Friday, 25 November 2011

Alfred Wurmser

A couple of weeks ago I came across a second-hand copy of The Human Sum, a 1957 book on overpopulation which I bought mainly because of the lovely illustrations by Alfred G. Wurmser, such as the one pictured above. Out of curiosity I decided to do a little more research on the cartoonist.

Image of Alfred Wurmser from the BBC website. Original caption: "Alfred Wurmser, designer of animated captions, altering one of the caption cards used to show the state of the parties before the swingometer was invented."

According to IMDB, Alfred Gaston Wurmser was born in Vienna in 1912. His earliest involvement with British television appears to have been assisting ventriloquist Francis Coudrill on the fifties children's variety show Whirligig (according to this fansite). Coudrill's act, revolving around a cowboy named Hank and his friends, mixed traditional ventriloquism with a form of cutout puppetry similar to the technique used by John Ryan in Captain Pugwash - presumably Wurmser's contribution was to the latter segments, as it is the same basic concept as the primitive TV graphics demonstrated above.

Indeed, Wurmser became so closely associated with these sliding captions that his name became a byword for them. TV Studio History quotes Patrick Moore on the matter:

In pursuit of "props" we went to see Alfred Wurmser, a charming Viennese who lived in Goldhawk Road. He had a dog named Till, half-Alsatian and half-wolf, who weighed about a ton but was under the strange delusion that he was a lap-dog. Alfred made moving diagrams out of cardboard, and he soon became enthusiastic, so that we continued to use the "wurmsers" until he decided to return to his native Austria. The original title of our programme was to be Star Map, but we changed it to The Sky at Night almost at once - to make sure that the new title went into the Radio Times.

As an aside, I've always been a little unsure of what to call series like Captain Pugwash, which are generally classed as animation but were technically made using live action puppetry. Perhaps it's time we revived this piece of terminology...

IMDB states that Wurmser also worked on Jackanory, Great Captains and 1951 versions of Aladdin and The Tempest. According to this fansite for the puppet series Sara & Hoppity, he also worked on three programmes narrated by Jean Ford: Christmas Story, Clara the Little Red Car and Janie's Toys.

More about him can be read at the LE Confidential blog, which has a fifties magazine article about him posted.

Here are some more of Alfred Wurmser's illustrations from The Human Sum:

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a 1998 adaptation of Chaucer's masterwork presided over by S4C (whose contributions to animation I summerised here). It is divided into three episodes, each containing three stories, alongside linking sequences featuring the pilgrim storytellers and even a stop-motion Chaucer as narrator. A DVD was released in 2005, but is unfortunately now out of print.
The series was a collaboration between Moscow-based Christmas Films, who animated the linking sequences and some of the stories, and various British studios. The first of the UK-animated sequences is The Nun's Priest's Tale, directed by Ashley Potter and Dave Antrobus of aka Pizazz (now Studio AKA).

Next is The Knight's Tale, also by aka Pizazz, but this time directed by Dave Antrobus and Mic Graves.

And finally, the most acclaimed sequence in the whole series - Joanna Quinn's interpretation of The Wife of Bath's Tale. This one is available online; I've embedded it below.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Two years of blogging

Today is this blog's second birthday - fancy that, and it only seems like yesterday I started it. As with last year, I decided to take a look though my stats to see what my readers have been looking at...

The most-viewed pages on this blog are Gifford's '70s, Gifford's '40s, Save UK Animation, Richard Taylor's Swimsong, Richard Williams ads for Levi's, Jōvan and Limara, British anime, the closure of Cosgrove Hall, Joe & Petunia, Gifford's '80s and obscure adult comedy series.

The search terms that brought the most people to my blog are "Cosgrove Hall", "Daddy's Little Bit of Dresden China", "Soloflex", the blog's URL, "Halas and Batchelor", "Owl and the Pussycat 2011" (I'm not sure what these people were searching for, but I'm afraid the only version of The Owl and the Pussy-cat I've covered so far was from 1952), "BBC2 ident", "BIC Perfume" and "history of British animation".

Thanks go out to my top referrers: Cartoon Brew, Peter Gray's Cartoons and Comics and Asterisk Animation.

The picture at the top of my post, incidentally, is from John J. Miller's Act V, and is the picture most clicked by people who find my blog via Google images.

Now, on with year three...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cara Confused

In compiling this blog I've begun to really miss the days of gorgeous hand-drawn ads from the Richard Williams studio and its contemporaries. With even Joanna Quinn's delicately pencilled grizzly - the last remnant of a dying tradition - replaced by a CGI koala, I'll take any attempt to keep the flame alive, no matter how small.

The adverts by Dan & Jason of New York-based Hornet Inc, while digitally animated, at least have their roots in a hand-drawn aesthetic. They're not the most sophisticated works around but they're vibrant, bouncy and get a surprising amount of mileage out of the site's original, rather static logo (top). Good on Hornet for keeping some 2D work going in Britain's commercial breaks.

The Hornet Inc website has caricatures of the studio's staff drawn in the style of the ads: