Torchy the Battery Boy

1959 | United Kingdom

Gerry Anderson had become a victim of his own success. Although he wanted to work in live action films the success of The Adventures of Twizzle had delighted the creator of that series, Roberta Leigh, so much that in October 1958 she commissioned Anderson’s company, AP Films, through her own newly formed company, Pelham Films Ltd., to make 26 episodes of a brand new puppet series called Torchy the Battery Boy.

When the children playing in Mr Bumble-Drop’s garden decided to tie the toys that he had just made them to the strings of their kites, they didn’t expect a strong gust of wind to carry them away along with Bumble-Drop’s toy poodle, Pom-Pom. As if poor old Mr Bumble-Drop wasn’t feeling bad enough, matters were made worse when two of the children, Bossy Boots and Bogey Meanymouth, refuse to play in the lonely man’s garden again unless he finds their toys. And so, the old toy-maker makes a wind-up puppet boy to search for the missing toys and he names it Torchy because of the magic torch built into him that projects a beam onto any lost object. 

Torchy TV series

Torchy immediately locates the missing toys and Pom-Pom on a twinkling star. Bumble-Drop builds Torchy a rocket out of cardboard, and our hero flies to the star where he discovers Topsy Turvy Land, where cream buns grow on trees, puddles are filled with chocolate, and lollipops grow in fields. In this magical land, the toys can walk and talk and Torchy makes lots of friends. Eventually they all decide to stay and build a village called Frutown, named so because all the houses are made of giant pieces of fruit. Torchy still returns to Earth every now and then (only Torchy and Pom-Pom can return home as they are clockwork moving toys; the other toys would simply revert back to their original static form), helping Mr Bumble-Drop with his problems and teaching naughty children how to behave themselves.

Gerry Anderson and his partner, Arthur Provis, had already raised the standard of children’s puppet series’ to one never seen before on television, and with an increase in the budget this time round to £27,000, nearly double of what they had to spend on Twizzle, the incentive was there to see how much further they could go with the format.

The puppets were made by Christine Glanville in her garage where she sculpted the heads in plasticine before casting them in a mixture of cork dust, glue and methylated spirits which could then be sanded down to get a smooth finish. The puppets bodies were cut from wood by Glanville’s father, her mother then made the costumes and the finished article was then given back to Christine to add the finishing touches.

The puppets were further improved with moving mouths and eyes, and finer wire was used to make it less obvious on screen (even though it was still visible). The puppets mouths were opened by pulling one of these finer wires, and a hidden spring was inserted to snap them shut again. 

Of the four actors who put words into the puppet's mouths the most famous was future 'Carry On' star Kenneth Connor who voiced no less than eight of the characters. Olwyn Griffiths voiced Torchy only while Patricia Somerset and Jill Raymond shared the rest.

The sets were also improved by Reg Hill and his assistant, giving the whole series a much more three-dimensional feel. In addition to the increased budget, the team were given more time to complete filming the 26 episodes and managed to do so two months ahead of schedule. Delighted by this, Roberta Leigh promptly asked for 26 more episodes. However, Anderson and Provis had already decided to branch out on their own and produce their own puppet series. Anderson still wasn’t enamoured about working with puppets, but realised that his company was creating more and more sophisticated methods working with them. 

Torchy and Roberta Leigh
Roberta Leigh and Torchy

Under the conditions of her contract with AP Films, Roberta Leigh retained sole copyright of Torchy the Battery Boy as well as ownership of the entire compound elements used to make it, including all the puppets, sets and music. The two companies parted amicably and Leigh took the series to Associated British-Pathe to produce the other 26 episodes of series two.

Gerry Anderson now took a good long look at the type of show that was popular on television at the time, before deciding on the subject of his next series. It was a genre that had always appealed to him, as well. For his first solo puppet series he would turn to...the Western, and the fictional town of Four Feather Falls.

Trivia

The opening titles for Torchy contained the most adventurous effect that AP Films had attempted up to that point. The sequence showed Torchy’s rocket blasting off from outside his house. Reg Hill and John Read wired up several hundred sparklers to the spaceship, which would then be triggered electronically via a car battery. The model spaceship would then be pulled to the ceiling by a pulley system.

Gerry Anderson got so impatient for the scene to be filmed that he jammed the wires to the trigger device straight into a mains socket. There was a blinding flash of light and the studio filled with smoke. But when it had cleared, more by luck than judgement, the crew had got the perfect shot!

Although available for transmission from January 1959, Torchy the Battery Boy didn’t air in London until 23 February 1960 when it was shown as part of ITV’s afternoon transmissions for children, Small Time. The delay meant that by the time it reached the screens the second series, made by Associated British-Pathe, was ready for transmission, too. As a result ITV were able to show an unbroken run of 52 episodes, all new to television. The show appeared every Tuesday at the same time.

Another result of Torchy’s late appearance meant that it premiered in London just two days before Gerry Anderson’s next series, Four Feather Falls. With 'Torchy' airing on a Tuesday and 'Falls' airing on a Thursday, this was the only time that Gerry Anderson had two new series running at the same time in the UK.

The TV Times dated 21st – 27th February 1960 carried articles about both series in a double-page spread. Four Feather Falls was shown on the front cover.

It is believed that ABC aired 'Torchy' in the Midlands and Northern region area before 1960. Its debut may have been Sunday 11th January 1959 from whence it was shown bi-weekly.

Torchy The Battery Boy was aired in Turkey in 1971-73 as Pilli Bebek (The Battery Doll). This might sound like a pretty late date, but regular public broadcasting had began in Istanbul (Turkey's largest city) in 1971... Actually, Torchy The Battery Boy / Pilli Bebek is the first tv series ever aired in Turkey! - Assist. Prof. Dr. Kaya Özkaracalar Head of Film & TV Dept. Bahcesehir Univ. Istanbul-Turkey









Published on February 9th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (April 16, 2005) for Television Heaven.

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