When Tea Time TV ruled...
In the early 1970's, we had lots to get
excited about. We had Space Hoppers
and Chopper Bikes, Spangles and Coca-Cola,
and T-Rex and Slade on the radio.
And we had Tea Time TV. Or even more specifically,
that final Tea Time TV coda,
an extraordinary five-minute gap in the
BBC schedule, a sparkly place somewhere
between "Blue Peter" and "Crackerjack"
and the early evening News that was
filled with a succession of cartoon treats.
And the most exciting treat of all
came in the form of an electric green
dog and his fluorescent pink pal.
scrambled on to our screens in 1974, dragging Custard, the Birds
and all manner of absurdities and oddities
in his wake. And he really did
scramble, out of the house, along the
garden path and up a tree, to the
accompaniment of a squiddling, electrified
theme tune. For five hyperactive
minutes, our star would enthuse, inspire
and construct in his garden shed,
He'd wow the Birds, and underwhelm Custard
before everything imploded
and young Roobarb would be left nursing
his wounds, with even better ideas
taking shape, just on the horizon.
Sometimes a series just works. Lightning strikes,
inspiration is ignited and
genius is created. That was "Roobarb",
conceived by Grange Calveley,
animated for pennies by Bob Godfrey, and
given breathless enthusiasm by
the voice of Richard Briers. It was just
so inspired, a wobbling, felt-tipped
stroke of brilliance that captured all
the glam rock sparkle of the period.
So could it happen twice? Would it be
possible, thirty years later, to remix
those ingredients and recapture that same
indefatigable sparkle. Well, that
was the task afforded to the team behind
the all-new "Roobarb and Custard"
series. And you know, it looks like they
pulled it off...
Roobarb was boiling...
A&B TV's new Roobarb
and Custard series sticks so faithfully to its source
you can barely see the join. Grange Calveley
has written all the scripts, Richard
Briers has given them a voice, and although
Bob Godfrey isn't involved this
time, his spirit well and truly lives
on through the team at Monster
They've not only mirrored the original
characters and settings, they've even
gone out of the way to recapture that
original "boiling" effect.
"Boiling" is the name given
to that extraordinary shade-shift caused by the
differences between individual colours under
the camera. It used to happen
a lot with cheaper productions, when colour
mixes weren't right, when folks
were under pressure to simply get a job done.
The cel colours would be
inconsistent between frames. When 24 such frames
whizzed past every
second, the colours bubbled and boiled. In
"Roobarb"s case, the effect was
deliberate. Bob Godfrey and his team used the
shifts between their felt-tipped
frames to give their creations life and vibrancy
- it was the very essence of
the show, indeed. And now it's back, in all
it's wobbling glory!
Five already have something of a Roobarb
relationship going on. After all,
they broadcast the original series just
last year (and if you missed it, or
want to remind yourself of its brilliance,
available in its entirety on DVD).
The new "Roobarb and Custard"
show launches in the UK on Monday 8th
August at 8.45am, as part of Five's "Milkshake!"
slot. And it wobbles and
wonders, just like that original series.
You'd be forgiven for thinking you'd
been zapped back in time thirty years,
back to those glam rock days all
Hound was invited into Jason's shed, just prior to the launch on Five.
As always, my questions are presented
So Jason, tell us more about yourself. Where
have you come from,
and how long have you been in animation?
I've been in animation about ten years now. After
college I was lucky to get
almost an instant break as an animator by being at
the right place at the right
time. It was actually my current producer, Gerard
O'Rourke, who gave me
I began animating on The
Willows in Winter, which was a nerve-wracking but
very valuable experience. From there I ended up animating
on Norway's first
classically animated feature, "Gurin Med Reverompa",
and then doing a few
bits and pieces here and there. That's when I went
back to Gerard in Monster
and pretty much became a permanent fixture in what
would eventually evolve
to the current Monster with me as Creative Director.
We've made a lot of
commercials, some television stuff, videos etc.,
including the odd high profile
How, and when, did you and A&B come together?
There had been some talk of new "Roobarb"
quite a number of years ago. Grange
Calveley had written new scripts and A&B had joined
with him in trying to get
the new show made. My producer, Gerard, had met Adam
Sharp and Bernadette
O'Riordan from A&B TV when they were in the early
stages of making this happen.
Now Gerard knew how much I would love to be a part
of "Roobarb" - I've always
been a huge fan - but I knew how tough it was to
get all of the pieces in place.
So I didn't obsess on it. When it came down to it,
even if A&B got the show in
production they would go with the animation company
that made sense to them,
and there are a lot of animation companies out there...
Well, talk continued for years and, you know, it
looked like Adam and Bernadette
just might pull this off - that Bernadette is one
tough lady, let me tell you. Gerard
kept telling me that it could happen! I preferred
to put on an air of pessimism so
that my disappointment wouldn't be too obvious if
we couldn't get involved. But
really, I was so hoping to get it. I had been looking
at some animation tests that
had been done elsewhere and they were very far from
where I felt "Roobarb" should
go, so I put together some tests of our own to show
what we could achieve if A&B
allowed us to. I wanted to keep it true to the classic
show and I knew that we had
a few tricks at Monster that few other companies
could offer. So I showed A&B
our tests. I think they were simply surprised initially
- like we had given them
something that they would love to have done, but
had almost dismissed as being
impossible. I knew this was a good sign but, again,
they had so much to do
before it could ever happen.
In early Autumn of 2004, I was burnt out on commercials.
I was tired, worn out
and generally in a very dark place. So I did what
any person would do - I took a
holiday. I went over to Boston to visit my sister,
spent some time in New York
and had a great time. I really cleared my head and
felt so much better coming
back, though I was dreading the idea of going straight
back into ads. Well, as it
turned out, that wouldn't be a problem - we started
on "Roobarb" the very day I
I couldn't have been more happy.
So what does Roobarb get up to in the new series?
Roobarb is still Roobarb and he is up to all sorts
of crazy things this time around.
He has become more than a little fixated with The
Space these days, so many
of his inventions involve trying to travel into The
Space - flapping around with his
Spike in 1974 was just step one. Roobarb also puts
on a lot of shows this time
around. He has always been a bit of a showman. So
we have a concert, an opera,
even "Duck Pond on Ice". Of course, all
sorts of strange characters make their
way in to the Garden to stir things up a bit too!
Who designed the new characters - they seem to blend
with the old ones?
All of the designs come from Grange Calveley, the
creator and writer of "Roobarb".
He created all of the new characters. From his sketches,
I refined them to work
with the new show. Some of them, like Mole, I just
dropped straight in and others,
like Poodle Princess, I reworked considerably because
many of the images were
created to fit with a look that we then moved away
from. But without Grange's
brilliant designs they never would have existed!
Ah yes, Mole. Based on Richard Burton, I believe...
If you remember the classic show, there was a little
blue Mole who used to
bounce around. He was very cute and we actually have
him do a cameo in one of
the new episodes. But our new Mole should go down
really well. He's a real old
fashioned gent who just calls it like he sees it
- a grounding influence in the
craziness of Roobarb's garden!
Was Richard Briers happy to return to the Garden?
Oh yes! Richard Briers was fantastic and seemed really
doing more "Roobarb" episodes. He loves
Grange's writing and admires the
madness of Roobarb's Garden. It was great to have
Richard back because he
really is such an integral part of what makes the
show "Roobarb". What is amazing
is that, even though thirty years have passed, the
new show sounds like it just
continues straight on from the classic show. His
voice is exactly the same and
he slipped right into that Roobarb mode he does so
well. He adds so much depth
and really brings Grange's stories to life.
Roobarb was a felt-tipped funny, but the new toon
uses all that
newfangled computer equipment. So how big was your
what systems did you use?
There are eight of us (I think) and that includes
five animators. It's a small team,
which is great because it makes it easy for us to
keep the energy and creativity up.
Also the fact that we work all in-house and don't
ship the animation abroad works
brilliantly because we can keep the creative process
moving right up until a scene
is completely finished. At no stage does it become
simply "production". All of the
animators add their jokes and we work as a team to
make every episode as funny
as it possibly can be.
As for the systems we use, well it's an old family
secret! But it mostly involves
programs like After Effects, some Flash and several
others. We use a lot of old
style drawing methods, but we use a graphics tablet
rather than a pencil, so our
results go straight into the computer. We call it
Digital Cel Animation - I don't
know if there is another word for it, as I don't
know anyone who works in quite the
same methods. But really I think our method is the
same as it has been since the
start of animation - get a good team of animators
together and let them work their
magic! Computers, software, etc. are simply tools,
just like a pencil or felt-tip pen.
It's all about the animators!
Which brings us on to that indefatigable "Boil".
It's lovely to see it back
where it belongs. How was that achieved?
Ah yes - the boil! The boil is achieved using the
exact same principal as the
vintage show - simply draw more frames! It's a key
element to the Roobarb
and Custard look, and the show wouldn't have been
the same without it!
Can you tell us a bit more about the development
process. A few years
back, there seemed to be a kind of false start There
characters on the old web site, and even a range
of licensed toys, based
on those designs. What happened there?
Yes, that was before I was involved, but I think
it was when Grange was writing
the new episodes. He had been reworking the designs
in an effort to fit with modern
software and animation techniques. He came up with
some great designs and
great new characters, but the methods were moving
it away from the classic
That early animation test I mentioned had been done
in that style, and Grange
had been working with an animator on that. I think
it was a case of finding the
technology first and tailoring the look to fit that,
because that was what was
being advised at the time.
I approach things very differently. I find the look
first and then worry about how
we are actually going to produce it. So when I was
presented with the animation
test, I desperately wanted to pull it back to the
look of the classic show. Much
of that look would be exactly what separates "Roobarb
and Custard" from all of the
other shows on television. It is unique and I felt
needed to be retained. So I
produced the test to show that we could do it. We
could achieve a look which is
reminiscent of the classic show and, importantly,
we could do it in a way that
was realistic in terms of production and budget.
When Grange came over and we started discussing things,
he became very
excited that we were breaking through all of the
technology limitations he had
thought were there. We have no such limitations.
And so, together, Grange and I
worked to bring those earlier images you would have
seen on the website in line
with where we were now taking the show. We took many
of our cues from the
vintage show, and took some of the funny aspects
from those newer images and
created the show we have now.
So you took it back. Indeed, so far back that you
can't see the join...
Heh, well I suppose that was my aim initially. But
when I started pushing for that
it became very clear that both Bernadette and Adam
from A&B wanted that too.
I just think that so much worked so well with the
original show. It exists far beyond
just nostalgia. It's a genuinely hilarious show and
so much of it is pure genius.
So I thought it would be a tragedy to lose that
and really pushed to keep things
true to the classic show.
I think, along with the technology issues, there
was a slight fear with some
people that a cartoon show these days needs a crisp,
sharp, flat look and that
kids wouldn't accept the Roobarb look. My feeling
on that is that there is little
point in working on a classic show if you don't believe
in the show for what it is.
Diluting it, or trying to turn it into something
else could only result in a nasty
hybrid that doesn't really know what it is.
So I embraced classic Roobarb! Adam and Bernadette,
being massive "Roobarb"
fans, also believed 100% in the show, so I found
that everyone was with me on
that. It was great to feel that everyone was pushing
in the same direction!
I have to ask, then, what of Bob Godfrey. Has
he seen what you've done?
Bob Godfrey is a comic genius. He is a brilliant,
talented man. Unfortunately,
he wasn't able to get involved in the new series.
I have been trying to get the
suit-people to send Bob Godfrey some of the new episodes
to see what he
thinks but, early in pre-production, Grange Calveley
(the creator) had lunch with
Bob and showed him some of the animation tests. Apparently
Bob said "the
boy's got it!", which was great to hear and gave
me the confidence I needed.
That's praise, indeed!
What's lovely is that people who have seen it so
far have all said "it's exactly how
I remember it', even though side-by-side the shows
are different. This is what I was
hoping for and knew our challenge would be - to live
up to people's nostalgia-tinted
memories of the original. I hope we've done that!
Can you tell us more about Monster. What else is
Well we're all Roobarb right now! Monster is a great
little company and the
current lineup just seems to work really well. Everything
just seems so creative
at the moment. So we want to keep that up when we
finish these last Roobarb
episodes. We are going to be working on "Fluffy
Gardens", a new cartoon concept
for young children, created by myself. (That's
a thumbnail above, leading
to a larger scan). It's a very cute, charming
little show that features silly little
stories about even sillier little animals. We're
hoping to get that one off the ground
in the near future and have had a great response
from broadcasters. I'm keeping
my fingers crossed, hoping that it won't be too long
before you see it on
Now that Roobarb's back, is there talk of the SkylArk
flying on to our
Actually, I have no idea what Noah and Nelly are
up to these days! Who knows?
Anything is possible. I must talk to Grange
about that and see if he's interested
in revisiting the Skylark!
And with that, Jason ushered me out of his
shed and back here with our Q&A.
"Roobarb" should be a well-deserved
hit on Five, and I'm most grateful to Jason
for taking the time to chat with me. You can
also keep up to date with all the
developments at Monster - "Fluffy Gardens"
included - on
their rather jolly web site.
Meanwhile, there's another Tea Time TV treat waiting
in the wings for our delight,
because, as The Hound has previously
reported, Bobbi Spargo and friends are
about to invite us back to Doyley Wood, and
the haunts of Willo the Wisp.
Oh, yes. TeaTime TV still rules...
Till next time!
home » latest
news » news
archive » interviews »