all my life. Cider with Rosie, Lord of the Flies even
The Invisible Man.
We also read The Sign of
Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We were told to skip the chapter that dealt
with Sherlock Holmes' cocaine problem. Of course, we all read the chapter
outside the lesson, and it remains the most memorable part of the
story to me.
Then there were the books outside the curriculum. Lots of
TV tie-ins, Edgar Rice Bourough's Martian Chronicles featuring John Carter, and the other
Carter, the horribly sexist and violent Nick Carter books. It's probably just as well my parents knew
nothing of the contents of these nasty, James
Bond inspired, tales.
first discovered Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh while studying
for O level English Literature. Officers and Gentlemen was one of
my set books and I decided to read the complete Sword of Honour trilogy.
The subsequent television adaptation of Waugh's Brideshead
Revisited led me to read most of his novels over the years.
I have just returned from The London Book Fair clutching my
signed copy of Howard Jacobson’s book ‘What Ever it is, I Don’t Like it’. At
£18.99 I had to think twice before handing my money over to the tiny Foyles
bookshop at the rear of Earls Court’s ocean of publisher’s trade stands. £18.99
is a typical full price for a hard back, but these days you would expect to buy
three books for the price of two or a discount of a few of Howard Jacobson’s
I could have bought it at Amazon for £12.34 free delivery,
but the chance to have a few words with the self styled ‘Jewish Jane Austin’
got the better of me. He was just about to leave; a few copies still remained
on display. My credit card was produced and I bought one. Folyes would not even
honour the 5% discount to London Book Fair delegates available at their main
stores. In one minute thirty seconds, Mr. Jacobson not only provided me with
his inscription, but also gave me permission to be Jewish, even though I am
only on my paternal side. As a Welsh born, Irish, English, Maltese, Latvian,
Jewish Gentile, I’ll probably stick to calling myself European.
The last time I attended the fair was in 1990, when I also
returned with a signed book. That time it was John Mortimer's latest novel. I paid
£13.99, the ‘going rate’ for a new hardback at the time.
According to the website, www.thisismoney.co.uk, £13.99 in
1990 is the equivalent of £27.42 now.
Suddenly I feel I’ve robbed Howard and Foyles of nine
We can ignore the half price offers at Tescos, and need not
wait a year for a 75% discount at The Works. A full price book is value for
I've always collected series of books. As a child, I bought the books by John Theydon, based on Gerry Anderson's TV series Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The first Doctor Who book was published by the same company and sat on my bookshelf next to the Gerry Anderson titles. I had discovered Doctor Who a year or so before the book was published, on the morning my seven year old self had heard
about the death, the previous day, of JFK. I was listening to Uncle Mac’s
Children’s Favourites when the news bulletin announced his death, my younger
brother had asked me who Kennedy was.
“Oh,” I had said, “It must be
the president’s brother,” thinking that it was impossible for the President of
America to have died, and brothers were fair game. How could I have realised
that the equally violent death of Kennedy’s brother Robert, was yet to come.
That was the morning of 23rd of November 1963. The day
several million people in Britain first met Doctor Who.
I was very aware of this new series, mainly because of the picture in
the Radio Times of what looked like an old man with a spinning wheel. The image
had reminded me of a cross between The Old Curiosity Shop, which had been on TV
fairly recently, and a wicked witch, waiting for a Princess to prick her finger
and fall asleep.
I now know this well used photograph is of the Doctor in his junkyard,
with a bicycle wheel in the foreground.
Later that day, I remember talking to my friend Graham; apparently
he had watched Doctor Who before; or Mr Who as he kept calling it. He told me
how brilliant it was. I was as excited as he was about the way he was selling
me this new series, though it sounded more slapstick than the picture in the
Radio Times suggested. Graham had seen
it at the cinema and told me it was funny, because Mr Who couldn’t see without
I would have seen the first episode that evening if it were not for one
The telly had gone.
My father had hired a television on two occasions, which had coincided
with his long summer holidays from the University in Aberystwyth, and the cricket season. He
would spend the summer listening to John Arlot on the radio, simultaneously
watching the television broadcast with the sound off. I had summers of Watch with
Mother, Noggin The Nog, and the Sunday classic serial. But as the evenings drew
in and the rest of the country started watching more television, my father went
back to work and the telly returned to the shop. I would have to wait several
weeks before I would join the Doctor, mid way through his first visit to Skaro.
I did ask Graham if the first episode of Doctor Who was as good as he
had hoped it was going to be.. “It was rubbish! It wasn’t the thing I saw in
the cinema at all. I got it mixed up with another programme”,
. . not Dr Who, not even Mr Who,
but . … “Mr Magoo!!”
Please feel free to leave comments about your earliest memories of Doctor Who.
Summer isn't far away at our Mid Devon home. The early spring bulbs are over, the trees have greened up over the last two weeks and cherry blossom is blowing into the rapidly growing lawn. It's nearly always the second week of April when the first swallows make it home, though one intrepid bird arrived in late March one year and was alone for more than two weeks before any others returned.
Today, I spotted the first swallow of 2012. At the moment it's a lone swallow who has spent most of the day sitting on the telephone line, singing it's mixture of song and clicks. An amplified version of that familiar noise was last heard here in September. There was great excitement on that same telephone line, as forty or fifty birds lined up for their migration to South Africa. It's a shame that so few make it back each year. We had at least eight breeding pairs under our eves, in the garage, sheds and stables last year. A big improvement from the year before, when only two pairs and a lone swallow made it back to us.
We converted a barn for use as our studio a few years back. As there were a few nests in the barn, the mandatory wildlife survey obligated us to put up six swallow nesting-boxes in another shed. There have been plenty of new nests built by the returning swallows, but no take up for the nest-boxes. They have so far remained empty for five years.
Maybe this is going to be the year of the nesting boxes. A bumper year for swallows. It will all depend on how many pairs succeed in their return journey to Devon.
There's a corner of my bookshelf for the books that have formed fragments of my professional life. Some I've illustrated, some are based on TV programmes I've been involved with, and others are the source material for animated shows I've produced.
Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids by Jamie Rix has been part of my life for almost two decades. Not only did my wife and I design the cover illustrations for the TV tie-in editions of the first four books, we also co-directed eight series of these award winning cautionary tales for ITV and Nickelodeon.
When our company, Honeycomb Animation, was moving
from London to a converted barn in Devon, we took on a consultant to help
us with our new project, Wolves Witches & Giants . One of the first
meetings Jill had was at the new ITV company, Carlton, which had just replaced
“I’ve just met the man
I want to marry,” she had said after her meeting with Michael Forte.
On meeting Michael ourselves, Jill’s pin up turned out to be a bit of a comic, mimicking rival children’s commissioners and
recounting amusing stories about his days in Saturday morning telly.
He didn’t go for our
show, though he was later to inherit it once Carlton had taken over Central, who
had subsequently backed us. As we were leaving he said, “look, I like what you
guys do. Have a look at this book. Get in touch with the author, and see if you
can come up with something.” The book was Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids.
After four series of
Wolves Witches & Giants, we entered into a development deal with Carlton to
find its successor, and seven years after our first encounter of Jamie Rix’s
creations, the first series of Grizzly Tales aired on ITV. Now, a subsequent
twelve years has passed, and we've completed the eighth, new improved
series, this time for Nickelodeon UK, but for me, the Grizzly journey started
in Michael Forte’s office in 1993, and the reading of the hardback edition of
the first Grizzly collection, which still sits on my bookshelf.
pictured above, is the latest in a long line of cats in the Bor household. She
lives with Minnou, Harry and Josie.
the last surviving cat from our previous home. She moved with us, fifteen years
ago, with her late brother Ginger and Mitzi. They joined Molly, an inherited
pregnant cat, who lived in one of our barns. Molly lived into her twenties, and
her off-spring still live with our next door neighbours from our previous
hated the move across Devon, and used to disappear for days or weeks on end
when we moved to our present house. Maybe she found somewhere else to be fed,
for one day, she walked off for the last time, never to return.
been inherited by us at our previous home in the Blackdown Hills. We had
arrived there with just one ailing cat, Bimbo.
been with us since my wife and I had bought our first home in Hertfordshire,
soon joined by Jasper, a large ginger cat. Bimbo and Jasper survived a move to
a larger Hertfordshire home and then to our first farmhouse in Devon. Jasper
died at that first Devon home, but Bimbo made one more move.
was working in Camden Town, in the early 1980s, when she passed a house with a sign proclaiming
"Kittens for Free". She brought Bimbo back on the train to
Hertfordshire and our tiny two bedroom terrace house. We would take him to my
parents house in Cambridge where he would play with my, twenty-something, childhood cat, Pussy.
named Tinker, Pussy was also
advertised as a free kitten. In the mid sixties, my father had seen the badly
scrawled notice at the university he worked at. "Tabby cats, one with
white underpants". He phoned the number on the advert and was disappointed
to learn that the cat only had white under-parts. Never the less, Pussy was
soon living with us at my childhood home in Wales.
How many cans of cat-food have they consumed between them?
Yesterday morning, my daughter's bag was put on the coach that
would take her to Heathrow for a flight to Colorado. She is now further
away from us than she's been since she was ten months old.
School trips are not the same as they were in my day. She gets
a week skiing in America. At her age, my school trip was a tour around Northern
The coach was hot and smoky. The teachers chain smoking
at the front of the bus and the boys chain smoking at the back. We stayed at
Rouen, Tours and Paris, visiting Cathedrals, the Normandy beaches and
Bayeux Tapestry. We were so excited to find Harold trying to pull the arrow
from his eye.
On a small country road we got held up in a queue of traffic.
We slowly edged our way past a traffic gendarme and
a wrecked, pre-seat-belt, white car, with no sign of bodies but lots
of fresh red blood running down the sides of its doors.
Our Headmaster stood up and addressed us. 'May that be a
lesson to you all. Think about this when you start to drive.'
After a misdemeanor, I was separated from my friends and
had to share a dinner table with the Headmaster, his deputy and the Head-boy.
He told us how he regretted that he had become addicted to cigarettes as a
pilot in the war, lighting up as soon as his plane landed. He would have preferred to
have remained a pipe smoker.
He was a complex character. We would probably consider him
ultra-right wing these days. At a
school assembly on Commonwealth Day, he had lectured to us
about the Great British Empire he had fought for. He had his soft side though,
and I was sent to be caned by him on
several occasions during my school life, but I always managed to
talk my way out of it. On the other hand, knowing I was from a family of
musicians, he actively discouraged me from taking part in concerts,
over-ruling the music teacher. 'Music will make him soft,' he had told my
Father when he complained.
He retired about the same time as I left school, and died of a
smoking related illness shortly after.
Why is it that I can recall inconsequential events from early
childhood, but fail to remember to take my wallet with me when I shop? I
often have difficulty in recalling my mobile phone number, passwords
and pin-numbers or even the names of people introduced to me five minutes
before, but an image of a simple bourbon biscuit helps me delve deep into
my trivia packed brain, to pre-school days of tears, tantrums and bedroom
I’m not sure when the tantrums started, but before my first
sibling came along, I had my parent’s complete attention. There is less than
three years between my brother and myself, but I can remember the evening he
was first brought back from the maternity hospital with clarity. I had been
given a tricycle earlier in the day, and spent the day riding around the
kitchen and dinning room. My first sight of my brother, framed in the doorway,
staring with black button eyes has lived with me ever since.
I got on well with my brother from the start, but if I
couldn’t get my own way I would let my parents know about it. High volume
shrieking and head banging were my weapons of choice. The usual punishment was
incarceration in my bedroom, where I would be left to cool off.
It was during one of these cooling off sessions that, having
failed to attract my parent by banging the door with my fists, I started
exploring the bedroom. I remember the old trunk next to the wall. Behind it,
next to the damp skirting board was a bourbon biscuit. It wasn’t brown like the
ones I’d eaten before; it was green. I remember biting into it. It wasn’t hard;
it was soft. Once the sugar had been tasted, the rest of the biscuit soon
Immune system kick started, I’ve retained an affection for the
humble bourbon ever since.
The bookshelf is a good place to start to retrieve old
memories. You might remember where you bought a book and what else was
happening in your life at the time. Maybe you read the book on a long journey
or an exotic beach. A book can bring back so much more than the author
In the sixties, my parents rented half an Edwardian house
in Aberystwyth, another couple lived on the top floor. They had a daughter
called Susan, who was my age.
Inspired by Princess Margaret’s televised royal wedding, and
at the tender ages of four, Susan and I got married, while siblings and friends
threw privet-leaf confetti over us. It was a brief union lasting no more than
half an hour.
Susan’s greatest influence on my life wasn’t as my short-lived
spouse, but was because she had a large collection of Eagle comics. She would
to meet me on the turn of the stairs with her pile of comics and introduce me
to the colourful world of Dan Dare.
Thunderbirds and TV21soon replaced Dan Dare, but
I rediscovered the 50's space hero as an art student. I started collecting
crumbling Eagle annuals, picked up from charity shops, and later
glossy reprints of those original strips, read before I'd even started