After spending my morning helping to steward the sea of smiling faces marching down North street for BFP17’s colourful carnival of creatures, I made my way to Bristols’ waterside arthouse cinema and cafe bar, the Watershed, to watch “Oh Globbits”, a film tribute to the much loved and much missed Bristol born animator Terry Brain.
Terry, who may be best remembered by the public for his work on the award winning series ‘The Trapdoor‘ which he co-created with his long time friend and colleague Charlie Mills, as well as for the ‘Stoppit and Tidy Up‘ animations, and for his work on Aardman’s ‘Creature Comforts‘, sadly lost his two year battle with cancer in March 2016. Terry and lifetime friend and colleague Charlie Mills had originally met at Speedwell junior school in Fishponds at the age of ten and with Charlie being good a drawing things and Terry being good at making them, an animation match made in heaven was born.
Terry’s first big break came when he was discovered by Tony Hart and he joined Hartbeat in the 80’s before teaming up with Charlie Mills to form CMTB, later to be joined by Steve Box, who having started at the company on a Youth Training Scheme later went on to co-direct Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Aardman Animations.
In his personal eulogy, delivered to a packed and enthralled audience, Steve Box recounted how he had responded to a newspaper job advert for a cartoonist his father had seen and although he didn’t get that job, he persistently bombarded Terry and Charlie with his artwork until they relented and eventually took him on. So began a six year stint at the CMTB studios at the Kingswood Factory, which was, for all intents and purposes little more than a derelict building much the the consternation of his YTS assessor.
The team went on to produce some 40 episodes of ‘The Trapdoor‘, telling the story of Berk, the overworked servant of the thing upstairs and Boni, a skull Steve intimated may have been based on him although I couldn’t see the resemblance, (honest.) Steve went on to share many warm memories of working with Terry, highlighting not only what a talented, inspiring and innovative animator he was but also, as many of the other tributes we heard that day confirmed, what a wonderfully warm and funny person he was. My favourite take-away from his talk had to be how Willie Rushton, the narrator for ‘The Trapdoor‘, who often inserted his own hilarious ad-libs to the script, had on first meeting and speaking to Terry changed Berk’s voice from the planned Cockney accent to the lush Bristolian one we are all so familiar with now.
The audience were treated to a series of clips from Terry’s most loved work including ‘The Birthday Surprise‘, Wallace & Gromit’s ‘The Auto Chef‘, ‘Creature Comforts‘, the workout scene from ‘Chicken Run‘, which was Terry’s first project with Aardman Animations and ‘Shaun the Sheep‘. My most favourite clip from ‘The Trapdoor‘, the one where Berk moves over a carpet of psychedelically coloured worms together with all manner of tentacled creatures and monsters.
Between the clips personal testimonies on film were given by a host of people who had know and worked with Terry at Aardman Animations including Loyd Price, [head of animation], Charles Copping, [director of photography] and Dave Alex Riddett, [director of photography] who told us the story of an inspiring piece of animation Terry once did on some coloured glass that was best described as ‘Cosmic’!
Further testimonies from other Aardman colleagues followed and each and every one spoke warmly in memory of Terry and testified to the admiration they had for him as an animator and as a person.
Next came a speech by Terry’s friend and colleague at Aardman Animation, Jim Parkyn [senior modelmaker] who spoke first of his memories of watching ‘The Trapdoor‘, with its wonderful world of characters and voices as a child. He went on to say how much it had inspired him to pursue a career in animation as an adult. Subsequently finding himself meeting and working with Terry, first at festivals, then at the BBC and later at Aardman, Jim mapped out how much Terry had been a major influence on him and how quick Terry has been to give praise and share tips, in addition to being such the approachable and funny person that made him an absolute pleasure to work with.
Jim told us that Terry had earned himself the nickname ‘The King of Lick’, when he took the tradition of animators licking their models to keep them moist to the extreme whilst filming an episode of Creature Comforts. Terry had personally licked each individual tongue, of each individual puppet, in a bowl full of muscles he was bringing to animated life. The Muscles were made out of small pieces of shell with clay popping out for the tongue. They were in truth Jim assured us the most seductive yet disgusting things you’ve ever seen. This visual image will remain with me for a long time..! I laughed most at that story, I laughed at the images of it in my head on the journey home, and truth to tell, I’ll probably laugh about it again now many times in the future.
The closing eulogy was delivered by Terry son, Dave Brain, who had shared some of the work that he and his colleague Mike Percival have completed on behalf of his father, who had been working on a new children’s ‘Weirdy Rhymes‘ just before he died. These funny, silly and pleasingly disgusting shorts will be available for everyone to enjoy on Aardman’s YouTube channel in the near future.
If there is one thing that is certain it is that Terry was a very special and talented man much loved by those who knew and worked with him and by those who he has inspired in their own animation careers. Even though he is sadly now gone, he made me and a cinema full of people laugh through his art and his antics and he succeeded in making me laugh again when I got home just in time to watch Wallace & Gromit, ‘The Wrong Trousers‘ on the BBC.
Terry loved to make people laugh, he achieved that when we were children, he did it again today and will undoubtedly do it for many generations of children and adults to come. He has left a wonderful legacy to the world of puppetry and this programme was a well deserved and fitting tribute a wonderful man and an exceptionally talented animation artist.
The BFP17 Film Programme continues this weekend with two feature-length films for adults and families. An accessible screening of ‘My Life As A Courgette‘ at 6pm, Saturday 09 Sept and the European premiere of the all-star Hollywood puppet film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm, Sunday 10 Sept. Visit our website for further information and to book tickets: https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org