May 11 2011: Richard Williams, Tristram Cary and The Little Island (1959)

Buying torn, battered and otherwise damaged vintage materials to dismantle on behalf of Robert Holcombe can be a productive activity in ways not immediately planned. A few months ago I bought a thoroughly trashed copy of  The Girl Film & Television Annual 1959 for its many portraits of (quite frequently long-forgotten) stars of British stage and screen. Tucked away among the effusive pieces on the home lives of Heather Sears and Anne Heywood, or the stardom of Robert Horton, were a few more intriguingly peculiar items.

One was about the roots of Pinky and Perky* in Czech puppet theatre, the porcine duo having been conceived when Jan and Vlasta Dalibor adapted their displaced training to a British context after the second world war. Oddly, this means the singing pigs share a distinguished lineage with Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay (I like to imagine they’d embrace the relationship, in the spirit of absurdity).

Better still, though, was a brief feature about the collaboration of Richard Williams and Tristram Cary on an animated feature called The Little Island (1958). Since Trunk Records had only recently released an LP of long neglected recordings by Cary at the time, it seemed rather appropriate that he should suddenly appear in an annual aimed at the teenage girls of 1959, alongside Humphrey Lyttleton, Pinky & Perky, Doris Day and Melvyn Hayes. (Tristram Cary was, incidentally, the son of novelist Joyce Cary, author of one of the finest novels about an artist ever written, The Horse’s Mouth, published in 1944 and filmed, with Alec Guinness as the painter Gully Jimson, in 1958. Jimson’s works in this film were provided by the ‘kitchen sink’ painter John Bratby).

The story of the collaboration, and some hints at the philosophical bent of Williams’ animated labour of love, are reproduced in the pages below (click on the pages to enlarge).

* A pair of singing marionette pigs who became a major force in British childrens’ TV during the 50s and 60s.


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