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Toonhound presents...






British TV series

  "Alexander the Mouse" from SmallFilms

  the Mouse
    producers: SmallFilms
                      for Associated-Rediffusion
    animation: 2D cut-outs and magnets
      episodes: 26 "live" episodes


    Just like his namesake, Alexander the Great, Alxexander is a mouse who's
    born to be king. Though, at the start of our episodic tale he doesn't know know
    this of course, and that is the crux of this adventure which takes us under the
    floorboards and across London, to Alexander's coronation in a mouse
    cathedral beneath a warehouse, down by the London Docks...

    This miniature mousey series has very big significance in animation circles,
    because it wa the very first series commission for Oliver Postgate, who teamed
    up with Peteer Firmin to bring Alexander to life, and in doing so, formed their
    magical SmallFilms partnership (Bagpuss, The Clangers, etc).

    So let's step back in time, to 1958. Oliver Postgate was employed as a stage
    manager for the childrens programming department of Associated-Rediffusion,
    who were the television franchise holders for London at the time. Thinking
    he could do better than some of the lacklustre programming on offer in
    "Small Time", the station's childrens slot, Oliver sat down and wrote his
    mouse tale. He took it to the head of Light Entertainment, who loved it
    and steered him towards an all-new animation system, concocted by a an
    Irish associate. That system was ridiculously simple, but effective. The
    background art would be placed upon a sheet of aluminium. Thin magnets
    were then attatched to the back of a series of character cut-outs and, by
    placing another magnet behind the background, the elements could be
    locked together, and the cut-outs dragged "live" across their backgrounds.
    Two such tables of art would be set up for filming, each with a 45 degree
    mirror above them so the tv camera could look into the mirrors and so
    down upon the tables...
    So that was the system. Now Oliver needed someone to create the neccessary
    artwork, which amounted to some twenty different backgrounds and a number
    of cut-outs for each episode, all to be created on an episodic budget of
    just £30.
He turned to his friend Maurice Kestelman, who was the Head of
    Fine Art at the Central School of Art and Design, and he in turn steered
    Oliver towards one of his lecturers: Peter Firmin.

    In his splendid autobiography "Seeing Things"
(Panmacmillan), Oliver says
    that Peter had concerns about the job offer, with its tight budget and -
    principally - its sizable workload. In the end, it appears he should have been
    more concerned about the animation system they were using, because
    Oliver goes on to detail the numerous problems this magnetic process
    threw up!

    But the series proved a great success, and so too the working relationship
    between Oliver and Peter, and they continued their partnership for their
    next commission "The Journey of Master Ho" which was, thankfully,
    free of magnets altogether, and - well - we all know the rest, don't we?

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    broadcast info

    "Alexander the Mouse" premiered as part of Associated-Rediffusion's
    Small Time programming on Monday 14th April 1958, and continued 
    every Monday until the 8th September...

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     script:           Oliver Postgate
     illustrations:  Peter Firmin
     voices:          Oliver Postgate (narrator)

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     On the web

     The official site...

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© SmallFilms / Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin / F2009