Bye! Bye! Biographic Studios – Page 2

        Issue #13 Summer 1985

Although editing became more sophisticated it did not benefit Biographic, they lost money on the final series of “Square World”. But the charisma of being on the top TV comedy programme each week with a credit on screen and in the Radio Times was a blessing in disguise. This form of advertising was infinitely more effective than simply putting an advert in the trade press.

Ben tine’s comedies were pre-recorded, with the end titles always seeming to run over the pay-off lines of the final sketch, which was usually some terrible disaster, such as the burning down of the BBC headquarters, etc. Each recording had its own appropriate set of titles. All would have been well if only they had left them that way, but they didn’t. Keith explains: “After pre-recording all six shows, they cut them up into their separate sketches. I always swore they put them in a bran tub and fished out the required number for each edition.

Because the sequences were re-arranged, we had the ludicrous situation of seeing Biographic credited for animation in the Radio Times for a show totally devoid of animation. The following week, when the show was packed with animation, we had no credit, at all!
But it was instructive fun, living through the succession of technical advances. When “Square World” came to an end, they contributed animated titles to the Terry Scott and Bill Maynard series: “Great Scott – It’s Maynard!”, and later to “Bootsie and Snudge”; “Double Your Money”; the “Bruce Forsyth Show” for ITV; and a Julie Andrews special for BBC.

Julie’s guest was Michael Bentine (her godfather, in real life). He did two sketches: one with Ian Bligh, for the other he invented a cartoon character, an Italian singing tutor, to teach Julie Andrews to sing “The Merry, Merry Pipes of Pan”. The studio worked to a pre-recorded speeded-up voice track and piano track combined. During transmission, Julie kept one eye on the monitor screen while she performed live. It was most successful, and her first attempt at interaction with animation. The experience must have helped her when she came to make “Mary Poppins” for Walt Disney.

Unfortunately, things do not always go according to plan. There was the occasion they animated a TV programme for producer Francis Essex, starring Tommy Steel, in which Tommy played the part of a scarecrow. A cartoon crow flew into the scene and fell about laughing, saying; “You couldn’t scare anyone!” After a comedy cross-talk routine, they went into a song and dance. Now, although pre-recording was in vogue, Saturday Night Variety shows were still transmitted live. They shot the animation on black-and-white stock against a black background using the electronic overlay system to superimpose it onto the live-action.
“Afterwards,” said Keith, “I met one of the cameramen who had worked on the programme. He told me that the combination of cartoon and live-action did not work once at rehearsals. But there is a happy ending to this story, because on the night it was transmitted, it worked perfectly. All due, no doubt, to that extra bit of professional adrenalin.”

In theory, the conductor listened to the same track the animators used. Following a one-two-three verbal introduction, he was expected to start the orchestra on cue and keep it in synch throughout with the aid of the metronome/piano track playing in his ear. So much for theory -it did not always work. Small wonder this form of interaction fell out of favour. Besides, it was fast becoming too expensive. Animators were beginning to demand the rate for the job.

Commercials were growing in prominence and one had to concentrate on them. For many they had become staple “bread-and-butter” work. Titles and other insert work were fun to do if you had time to spare, but when they interfered with the running of your business it was necessary to obtain the appropriate rate, or you did not do them.

Biographic’s sponsored entertainment cartoons took them 9 – 10 months apiece to make, and they fitted in the commercials where they could during that time; for example, in 1959 they worked on “Mildred” and the series titles at one and the same time. A similar situation existed when they came to make “Be Careful Boys” and the longer running I.B.M. film.

Biographic made over 30 commercials for Esso Blue between 1962- 1978.

They were responsible for the entire Esso Blue campaign series; the series for British Insurance; the Post Office Savings Bank, and for Glenryck Pilchards. Actually, Esso Blue held the record, some 30 or so filmlets in all, made between 1962 – 1978. British Insurance came second, and Glenryck Pilchards a close third.

You were never asked to do a series at the outset. All the best ideas began as one-off’s. When that proved successful, the sponsor asked for another and before you fully appreciated what was happening you found yourself involved in a seemingly endless issue of new titles. Their last long commitment involved the Stamp Bug, campaigning on behalf of the Post Office Philatelic Division. It ran for nearly five years, with four or five brand new subjects each year. By then, the agency-brief approach had changed.

In the Sixties, Biographic originated the complete scenarios. Tony Solomons, liaison man for the Esso Blue films came to them with the briefest of briefs, saying: “Look here, you know what the selling points are – get on with it!” They were expected to originate the ideas, design the productions, create the characters, and present ten storyboards a year from which two or three were chosen.

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