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It's A Puppet!
 
    
"Send for Dithers" (Roberta Leigh / National Interest Pictures / Wonderama)
      


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Send for Dithers
       (1966)
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  producers: National Interest Pictures
                    / Wonderama
     puppets: marionette puppets
    episodes: 13 x 15mins

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   "His name is Mr Dithers,
    And he has a breakdown va-ha-han..."
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    Mr Dithers runs the "Let Me Help You" agency out of an old scrapyard, and
    he drives around town in his breakdown va-ha-han, helping people. But, as his
    name implies, he's a bit of a ditherer, so it's good that he has some help of
    his own, in the form of Mr Perkins, a prim King Penguin with a black bow tie.
    Except that this brings us a new dilemma, because when folks "send for
    Dithers", they are in fact sending for Dithers and Perkins...

    But we're not here to argue semantics. We are instead indexing one of the
    oddest series you will ever see. It was created by Roberta Leigh, and utilized
    a combination of marionette puppets, scale "modelive" models, live-action
    footage and traditional animation to bring its small stories to life. "Send
    for Dithers" seems to have stepped out of some absurd Children's TV
    Tardis. It really is a whole world away from today's super-shiny preschool
    presentations, where every single detail of the production is honed and refined
    and debated and approved by commitee prior to filiming. You have to see it for
    yourself to really take in the oddity of it all. And once you've seen it, you'll
    proably never forget it.
    
   "He can brush your mat,
    He can brush your cat,
    And he can brush the floor..."


    The first episode sets the scene. Mr Dithers receives a phone call from Mr Biggs,
    of Biggs Supermarket. Apparently, he has a parcel that needs delivering because
    Mrs Barker has bought a surprise parcel for her son, Johnny. Mr Dithers takes
    the job on. But his breakdown va-ha-han is nowhere to be seen, because we
    soon find him struggling down the high street with an oversized talking box in
    his hands. Yes, that's right, the box is talking to him. In fact, the talking
    box gives him some guidance about the whys and wherefores of road
    safety, and this advice is ably supported by a dour streetcleaner with an
    eyepatch, who is working nearby. Eventually, Mr Dithers arrives at his
    delivery address, except that he trips and the talking package splits open.

   "Why, you're a penguin!"
   "A King Penguin, if you don't mind!"


    This is Mr Perkins, greeting Mr Dithers for the first time. But dithering Dithers
    has spoilt young Johnny's surprise, hasn't he? His Mummy appears to castigate
    the fellow. She'll have to buy Johnny something else now, and she'll make sure
    Mr Dithers doesn't deliver it. And Mr Perkins will have to go back to the store. But
    Perkins doesn't want to go back to the store. He wants Mr Dithers to earn the
    money to buy him for himself, so he can be his best friend. That's our cue for
    an extended animated song, all about best friends and what they mean to
    each other. Whereupon the duo return to Biggs' Supermarket, and Mr Dithers
    convinces Mr Biggs to re-employ him as a doorman. Oh, but now he dithers
    the door into poor Mrs Barker and sends her flying in a display rack. Even so,
    he manages to convince Mr Biggs to hire him yet again, this time as a window
    cleaner. One hose piping later, and Mr Biggs is sending Mr Dithers on his
    way with immediate effect. And he can take Mr Perkins with him too, for
    free!
    
    And so a brand-new puppet partnership is born. And it would be all-too easy
    to deride and belittle this strange, threadbare series. But we mustn't forget it
    hails from another era. Kids were different, back then. Kids shows were
    different too, with different expectations and delivery placed upon them.
    Maybe it's all meant to be decidedly ironic. What we do know is this
    is a production that is very much "of its time". And that it is a fascinating
    oddity. Odder than a box of fro-ho-hogs, to be sure.

     Mr Perkins in "Send for Dithers" (Roberta Leigh / National Interest Pictures / Wonderama)   Mr Dithers and Mr Perkins get animated in "Send for Dithers" (Roberta Leigh / National Interest Pictures / Wonderama)

    Roberta, who?

    Speaking of odd. Roberta Leigh herself is quite an odd character to pin down,
    because her name is, in fact, one of four pen names utilised by author turned
    television and film producer Janey Scott Lewin. Janey published her first novel
    in 1950 and she has written romance fiction and childrens stories under the
    pen names of Roberta Leigh, Rachel Lindsay, Rozella Lake and Janey Scott.
    We know her most famously for that former name, of course, under which
    she created and produced seven TV puppet productions.

    Roberta began her TV career with The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the
    Battery Boy, two shows brought alive via the work of Gerry Anderson and 
    AP films. The two parted company amicably after Torchy's first season, and 
    Roberta managed to lure AP's Arthur Provis away with her for subsequent 
    productions. Leigh and Provis brought us Sara & Hoppity, "Space Patrol",
    a pilot for Paul Starr, "Send for Dithers", and "Wonder Boy and Tiger".
    But Roberta's toon credentials don't end there because she also
went on
    to edit a lesser-known weekly comic for kids called "Wonder", published
    by oil company Esso and starring a number of her characters in comic
    strip form. And Roberta is still going strong today, working as an artist
    and painter. You can see some of her works on her official web site...   

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    Send for Dithers on DVD

    The vey first episode of "Send for Dithers" was formerly available as an
    extra on this "Space Patrol" release, but the set is now very hard to come by.
    Here's the link, anyway...


     UK DVD Space Patrol : The Complete Series
 
               Region 2 / six discs / Network / 2008

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    created by Roberta Leigh

  director:
producers:
sets designed and
made by:

voices:

Frank Goulding
Robeta Leigh, Arthur Provis


Modelive
John Braban
Brian Jackson
Paddy Turner

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     On the web


     Roberta Leigh
     Roberta's official site...



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© Roberta Leigh / Wonderama / F2012