Friday, 25 May 2012

Little Toot

Hardie Gramatky may not be a name you may have heard of - at least in the United Kingdom - but it's interesting to know how one little Tugboat became the starting point for his career as a children's writer and illustrator lasting nearly 50 years.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Hardie made a name of himself as first an animator for Walt Disney in 1939 and then as an acclaimed painter / watercolour artist, earning an honorary academician in the National Academy of Design. It was during his time in New York that he caught sight of a small Moran tugboat "that didn’t seem to want to work", which inspired him to write his first children's book - "Little Toot" - and has since become a literature classic.
Hardie wrote various other stories on character vehicles - including Hercules the old-fashioned Fire Engine, Loopy the Airplane, Creeper's Jeep and Sparky the Trolley Car - but it was Little Toot who became the most familiar. Hardie wrote and illustrated five more stories in the series, which has seen the little Tugboat visit the River Thames of Britain, the Grand Canal of Italy, the Mississippi River, the Golden Gates of San Francisco and the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. All accompanied by Hardie's beautiful artworks.
The original "Big Toot", Little Toot's Father
Many of these books have long since been out of print - but in honour of Hardie Gramatky's 100th birthday in 2007, the first Little Toot book was restored and published by Penguin Putnam.
Disney's Vision - Little Toot and Big Toot
However, many people (such as myself) may have first been introduced to Little Toot through animation. Hardie returned briefly to Walt Disney 1948 where his famous little Tugboat was brought to life as a musical segment for the movie Melody Time. Little Toot's story was told in song by The Andrews Sisters, how he went from a troublemaker to a hero, and is as fondly remembered as the original six books to date.


Friday, 18 May 2012

The Wombles - Between Books and TV

One of FilmFair Production's most iconic programmes, brought to life by Ivor Wood and his team, are the Wombles. Small, furry-like creatures who make the use of "things that the everyday folks leave behind" on their home at Wimbledon Common, London - without even trying, they helped to spread the importance of Recycling with fun characters and creative stories.

The original series aired in 1975 with voices provided by the versatile and enthusiastic Bernard Cribbens (Edward & Friends, Moschops) and have since spanned several memorable Albums - by composer / singer Mike Batt - a live-action film and a new series in 1997. As of 2010, the original books have been reprinted by Bloomsbury Publishing for new generations to enjoy. Not bad, eh? =)
How the Wombles originally looked in 1968!
Before television, however, The Wombles originally started out in a 1968 novel, written by Paris-born Elisabeth Beresford. She moved to London to start a family and, while working near Wandsworth Common, got the idea which would become her most famous creations. In fact, Orinoco was based off her own son Marcus…!

Elizabeth went on to write six novels in all, and having read the first out of sheer curiosity, I was very surprised to find major differences between the 13 stories in print and the 30-odd episodes of the original BBC series:

  • The novels are clearly aimed at a slightly older series, 10 to 12 years, with more depth in storytelling and humour than the TV episodes.
  • The first story begins with Bungo, the "star" of the novel, as he picks himself a name (like every good Womble, from Great-Uncle Bulgaria's map of the world) and then explores the Common with new friends Orinoco, Wellington and Tomsk while tidying up litter. It's through his curious nature that he has a run-in with a Dalmatian, helps mend the burrow with some ready-made concrete (discreetly paid for as Wombles never steal) and then bravely goes after Orinoco when he runs away from home.
  • The characters themselves are a fair bit cheekier to one another - and at times rather blunt, especially towards Tomsk for his stupidity (before he eventually gains their respect in an emergency), while Great-Uncle Bulgaria dished out a clout on the head or an aside remark here and there ("Bungo indeed - silly sort of name!").
  • There are also characters who weren't brought into the television series - such as Cousin Yellowstone, who helps Bungo find Orinoco in London - while Alderney and Shansi wouldn't appear until the 1997 series (although they were still present for the tie-in annuals and original books).
  • Like many novels there is a on-going storyline throughout - as the Wombles first have their burrow flooded and then caught in a heavy snowfall with a food shortage to boot. But all comes right in the end after the thaw when they head out for their annual Midsummer Night Party at Battersea Park.
  • And unlike the TV Series, the Wombles encounter with humans a fair bit more in the books. In fact, Great-Uncle Bulgaria shows his kinder side when he invites a lonely old gentleman, Mr. D. Smith, to their Womble Christmas Party…

And all this from one novel so far! The Wombles of Wimbledon Common have a great many more adventures in the remaining books as they travel the world, encounter Water-Wombles and eventually return home to their old burrow...

One wonders why they opted to revise the stories for a slightly younger audience when brought to television - not that anyone's complaining, heavens above! For me, when reading the books for the first time, it was more compelling to compare / recognise the differences and changes that were made. Even you would be amazed at how different the original story of "Orinoco and the Black Umbrella" differs to the version that was televised...

All in all, it is safe to say that I now find the Wombles delightful with either format. They're still fondly remember 40+ years later, whether for their music, the TV episodes or the original books, and show no signs of being forgotten about. The books are indeed worth your money if you're curious to view the original TV stories in a "new" (or should that be "old"?) light.

A slight update for 2010 - illustrated by Nick Price

The Womble Burrow Fansite - featuring merchandise old and new!
Womble Stories - download a selection of audio stories from