Ivor the Engine

1959 | United Kingdom

5 minute animation series from the prolific team of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin which concerned itself with the adventures of a small green railway engine running out of the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company, which was, according to the narrator, "In the top left-hand corner of Wales." Ivor was driven by Jones the Steam who worked alongside his colleagues Owen the Signal and Dai Station, the man who looked after Llianog Station. Ivor's boiler was fired by Idris the dragon and the little engine's ambition was to sing in the choir like his friend Evans the Song. 

All the films were made in the barn of Peter Firmin's 18th century farmhouse near Canterbury, the cowshed acting as his studio whilst Postgate was assigned the pigsty. According to Postgate the shows airing at 1.15 in the afternoon clashed with board meetings at Associated Rediffusion, but not wishing to miss a single episode the board members ordered a television be wheeled in, the meeting stopped whilst they watched Ivor and then the television was wheeled out again and the meeting resumed. The series moved to BBC in 1976.

Ivor the Engine

Ivor the Engine, which delighted children and adults for more than three generations, was originally made in black and white in 1959 and the stories, including some new ones, were refilmed in colour in the 1970’s, but were still animated by the simple direct method (cardboard cut-outs painted with watercolours and the use of Blu Tack) which gave the series its original charm. 

Ivor the Engine

The series was inspired by an engine-driver friend of Postgate who talked about engines coming to life when you spent enough time with them - and the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Many of the characters were voiced by Postgate, as well as low tech sound effects including the sound of Ivor's puffing. The music was composed by Vernon Elliott, predominantly featuring a solo bassoon reflecting the three notes of Ivor's whistle. 

Ivor the Engine was nominated for a Bafta Award in 1978. Postgate and Firmin were jointly presented with the 2007 Action for Children’s Arts JM Barrie Award “for a lifetime’s achievement in delighting children”. Postgate died the following year, and Firmin received a special award at the 2014 Bafta Children’s Awards. Firmin died in 2018. 

Ivor the Engine

From 10 August 2020 all episodes, with a running time of approximately 167 minutes, are available on DVD from Fabulous Films.

Published on July 16th, 2020. Written by Laurence Marcus (& Fabulous Films) for Television Heaven.

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