On 22nd March 1985 Biographic Studios closed their doors for the last time. Ken Clark went along to pay his last respects and talk over old times.
In the beginning, Bob Godfrey, Keith Learner, Vera Linnecar and Nancy Hanna were all working at W. H. Larkins studios. In company with other larger units they were making sponsored productions for I.C.I., Shell, B.P., etc., which a year previous had been paid for out of the companies pre-tax profits. When the law changed and advertising costs had to be met out of taxed profits, understandably, the market took a dive. They found themselves committed to such productions as ‘The Hydraulic System of Gannet Aircraft’ animating hundreds of little red dots travelling along little green pipes – which drove everyone barmy and sent them scurrying to buy thick spectacles.
Then the Government announced they were going to set up ITV and start transmission in September 1955. Studio bosses said, ”We’re not going to make potty little black-and-white 30 second and 1 minute commercials, we’re only interested in the long Technicolor movies!”
Bob Godfrey and Keith Learner decided it was an opportune moment to break away and start their own company, devoting their attention to the production of those brief sales-shots. They were joined by Vera Linnecar and Nancy Hanna; all were directors of Biographic Films Ltd.
They made the first all-cartoon commercial shown on the opening night of ITV. It was an advertisement for Crompton lamps, screened about l0.30p.m. in the middle of a boxing match, the first of three for Crompton.
Progressing to programme material, animated inserts were made for the first Goon Show series ‘Idiots Weekly – Price Tuppence’, followed by ‘A Show Called Fred’ and ‘Son of Fred’, working alongside Peter Sellars, Spike Milligan and the series producer Richard Lester. When the Goon Shows came to an end, Michael Bentine (an ex Goon) started his own show for ABC-TV called “After Hours”, a revue-style presentation, for which Biographic contributed the animated inserts. It came as no surprise, when the Beeb asked Michael to do “Square World”, that Biographic won the contract to supply animation for the series, a contract destined to run for eight years.
The early editions of “Square World” were transmitted live and the foursome would be glued to their sets, biting their fingernails, hoping it would all work. The pressure lifted when it was decided to pre-record programmes on 35mm film, followed later by the first video recordings. However, the latter gave rise to a new problem – you were not allowed to edit the tape! No, that’s not quite true. If you made a terrible blunder and had to cut and splice, then and only then were you permitted to cut and splice as often as you liked. You can guess what used to happen. Everyone planned deliberate gaffes so that they could make that first cut. There was a £75 charge for the first splice because it was physically cut and joined. They did not like doing it. For one thing it subjected the playback head to unnecessary wear and tear and there was always a danger, after a few runs of the tape, it might fall to pieces. However, the Beeb in its wisdom had declared the penalty for the first cut should be £75, but that single charge covered all subsequent cuts!