"His name is Mr Dithers,
And he has a breakdown va-ha-han..."
Mr Dithers runs the "Let Me Help You" agency
out of an old scrapyard, and
he drives around town in his breakdown va-ha-han,
helping people. But, as his
name implies, he's a bit of a ditherer, so it's
good that he has some help of
his own, in the form of Mr Perkins, a prim
King Penguin with a black bow tie.
Except that this brings us a new dilemma, because
when folks "send for
Dithers", they are in fact sending for Dithers
But we're not here to argue semantics. We are
instead indexing one of the
oddest series you will ever see. It was created
by Roberta Leigh, and utilized
a combination of marionette puppets, scale "modelive"
footage and traditional animation to bring its small
stories to life. "Send
for Dithers" seems to have stepped out of
some absurd Children's TV
Tardis. It really is a whole world away from today's
presentations, where every single detail of the
production is honed and refined
and debated and approved by commitee prior to
filiming. You have to see it for
yourself to really take in the oddity of it all.
And once you've seen it, you'll
proably never forget it.
"He can brush your mat,
He can brush your cat,
And he can brush the floor..."
The first episode sets the scene. Mr Dithers receives
a phone call from Mr Biggs,
of Biggs Supermarket. Apparently, he has a parcel
that needs delivering because
Mrs Barker has bought a surprise parcel for her
son, Johnny. Mr Dithers takes
the job on. But his breakdown va-ha-han is nowhere
to be seen, because we
soon find him struggling down the high street with
an oversized talking box in
his hands. Yes, that's right, the box is talking to
him. In fact, the talking
box gives him some guidance about the whys and
wherefores of road
safety, and this advice is ably supported by a dour
streetcleaner with an
eyepatch, who is working nearby. Eventually, Mr Dithers
arrives at his
delivery address, except that he trips and the
talking package splits open.
"Why, you're a penguin!"
"A King Penguin, if you don't mind!"
This is Mr Perkins, greeting Mr Dithers for the
first time. But dithering Dithers
has spoilt young Johnny's surprise, hasn't he?
His Mummy appears to castigate
the fellow. She'll have to buy Johnny something
else now, and she'll make sure
Mr Dithers doesn't deliver it. And Mr Perkins
will have to go back to the store. But
Perkins doesn't want to go back to the store.
He wants Mr Dithers to earn the
money to buy him for himself, so he can be his
best friend. That's our cue for
an extended animated song, all about best friends
and what they mean to
each other. Whereupon the duo return to Biggs'
Supermarket, and Mr Dithers
convinces Mr Biggs to re-employ him as a doorman.
Oh, but now he dithers
the door into poor Mrs Barker and sends her flying
in a display rack. Even so,
he manages to convince Mr Biggs to hire him yet
again, this time as a window
cleaner. One hose piping later, and Mr Biggs is sending
Mr Dithers on his
way with immediate effect. And he can take Mr
Perkins with him too, for
And so a brand-new puppet partnership is born.
And it would be all-too easy
to deride and belittle this strange, threadbare series.
But we mustn't forget it
hails from another era. Kids were different, back
then. Kids shows were
different too, with different expectations and delivery
placed upon them.
Maybe it's all meant to be decidedly ironic. What
we do know is this
is a production that is very much "of its time".
And that it is a fascinating
oddity. Odder than a box of fro-ho-hogs, to be sure.
Speaking of odd. Roberta Leigh herself is quite an
odd character to pin down,
because her name is, in fact, one of four
pen names utilised by author turned
television and film producer Janey Scott Lewin. Janey
published her first novel
in 1950 and she has written romance fiction and childrens
stories under the
pen names of Roberta Leigh, Rachel Lindsay, Rozella
Lake and Janey Scott.
We know her most famously for that former name,
of course, under which
she created and produced seven TV puppet productions.
Roberta began her TV career with The
Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy
two shows brought alive via the work of Gerry Anderson and
AP films. The two parted company amicably after Torchy's
first season, and
Roberta managed to lure AP's Arthur Provis away with
her for subsequent
productions. Leigh and Provis brought us Sara
& Hoppity, "Space Patrol",
a pilot for Paul
Starr, "Send for Dithers", and "Wonder Boy and Tiger".
But Roberta's toon credentials don't end there
because she also went
to edit a lesser-known weekly comic for kids called
by oil company Esso and starring a number of her characters
strip form. And Roberta is still going strong
today, working as an artist
and painter. You can see some of her works on
her official web
for Dithers on DVD
The vey first episode of "Send for Dithers"
was formerly available as an
extra on this "Space Patrol" release,
but the set is now very hard to come by.
Here's the link, anyway...
Patrol : The Complete Series
2 / six discs / Network / 2008
by Roberta Leigh