Me and Mister Jones...
Many of you will know that The Hound has a lot
of love for Little Red Tractor.
This small rural series with a big heart was produced by Keith
Littler and the
Entertainment Group, and there's just a feeling that it's somehow
really had the appreciation it deserves from the wider world
at large. That's
to say it hasn't been a success. Goodness, we ended up with
78 episodes of this
fine show. And let's be frank, you don't get to make 78 episodes of
without it being an unqualified success. Even so, there's no escaping
that LRT has had to plow it's determined little furrow
alongside likes of
Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam and Roary the Racing Car
and so many
great big productions from HIT and Chapman Entertainment and
Stan and Red and the Babblebrook gang have had to look
on as the bigger
boys in the stop-motion
school yard have run off with all the awards at the
BAFTAs and the BAAs.
So why are we rabbiting
on about this fine series again, after
long-since ended? Well, as luck would have it, The Hound has
the very good fortune to exchange emails with the Tractor King
Keith Littler. And that exchange sooon snowballed into something
wonderful. To cut a long story short, The Hound now has in
his possession a
terrific write-up about the series, from the producer's
very own notepad. And
better - ridiculously better - than that, he has aquired
something he can only
refer to as a
Most Marvellous & Wonderful Thing. It's an original puppet from
the series. Oh yes, I kid you not. It's Mr Jones - Jasper
Jones - of Beech Farm.
Legitimate, utterly unique original. Keith says that he's never,
ever, ever, ever
released one of the original models from the production
vaults before, so it
really is a huge surprise and honour for The Hound to
welcome him in to his
animation collection. It is the most extraordinary creation,
means The Hound is now forever indebted to Keith's humbling
and something that's simply far too special to keep under wraps.
are the facts for you. There were four copies made of each of the main
characters in the series, principally to enable several
scenes to be shot at
any one time. But it also enabled each animator to set up the
models to fit
their individual needs. Each model was was made of
silicon, overlaying a metal
armature. Mr Jones stands around 8 inches (21cm) tall.
You can move his
limbs, his wrists and ankles and fingers, etc, and there's a
stiffness to the joints - just enough so that the figure
holds its pose as you
manipulate it, without you having to exert too much force.
are a little the worse for wear, with the ends of armature
the silicon, poor thing...
This version of Mr Jones is sporting his "Summer"
wear. The clothing
is exquisitely tailored to scale. Those trousers are proper
Mr Jones is even sporting a little belt, with a silver buckle.
What you can't
convey in a photograph is the prescence the character
interior skeletion give him real weight in your hands.
It's as if you're cradling
a living thing in your palm, and one would imagine an
get a great riff of that, as they prepare and shoot each
scene. It really is
a most beguiling thing. You can gaze into this puppet's
eyes and see
him eulogizing and pontificating, just like he does in
the series. And
it goes up to another level entirely when you watch the
and look across to the actual puppet, standing in your
Honestly, you half expect it to gesticulate towards the
pass comment on its performance!
The Making of Little Red Tractor... (15.11.10)
What follows now is an exclusive piece Keith
Littler has put together
for Toonhound. But just before we begin, I'm
sure there are a few folks out
there who would like a little more background info.
So you should steer
yourself towards the Little Entertainment
site, which details
Keith's work behind and in front of the camera.
LEG have recently brought
us the live-action "Roman Mysteries"
series, which has been a big BBC hit.
And Mr Littler is currently leaping and singing
all over our screens
of the founding members of The
Bopps (he's Keith Bopp). On the animation
front, Keith has had dipped into animated waters
over the years, but LEG's
first fully-fledged standalone commission
was for the 2D series "Billy".
This was followed by the company's first stop-motion
series Merlin the
Puppy (which is another gem!), before Stan, Red and the
Babblebrook gang rode into town. Here, then, is
what Keith has to
say about the development and production of
"Little Red Tractor":
Merlin the Magical Puppy was coming to an end I had a
decision to make. I had set up a stop-frame studio
this commission from ITV including sixteen excellent
and model building facilities and spacious studios.
The choice was
simple, go back to my career as a post-production
or continue with my first love, which was production.
was not a straightforward option. I had no show. If I kept the
studio open then everyone working there would have
to be full
time as there was no other similar work for miles
- so freelance
agreements were impossible. The costs of running
were close to £300,000 a year....in Gloucestershire!!!
tried to create a project myself but could not settle on anything
that I felt passionate about or that I could convince
the crew to
get stuck into. Then I met a chap called Peter
Tye who had been
running this Little
Red Tractor brand for 8 or 9 years. It was a
low-key thing. A few videos, books and badges.
Stan the farmer
was a large, balding, middle-aged man, the tractor
was a modern
design with cabin and, for me, it was all jolly
but not a pre-school
I read one of the books and really liked it and I liked
Peter Tye and his passion. I asked him if I could
make it younger and cuter and all together more
To his credit he was willing to allow me to do
my thing on the
single proviso that I stuck to the integrity of
as created by Colin Reeder.
did not want to do a Thomas The Tank Engine, Bob the Builder
or Brum, even though I loved the shows. I wanted
to create real
vehicles, but without faces. We could create the
headlights, grilles, etc. but they would not be
faces and the
vehicles would not talk. I wanted the little ones
everything for when they saw a real farm.
set about designing it. The BBC, though a major and long
standing client, had yet to acknowledge me as a
contender, so I decided to make a two-minute pilot
our increasing skill and development as an animation
We set our standards very high, moving engine parts
tractor, beautifully tailored costumes for the
genuine textures in our buildings, etc.
meeting arrived in September 2001 and, with knees knocking
and clean shirt on, I pitched it. A disaster! Theresa
(head of Children's acquisitions) took one look
at the gorgeous red
tractor model I place on the table between us and
"I bloody hate tractors!"
of the total collapse of the studio flashed before my eyes
and I left rather concerned that I had spent all
my hard earned loot
on a ''wrong 'un."
distributors were uncertain and the BBC rejection didn't help
was exactly a week later on my way to Cannes for the TV
festival that I got a call telling me the BBC had
minds. We were in business, albeit with a whole
list of tweaks and
amendments to make, but in business nevertheless.
With a BBC
deal in my hand I had to go and find a further
£1.2m to complete
the series, but these were times when there was
a bit of loot
around and one or two incentives for investors,
so it didn't take
long to complete the commercial framework.
the fun started. What vehicles would we have? What people
and why? Where would they live? We had Gosling
Farm but what
about the neighbourhood? What should that be called?
in charge has it merits as, ultimately, I was able to get the
characters, designs and vehicles that I wanted.
something is not enough - I was blessed with a
team of people who
were excellent at realising the vision...and in
many cases improving
was a dream, except for Stan. Everyone had a view.
My view was Phil Jupitus as I had directed him
on Watership Down
and loved his take on character delivery. Somebody
else on the
production wanted Les Dennis (who did a great voice
for us but,
if memory serves, the BBC couldn't agree on it).
was in the mix from the start, but very busy. Finally
one day, after
more exasperated meetings and no final decision
I picked up the
phone again and, to my surprise, he was available
exactly the voice everyone could agree on. I've
with a better reader, or more multi-talented actor.
A very funny
man and genuine good egg, too.
Griffiths became the rock and roll loving garage owner,
Walter and doubled up as Mr Jones. Everyone at
became even greater Griffith's fans with every
He was brilliant! Oh, and what a singer!
two chaps were supported by the top animation voice talent
in the land and I've never regretted a single
decision - except to
have gone back and created a character for Phil
would have been perfection.
aimed to have three to four animators working on a different
aspect of up to three episodes at a time. The walls
were covered in
storyboards and amended scenes. As each scene was
there was a ritual marking up of the board with
a large red cross
to signify it was done. Watching all of the
boards disappear under
rows of red crosses was a thrill.
had a target of 10 seconds per animator per day, which was
managed by Series Director Russell Haigh. Of course,
of set required creation of set, light changes,
set dressing and
the scenes there was constant attention to each animator's
set of characters (tightening of joints, repairs
amendments), design and build of props and creation
for the next three episodes.
constant activity and creative energy had to be seen
to be believed.
at the sound studios, the music and effects creation was
overseen by my colleague Mike Cross and was flawlessly
fab. I saw
an episode recently and had forgotten just how
Haigh, Jimmy Hibbert and myself worked all of the scripts
between us and kept to a strict brief of an 'A'
plot allied to
sub-plot, rather than the traditional linear storytelling
usually sees in this age group. I think the scripts
good and a lot of credit goes to our BBC Execs
who worked hard
to maintain freshness and originality. I know there
battles over how stories would develop and what
role the vehicles
episodes later we finally finished. To this day, the series still
comes up in conversation with all manner of people...."
Like here, Keith. It comes up at Toonhound a lot, because it's terrific!
Anyway, there you have it, straight from the mouth of
the producer. Little Red
Tractor is a gem of a series, with some fantastic
characters and banter and
interplay. I know, I know, The Hound is repeating
himself. And he's going to
repeat himself once more as he says thank you, thank
you, thank you over
and over to Keith for his incredible gift. Jasper's
finished his photo-shoot and
he's now been returned to his bubble wrap, whilst
The Hound ponders the best
way to display him, and considers again just how
very lucky he is to have
received such a wonderful gift. Keith, I can't thank
Till next time!
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