A trip down memory lane


Many people in the audience at Isabel Ryan’s talk on Pugwash OAP* were there to re-live childhood memories of a firm favourite during their youth. Captain Pugwash was first shown on BBC sixty-five years ago, making him an *Old Age Pirate.

Isabel began the talk with a slideshow and interesting snippets of information and anecdotes. John Ryan, creator of Pugwash and father to Isabel and her siblings, met Priscilla Blomfield in 1948 at an art school in London. They married and were given a very unusual wedding present – an introduction to the editor of the brand-new boys’ magazine, The Eagle. The birth of Captain Pugwash was the result of that meeting.

Pugwash animated cartoon boards

In 1957, three exciting things happened. The first Pugwash book was written and published after twelve publishers had rejected it. Radio Times was captivated by the bumbling, chubby pirate and Pugwash appeared weekly in the Radio Times for ten years. The third and possibly the most exciting thing was that the BBC commissioned John to make a black and white animated children’s TV series.

In those days the BBC’s budgets were almost non-existent but this did not deter John. He set about making his animations using card, ink and gouache paints. They were created by overlaying card and the animated parts were joined by split pins. Each animation required three or four people to work it. Isabel remembers that this became a family affair, everyone following the detailed instructions of when and how to move the animations. Sound effects were generated by anything that was to hand. She remembers with some amusement using the flush of their Victorian toilet to create the sound of a stormy sea.

In 1974, Pugwash was commissioned in colour and to make the new animations and not incur too much time and cost, John cleverly used coloured card and drew in pen and ink over the top to create the wonderful vibrant works of art.

In 1987, Pugwash and the Ryan family moved to Rye. This opened up endless possibilities for the stories to be infused with smuggling activities. These of course were rarely successful with Pugwash at centre stage.

By the 1990s Pugwash has starred in twenty-seven books which were translated into many languages.

Pugwash animated cartoon boards

Isabel returned at the end of the slideshow to talk about her father, of whom she is so very proud. Her memories of him beavering away in his studio at the top of the house until his death in 2009 still make her smile.

Isabel then demonstrated the cardboard animations and showed the audience just how difficult it was to make the whole animation flow seamlessly. She was assisted by her husband Nick and Niki Stuart.

An hour of nostalgia left us all wanting more.

Image Credits: Isabel Ryan , Kt bruce .

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