Picture Gallery - Part 1

1955 - 1960
BBC Puppet Theatre at Lime Grove Studios
(the Tin Shed days)

One visitor to the Tin Shed, Ernest Thomson, was impressed enough to write about his experience for the Radio Times. Here are the relevant parts of his article:

Deep inside the maze of catwalks, corridors, boiler rooms, scene dumps, wardrobes, and make-up parlours at the Lime Grove television studios, up a fretted-iron stairway and across a sort of ship's gangway, you come to the "Tin Shed." Except for the corrugated roof, it's no more like a tin shed than a bubble-gum factory. But everyone calls it that--even Gordon Murray himself, though it is in fact his treasured BBC Puppet Theatre. 

Shed? Inside you find it's as big as a fair-sized gym. You make other discoveries, too. Doorways have shrunk to waist-height. You try peeping through a dwarf window that would make the Cheshire Cat squint. As for the tables and chairs, they'd cause acute cramp at a Chimps' Tea Party.

"Everything is scaled down to about a third," says Gordon Murray. "Shall I take your coat?"

So this is the Kingdom of Rubovia. Fresh-faced from their cupboards come the King and Queen and Mr. Weatherspoon. Gordon Murray introduces the Lord Chamberlain as well. Then the pair of them climb the bridge over the stage and you are shown how, with a few cunning tugs on those [ten] nylon strings, His Lordship will do all you'd expect of one in his position. Everything in the Tin Shed exists for this precious central stage on its 4-ft. platform.

The theatre is used exclusively for puppet plays--those specially written for puppets--except occasionally a well-established story like The King of the Golden River, which lends itself to puppet treatment...

The theatre is also the workshop, but not a junk-shop. Everything is there for a purpose--wood, glue, wire, rubber for heads, plastics, moulds, paints and a sewing machine (full-sized) for costume. Scenery and 'props'--everything from Rubovia Castle and snowy mountains to four-poster beds and manorial fire-places--are made to Andrew Brownfoot's designs in expanded polystyrene, a kind of plastic so airy and light that a puppet's cough would blow it up the chimney. 

[The above was excerpted from Welcome to the Puppet Theatre! by Ernest Thomson,
Supplement to the Radio Times, December 4th, 1959. For the whole article, see the
Printed Media section] 

As recalled years later by designer Andrew Brownfoot,

“Down the centre of the Tin Shed a long puppeteer’s bridge made of Dexion’ spanned three puppet stages, so the scenery could be set up for an entire play. When the transmission day arrived, the entire set up would be taken down, moved to a TV studio and re-erected ready for camera rehearsals, and finally, at 5pm the programme would be transmitted. Tele-recording had not been developed at that time and so everything went out live, including a few embarrassing moments when things went wrong. Puppets would get entangled with each other or with the scenery, which during Beauty and the Beast I remember, fell over and then was picked up by a giant hairy arm of the floor manager in full view of the transmitting camera!”

 “Margaret and I were married in 1958 and a transmission of Rubovia’ went out the day after, so at six o’clock on the morning of the first day of our married life we had to be in Studio One at Lime Grove to supervise the set up ready for camera rehearsals at nine! At 6pm all our scenery was being dismantled, or rather torn down to make way for another transmission and everyone involved in the production rushed to the BBC club to wind down and recover from the sense of anticlimax. After eight weeks of preparation, the show had been performed only once, and now it was gone, never to be seen again.” [These two paragraphs are excerpts from Andrew Brownfoot's article, The Prehistory of Trumptonshire. They appear here courtesy of Trumptonshire Web]

The Original Rubovia puppets, 1955
(click for larger image 138K)
A colourised photograph of the original King and Queen of Rubovia with their Chamberlain, as never seen on the UK 405-line monochrome television system, 1955. These small string marionettes were made by Kim Allen and used in the first three Rubovia Legends plays, starting with The Queen's Dragon (B&W, live transmission, 1955). That these puppet characters look relatively normal beside their later, larger, and more caricatured, replacements, suggests that Gordon Murray had not yet fully flexed his artistic skills.

Points of Interest
Kim Allen's marionettes were 1/5 life-size (about 13 inches tall). It is possible that the Queen's costume shown in this picture is the one remade for the Queen by Andrew Brownfoot, one of his first efforts. After The Dragon's Hiccups, Gordon Murray redesigned the puppets, also increasing their size by about 60%, to 1/3 life-size (about 18 to 24inches).

The original B&W picture was published in Television Puppet Theatre by Gordon Murray, The Puppet Master June 1956, © BBC. Colourisation © 2003 Alastair Roxburgh.

Tin Shed 1958 - The Emperor's New Clothes
(click for larger image 42K)



Producer Gordon Murray directing his puppeteers in a non-Rubovia puppet play, The Emperor's New Clothes, 1958. The puppeteers are (L to R): John Hardwick, unknown, Roy Skelton, Bob Bura, James Beattie.

Puppet Players
Puppet Players Key
(click for larger image 34K)

Points of Interest: This historic photo captures Gordon Murray's short-lived experiment with having the actors who spoke the lines (Roy Skelton and James Beattie in this case) also pull the strings. Gordon called them 'puppet players'.

The puppeteer bridge in the Tin Shed was made from Dexion angle steel, which can be seen in the picture to extend across two different sets (it actually spanned three). The floor of the bridge was 4 feet above the stage. The original Rubovia puppets (used in The Queen's Dragon and the two other plays in the first production series) were about 13 inches tall (1/5 life-size), similar to the puppets in this photograph, which gives a scale height for the scenery wall of about 18 feet. 

After The Queen's Dragon, Gordon Murray redesigned the puppets, also increasing their size to 1/3 life-size, where they remained for the rest of the series. This reduced the scale height of the 42 inch scenery in the Tin Shed to approximately 12 feet. 

(Later on, the BBC Puppet Theatre in the new Television Centre had a bridge that was 8 feet tall, which doubled the scale height of the scenery to 24 feet. This allowed a lot more flexibility in scenery design.)

This BBC publicity picture was published in the May 7, 1959 issue of The Stage and Television Today. It has also been published in the Aug. 1963 (Vol. 3 No. 5) edition of the BBC's London Calling magazine, and in Anna Home's book, Into the Box of Delights (see Bibliography). 

A meeting in the Ballroom
(click for larger image 81K)
A tense meeting between (L to R) The Lord Chamberlain, King Rufus, Queen Caroline, and Mr. Albert Weatherspoon on the set of Clocks and Blocks, August 1958. Also present are Pongo, the Queen's baby dragon, and  Mr. Weatherspoon's cat, Rubina ('puss'). The old 405-line UK B&W television system never looked this good!

Points of Interest: B&W picture sepia-toned and colourised using existing colour photographs as a guide to the correct colours. If you look carefully it's possible to make out a palace guard in the background, behind the King.

The "tapestry" hanging behind the Lord Chamberlain was painted by Andrew Brownfoot for the non-Rubovia puppet play, The Emperor's New Clothes, and was inherited by the Rubovian Royals following that production. A larger view of the tapestry, hanging exactly the same way it does here, appears in Andrew and Margaret's biography, and serves to date this photograph.

Clocks and Blocks was the first "Rubovian Legends" episode with the new larger-sized and more caricatured puppets.

The original B&W picture was published in the September 1958 issue of Ariel, the BBC's house magazine, and is © BBC. Colourisation © 2003 Alastair Roxburgh.

Weatherspoon tests his magic wand on puss!
(click for larger image 64K)

In a publicity still from The Wonky Wand, first transmitted 8th December 1959, Mr. Albert Weatherspoon is preparing for a Royal Command performance of some magic tricks, as evening entertainment visiting royal guest, King Boris of Borsovia. Having removed ye old wand from ye old wand case, Weatherspoon is seen here testing it to check if it still works. Apparently it does, as puss is now floating in the air at candlestick height above the table top!

Point of Interest: The 1976 stop-motion episode, The Unreliable Wand, was a remake of this episode. Soundtrack of remake is available on  BBC LP REC282 Side 1, simulated stereo.

This picture was published in Come to the Puppet Theatre, by Earnest Thomson, Junior Radio Times, Supplement to the Radio Times, 4th October 1959, and is © BBC. 

A video still from Wonky Wand, first transmitted 8th December 1959.

King Rufus and the Lord Chamberlain are sharing a private joke at Queen Caroline's expense.

Six weeks in preparation, a Rubovia play goes out live on BBC Children's Television
Points of Interest: Visible in this photograph, which was taken in the BBC's "Tin Shed" at Lime Grove, are four BBC-TV cameras, seven crew, and two puppets on the centre stage. The photograph is not clear enough to determine if this is a scene from "Rubovia Legends", or one of Gordon Murray's other puppet plays. The puppeteers are out of sight above the stages on the bridge. 

Only the first three Rubovia episodes were transmitted live, and whereas they required four TV cameras and a crew to match, the later episodes were filmed with a single 16 mm film camera operated by Gordon Murray himself. 
This photograph was published in the May 7, 1959 issue of The Stage and Television Today.