John Hardwick

Animator of the Trumptonshire trilogy

Saturday 18 December 2004 01:00
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John Hardwick was one of the creative talents behind the well-loved children's television programmes of the Sixties and Seventies Camberwick Green, Trumpton, Chigley and Captain Pugwash.

John Hardwick, animator and puppeteer: born Edgware, Middlesex 1 May 1937; (one daughter with Hazel Pearson); died 24 September 2004.

John Hardwick was one of the creative talents behind the well-loved children's television programmes of the Sixties and Seventies Camberwick Green, Trumpton, Chigley and Captain Pugwash.

With Bob Bura, he ran the animation and puppet-making company Stop Motion for nearly half a century, having left school at 16 to become a puppeteer. Though they were very different - Hardwick a tall, quiet redhead, Bura small, moody and combative - the two men lived and worked side by side for decades.

They first encountered Gordon Murray, creator of the Trumptonshire trilogy, in 1953 when he recruited them to help with a seaside puppet show in Broadstairs, Kent. Later they assisted Murray again on a Christmas puppet show in Fulham, south-west London.

Hardwick and Bura worked on the BBC children's series Toytown with Murray in the mid-Fifties, working rod puppets from below. This was followed by another puppet series, Rubovian Legends, created in a makeshift studio that Murray had fashioned out of a rehearsal room at Lime Grove.

By the mid-Sixties, Murray, Hardwick and Bura realised that string puppets were old hat and that "stop-motion" animation was the future. Murray set about creating an archetypal vision of rural English life, comprising the market town of Trumpton (complete with firemen Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb), the outlying village of Camberwick Green (the home of Windy Miller) and the new industrial greenfield site of Chigley.

Bura and Hardwick adapted Murray's colourful cast of characters by adding wire frameworks and painstakingly changing poses for each individual frame. They undertook all aspects of the filming process, including camera operation, lighting, motion timing and the pioneering use of colour photography. Filming of the Trumptonshire trilogy took place in a converted church in Crouch End. Murray recalls:

I pre-recorded the voices and the music, and passed the tape to Bura and Hardwick to provide the visuals. Hardwick was a particularly good animator, very artistic, utterly wrapped up in puppets. He was a charming man with a nice sense of humour. Bura was the more fiery character of the two.

Although they only made 13 episodes of each one, the trilogy went out on BBC TV (with Camberwick Green appearing first, in 1966) for 20 consecutive years, and was revived more recently by Channel 4.

John Hardwick was born in Edgware, Middlesex, in 1937, the youngest of four children. His father, a carpenter, built exhibition stands at Olympia. His elder sister, prior to getting married, assisted a young conjuror and puppeteer called Bob Bura, whom John got to know while he was still at school. Later Hardwick took over from his sister, helping Bura to make puppets and stage Punch and Judy shows on Southsea beach.

In addition to their work with Murray, Bura and Hardwick made cinema advertisements, road safety films featuring Tufty the Squirrel, and inserts for children's programmes such as Blue Peter and Hey Presto! It's Rolf.

The pair also did the animation for Captain Pugwash in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, and made an acclaimed puppet film of the ballet Petrouchka in 1968.

In the 1970s they moved their studio from London to a converted church in Somerset, but in recent years they found their services in less demand.

Nick Smurthwaite

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