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Ivor The Engine

1 9 5 9 – 1 9 6 4 (UK)
32 x 5 minute episodes
1 9 7 6 – 1 9 7 7 (UK)
40 x 5 minute episodes

This fine five-minute animation series was one of the first creations from the prolific Smallfilms team of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin.

As the name suggests, Ivor The Engine concerned the adventures of a small railway engine, operating for the (fictitious) Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited – located “In the top left-hand corner of Wales” according to the narrator.

Inspired by the works of Dylan Thomas, the whole series was steeped in Welshness and gave its young viewers a romantic view of the very industrialist Welsh lifestyle the show portrayed.

The little world in which Ivor’s track passed included many landmarks from an industrial landscape. Firstly, there were his tunnels and viaducts to help him navigate the valleys. Off the mainline between Llangubbin and Tewyn there were the miles of branch track that Ivor serviced.

There was the Smoke Hill (the volcano home of Idris the dragon), the coal mine, gasworks, and chapel in the town of Grumbly and the village of Tan-y-Gwlch.

The line even stretched as far as Tewyn-by-the-sea to enable Ivor to take the workers away from the dark oppression of the industrial landscape for a nice day trip to the coast. But home for Ivor was his shed on the outskirts of Llaniog.

Ivor was driven by Edwin Jones – a.k.a Jones the Steam – whose colleagues were Owen the Signal and Dai Station (the stationmaster who looked after Llaniog Station).

Ivor’s boiler was fired by Idris the dragon and the little engines suitably Welsh ambition was to sing in the choir like his friend Evans the Song (not to run a fine drinking establishment then, like Pisshead the Pub?).

Like many of the Smallfilms productions, Ivor The Engine was made in the barn of Peter Firmin’s 18th-century farmhouse near Canterbury, with the cowshed acting as his artist’s studio. Postgate was apparently assigned the pigsty.

The shows were originally shown in black and white on ITV, courtesy of Associated-Rediffusion – beginning at Christmas 1959 – before the company folded in 1968. In the 1970s, Monica Sims – then head of BBC Children’s Television – was keen to revive Ivor. Enquiring about buying back the rights, Postgate was graciously gifted these by Rediffusion Holdings.

Thus Ivor returned in forty colour episodes to enchant a new generation and was nominated for a BAFTA in 1977.

According to Oliver Postgate, the screening time of Ivor The Engine (1.15 pm) clashed with board meetings at Associated-Rediffusion, but not wishing to miss a single episode the board members ordered a television be wheeled in and the meeting stopped whilst they watched Ivor.

The television was then wheeled out again and the meeting resumed. Nice to see a board with their priorities right for a change.

Oliver Postgate