The distinguished puppet animator, Barry Leith, not only helped create the animated television series, The Wombles, but illustrated editions of the books on which it was based. Barry Leith studied graphic design at Hornsey College of Art, and then took a post-graduate course in film and photography. He soon moved into animation, and worked for a while with the French animator, Jacques Forgeot. He then joined FilmFair and, becoming a director of animation, contributed to some classic children’s animated television series.
In 1973, the BBC commissioned FilmFair to produce a series of 30 five-minute films based on Elizabeth Beresford’s The Wombles. In addition to his role as cinematographer, Barry Leith designed the sets and collaborated with the director, Ivor Wood, on the development of the puppets. They so changed the initial look of the Wombles, as established by their original illustrator, Margaret Gordon, that, in 1975, Leith produced a new set of illustrations for the reissue of Beresford’s first book (as shown here) and the publication of its sequels.
A second television series, of another 30 episodes, appeared in that year.
From 1975 to 1979, FilmFair took up a suggestion by Ivor Wood and followed The Wombles with 56 five-minute films based on Michael Bond’s stories about Paddington Bear, also made for the BBC. Leith worked as its director of animation. In 1984, he was nominated for a BAFTA for the 12-minute special, Paddington goes to the Movies, which includes the bear reprising Gene Kelly’s famous dance routine from Singin’ in the Rain.
From 1983 to 1986, Leith helped make The Adventures of Portland Bill, a third children’s programme with FilmFair, though this time for ITV. It consisted of two series, each of thirteen 5-minute episodes.
In 1987, Leith founded his own company, Puppetoon Productions, which, for about a decade, made commercials, often at the premises of FilmFair. He and his second wife, Jayne, then settled in Norfolk, where they brought up their two daughters. He now teaches on the BA (Hons) Animation course at Norwich University of the Arts.
Further reading: Geir Madland, ‘Basil, Model Citizen’, YLM: Your Lifestyle Magazine for Norfolk & Suffolk, August 2014, pages 6-7