60 DEDICATED YEARS IN THE PUPPET THEATRE – A short biography in his own words. Artistic   Director,   designer,   craftsman,   author,   mentor. Often   called,   the   walking   encyclopaedia   of   the   puppet theatre.    The    most    prolific    producer    of,    multi    media puppet theatre productions in the UK. My    life    began    in    March    1937.    My    mother    studied painting,   and   my   father   was   a   fine   craftsman.   With   my younger   brother   and   sister,   we   regularly   visited   the Birmingham   hippodrome;   this   inspired   me   to   become a    performer.    Birmingham    Museum    and    Art    Gallery introduced    me    to    mediaeval    wood    carving,    and    a costume by the Russian artist Alexander Benois. At   school   drama,   woodcarving   and   metal   work;   I   even made a steam engine that worked. The     ‘Lilliput     Marionette     Theatre’     was     the     most interesting   puppet   theatre   for   the   design,   figures   and scenery, and the dramatic productions. In   1951,   I   created   my   first   marionette   theatre,   ‘The   Festival   Marionettes’.   I   joined   ‘The   ‘Birmingham   Puppet   Guild’; affiliated   to   the   ‘British   Puppet   and   Model   Theatre   Guild’   I   received   two   awards   for   puppet   theatre   designs,   and   clown marionettes   from   Harry   Whanslaw.   Later   on   I   was   presented   with   the   ‘Presidents   Plate’,   by   Cecil   Madden,   the   pioneer BBC   television   personality.   After   his   death   I   took   over   the   role   of   President.   I   proposed   that   regional   meetings   should   be held   to   enable   members   to   play   a   greater   part,   also   hold   joint   Guild   and   UNIMA   meetings   in   different   parts   of   the   country, each   one   of   them   with   special   events.   ‘The   Puppeteers   Roadshow’   was   held   to   provide   a   hands-on   range   of   specialised technical and craft skills led by leading exponents.   The   Festival   Marionettes’   consisted   of   four   people   working   in   a   marionette   theatre,   and   a   marionette   variety   act.   Hughie Green and the musician Steve Race spotted us for their ‘Opportunity Knocks’. The   variety   act   performed   in   the   annual   ‘Summer   Theatres’   in   the   City   of   Birmingham   Parks,   and   we   won   numerous prizes   in   ‘Search   for   stars’   talent   competitions,   we   later   appeared   as   guest   artistes.   We   also   performed   in   ‘Stars   of   Magic’ shows. In 1952 I saw Sergei Obraztsov’s solo performance this inspired me; later he became a friend and mentor. I started to develop carving, design skills, stage craft, circus skills, and classical dance. Obraztsov   inspired   me   to   study   the   ‘Mir   Iskusstva’   (The   World   of   Art)   the   ‘Ballet   Russe   of   Serge   Diaghilev’.   Designers Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst, were a great influence in my designs. Leaving   school   at   fifteen,   I   had   to   take   a   ‘proper   job’   at   the   ‘General   Electric   Company’,   where   I   received   my   ‘Higher National   Certificate’   in   electrical   engineering.   The   GEC   had   a   theatre   company   and   there   I   designed   my   first   stage   design. We also performed the marionette act in their Christmas Pantomime. I   left   the   GEC   at   the   end   of   the   year,   to   perform   with   the   marionettes’;   I   also   worked   as   a   graphic   designer,   for   an exhibition    and    display    company.    I    worked    on    the    first    production    of    the    BBC    Television    studio    in    Gosta    Green, Birmingham. Two   years   of   National   Service   was   spent   in   ‘JARIC’   the   ‘Joint   Aeronautic   Intelligence   Centre’   in   the   RAF.   I   also   taught painting   and   drawing   to   officers.   Running   a   touring   variety   show   of   some   sixty   performers   was   another   activity,   I   trained another puppeteer to work with me I also performed a clown act. Leaving   the   RAF   I   joined   the   theatre   company   as   a   stage   designer   and   stage   director   at   ‘Dudley   Hippodrome’,   one   of   the leading   UK   theatres.   There   I   designed   and   painted   the   scenery,   and   stage   managed   my   first   major   pantomime,   ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. With   the   company,   I   moved   to   the   ‘Pavilion   Theatre’,   Liverpool.   There   I   had   the   pleasure   of   working   with   some   of   the legends of the music hall, and many of the leading variety performers. The   decline   of   the   variety   theatres   let   me   to   looking   for   another   outlet.   I   was   offered   the   position   of   ‘Floor   Manager’   at ‘Granada   Television’.   Coincidentally,   puppeteer,   Christine   Glanville   asked   me   if   I   would   join   the   puppeteers   in   the   ‘Century Twenty-one   Studios.   I   accepted   the   opportunity.   I   created   puppet   characters   in,   ‘Supercar’,   Fireball   XL5’,   ‘Stingray’   and ‘Thunderbirds’,   including   ‘Parker’,   who   became   an   ‘international   ‘puppet   superstar’.   Three   of   the   ‘Parker   figures   sold   for the highest prices ever paid for puppets; thirty four, thirty eight, and fifty thousand pounds! I   started   to   explore   the   idea   of   a   new   form   of   puppet   theatre,   combining   the   skills   that   I   had   already   acquired. International   dance   and   visual   theatre   companies   were   of   interest;   they   included   the   design   and   choreography   of   ‘Alwyn Nicolais    Dance    Company’;    he    was    previously    a    puppeteer;    Martha    Graham’s    scenographer    Isamu    Naguchi,    Depero Futurista, and the Bauhaus. Frequent   visits   to   Russia   enabled   me   to   see   the   repertoire   of   Obraztsov’s   Moscow   State   Puppet   Theatre.   Lenora   Shpet, dramaturg   to   the   theatre   arranged   visits   to   meet   Alexander   Voloshin,   the   Director   of   the   ‘Moscow   State   Circus   School’,   to watch   training   programmes.   I   sent   him   a   number   of   my   circus   drawings   for   the   school.   I   had   been   very   much   involved   in the circus in the UK, and performed as an acrobat and clown. I    met    the    legendary    Bunraku    master,    Monjuro    Kiritaki    the    Director    of    the    ’National    Bunraku    Theatre’,        and    actor puppeteer   Tamamatsu   Yoshida,   to   study   Bunraku   figures;   their   building   and   manipulation.   Later,   Koryu   Nishikawa   and the Kuruma Ningyo, in Hachioji.  With   Hisao   Suzuki,   the   great   master   Noh   Mask   master,   I   mastered   the   art   and   craft   of   the   Noh   Mask.   Suzuki’s   masks   can be   seen   in   ‘The   Victoria   and   Albert   Museum’   and   the   ‘National   Gallery’.   I   started   to   study   de-humanisation   techniques   of Japanese actor, and Tai Chi as exercise for actor puppeteers. Extensive   travelling   to   Eastern   and   Central   Europe   connected   me   with   the   legendary   personalities   of   UNIMA,   and   puppet theatres.      The   quality   of   puppet   theatre   design,   direction,   production   values,   and   nationalistic   strength   were   an   object lesson. I   left   the   television   studios   and   I   joined   Jane   Phillips   at   ‘Caricature   Theatre’.   We   had   a   commission   to   create   a   rod   puppet and   mask   production   as   part   of   the   ‘Commonwealth   Arts   Festival’.   The   production,   based   on   the   ‘Mabinogion’,   ‘Culwhych and   Olwen’.   The   first   performance   was   seen   by   The   ‘Duke   of   Edinburgh.   It   toured   Wales,   and   we   made   a   three-part, Welsh   language,   television   film   for   the   BBC.   Harro   Seigel   invited   us   to   perform   the   production   in   his   ‘International Puppet   Theatre   Festival’,   in   Braunsweig,   Germany.   Jan   Malik   from   Prague   and   Ludwig   Krafft   from   Munich,   invited   us   to perform in ‘International Puppet Theatre Festival’, during the UNIMA Congress in Munich. A   journey   to   Poland   to   see   as   many   puppet   theatre   productions   revealed   a   plethora   of   remarkable,   contemporary   and innovative   works.   One   of   my   actor   director   puppeteer   friends   organised   a   visit   to   Grotovsky’s   ‘Laboratorium’,   to   see   his work and training methods. Returning to Cardiff, I explored new ideas, and made a documentary for BBC Wales’s television. After the visit to Poland, in two days; I designed and created a production of ‘Peter and The Wolf’. A   commission   to   design   a   production   of   ‘Pinocchio’,   for   Warren   Jenkins,   the   director   of   ‘The   Welsh   National   Theatre’,   with actors,   masks.   The   production   toured   in   Wales,   and   later   toured   to   leading   English   theatres,   that   included   the   Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Leeds Playhouse, and Watford Palace Theatre. The   first   purpose   built   Arts   Centre   in   the   UK,   ‘The   Midlands   Arts   Centre   for   Young   People’   was   to   open   in   Cannon   Hill Park,   Birmingham.   I   was   invited   by   the   Director,   John   English,   to   join   the   management   team   and   undertake   the   role   of designer   and   puppet   master   for   the   ‘Midlands   Arts   Theatre   Company’.   I   designed   classical   and   contemporary   plays;   part of   a   ‘Theatrical   Literacy   Programme’   for   young   people.      Puppets   and   masks   were   frequently   featured   in   them.   For   twelve years   I   ran   weekend   puppet   workshops   and   educational   projects   for   children   and   young   people.   An   early   exhibition   in the   centre   was   puppet   theatre,   with   Waldo   Lanchester.   The   Lanchester’s   donated   their   touring   marionette   theatre   and some marionettes as a foundation for a puppet theatre. Caricature   Theatre   was   invited   to   perform   for   the   first   time   in   the   new   Studio   Theatre   with   ‘Peter   and   the   Wolf’.   This enabled   me   to   explore   the   potential   of   a   major   contemporary   professional   puppet   theatre   in   a   well   designed,   flexible   and technically   equipped   studio   theatre   building.   Sergei   Obraztsov   was   the   first   major   personality   to   visit   the   new   Arts Centre;   he   generously   gave   us   the   Moscow   State   Puppet   Theatre   version   of   ‘Buratino’,   a   version   of   ‘Pinocchio’.      I designed   and   directed   two   different   productions   of   this.   Lotte   Reiniger   was   a   regular   visitor   to   Cannon   Hill;   she   screened her films, and cut silhouette animals chosen by the children. Saturday   and   Sunday   puppet,   mask   and   improvisation   workshops   for   children   from   five   to   fifteen   years   of   age   took   place, this   created   and   ideal   opportunity   to   explore   how   children   and   young   people   developed   creative   play   with   disposable objects,   also   to   develop   alternative   arts   education   and   expressive   arts   and   crafts.   Each   evening   puppet   and   mask workshops   for   fifteen   to   twenty   five   year   olds   also   took   place.   Other   creative   artists   in   the   Centre   was   the   film   maker, Mike Leigh, who directed plays and films with students. A   ‘Studio   and   Performance   Group’   was   formed   to   explore   new,   multi-media   production   techniques,   in   unusual   spaces. Original   productions,   for   adult   and   children’s   audiences   were   created.      The   first   production,   was   a   Polish   Christmas Legend   with   a   vast   stage   setting   based   on   the   ‘Polish   Szopka’,   rod   puppets,   and   a   company   of   young   Polish   dancers.   The production was toured to a number of large halls in the City of Birmingham. The   group   was   twice   invited   to   perform   in   International   Amateur   Puppet   Theatre   Festivals   in   Chrudim,   Czechoslovakia. One,   with   an   adult   play   ‘Peter   in   Heaven   and   Hell’,   and   Mozart’s   opera,   ‘Basteine   and   Bastienne’,   and   ‘Narcissus’,   with   live opera singers and orchestra. Two   performances   spaces   were   available   to   us.   A   highly   flexible   ‘Studio   Theatre’,   seating   over   two   hundred   people,   and   a ‘Hexagon   Theatre’,   a   lecture   style   theatre   that   seated   one   hundred   people.   The   two   performance   spaces   required   two distinct   production   techniques.   The   ‘Studio   Theatre’   with   its   flexible   open   stage   was   a   perfect   performance   space.   We were   able   to   present   productions   from   visiting   foreign   companies,   these   included,   ‘Drak’,   Czech.   ‘Takeda   Marionettes’, Japan. ‘Marcinek’, Poland. ‘Albrecht Roser’, Germany. Yang Feng and his company, China; to name a few. Children   and   young   people   deserve   only   the   finest   quality   entertainment   and   education.   In   the   early   years   adults   found   it difficult   to   accept   the   new   style   of   puppet   theatre,   even   so,   children   and   young   people   were   excited   by   the   rich   and varied   combinations   of   puppets,   masks,   mime   and   other   disciplines   in   productions.   In   the   early   years   even   puppeteers rarely   came   to   performances;   it   was   considered   that   the   new   dynamic   was   not   puppet   theatre.   This   attitude   continued for   a   number   of   years,   despite   the   fact   that   family   and   children’s   productions   were   always   sold   out,   even   before   we opened   new   productions.   The   pioneering   type   of   productions   created   by   us,   instead   of   traditional   confines   of   the   puppet theatre,   with   their   proscenium   frames,   and   playboard's,   continued   to   be   used   in   UK   and   European   puppet   theatres   for many years. It is interesting to note, that now; virtually all puppet productions now use the new dynamic style. My   intention   was   to   develop   a   repertoire   of   classical   children’s   works   and   introduce   a   wide   range   of   international material.   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre   presented   its   first   production   in   1968.   The   company   comprised   of   actors   from   the Arts   Theatre   Company,   and   three   from   the   Studio   Group   and   myself.   It   was   supported,   with   a   studio   craftsman,   sound and   lighting   technician   from   the   Studio   Group.   The   actor   Tony   Robinson   was   one   of   the   first   members   of   the   company. Later    Ronnie    LeDrew    joined    us,    later    he    became    assistant    to    the    Director.    The    company    consisted    of    an    artistic director/designer,   administrator,   studio   craftsman   and   production   manager,   stage   manager,   six   actor   puppeteers,   sound and   lighting   technician,   stage   carpenter,   and   wardrobe   mistress.   The   company   was   like   a   family   unit   working   to   the   old theatre adage ‘no play, no pay’. Everyone had above Equity rates, with rises every year. Creating   our   own   model   it   was   essential   to   train   specialists,   actor   puppeteers   had   to   explore   the   role   and   function   of   the actor   puppeteer   on   stage,   and   how   to   direct   multi-media   performances.   A   lack   of   available   texts,   required   new   methods of   writing   and   we   created   a   project   with   John   English   to   explore   it.   I   discovered   that   the   great   Japanese   writer, Chikamatsu   Monzaemon,   considered   his   writing   for   the   Bunraku   theatre   not   to   reach   the   highest   literary   qualities   as   that of the human actor. Specialised   technical   skills   became   an   important   element.   I   engaged   young   technicians   from   the   pop   world,   who   were exceptionally   creative.   Later   on,   a   leading   opera   sound   and   light   designer   joined   us.   John   Wolf,   the   Royal   Shakespeare Theatre   composer   produced   our   music.   My   intention   was   always   to   develop   the   skills   of   a   new   and   talented   younger generation of people who had open minds and were prepared to explore new ideas. Young   actors   with   good   voices   from   Birmingham   School   of   Speech   Training   and   Dramatic   Art   were   retrained   for   the company.   Weekly   puppet   theatre   courses   in   the   drama   school   were   also   held   to   explore   new   work   and   ideas,   and students had to create work without finance, and only allowed to use disposable material. A   one,   and   two   year,   professional   full-time   training   for   puppeteers   and   other   specialists   were   established.   Simon   Buckley, Robin    Stevens    were    two    of    the    early    students    who    later    joined    the    company,    and    became    significant    television puppeteers.   Adrian   Kohler,   the   creator   of   the   ‘War   Horse’   figure   spent   a   two   year   intern   with   us,   and   Ronnie   Burkett   once applied   to   join   us.   Darryl   Worbey   was   an   apprentice   in   the   workshops   of   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre   from   1982   to   1984 he   showed   a   great   deal   of   talent   and   on   completing   his   education   he   secured   a   contract   as   a   puppeteer   in   a   film   in Canada.   After   its   completion   joined   the   Henson   Creature   Shop   and   now   his   Studio   is   one   of   the   leading   film   and   television companies   creating   high   quality   puppets.   The   company   performed   eight   performances,   sometimes   sixteen   each   week   by splitting   the   company.   Each   performance   ran   for   two   hours,   with   a   short   intermission.   Apart   from   two   week   summer breaks the company performed all year round. During   the   twenty   five   years   of   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre   we   created   over   eighty   productions,   all   of   them   completely different   in   design   style   and   techniques.   I   produced,   directed,   designed   and   created   over   fifty   productions,   wrote   over thirty   texts,   carved   and   painted   all   puppets   heads   and   hands,   and   created   numerous   unique   puppet   techniques.   I   also designed our posters and programmes. The   puppet   theatre   was   recognised   by   Equity   as   the   spear   head   puppet   theatre   company   in   the   UK,   with   an   international reputation.   It   is   interesting   to   note   that   the   Arts   Council   Drama   Panel,   despite   the   fact   that   we   received   no   direct funding,   asked   us   to   remove   the   word   ‘puppet’   from   our   title.   The   puppet   was   always   our   central   means   of   expression, and would always be so through its history. The   company   was   recognised   as   one   of   the   three   jewels   in   the   City   of   Birmingham’s   cultural   crown,   alongside   Simon Rattle    and    the    City    of    Birmingham    Symphony    Orchestra,    and    Peter    Wright,    director    and    choreographer    of    The Birmingham Royal Ballet. The   Company   made   tours   to   many   of   the   leading   theatres   in   the   UK,   including   our   London   base   at   the   ‘Unicorn   Theatre’. International   tours   representing   the   UK   took   us   to   China,   Hong   Kong,   Hungary,   Belgium,   East   and   West   Germany,   France, Denmark,   Yugoslavia,   Thailand,   Australia,   Italy,   Sicily   and   Greece.   Many   performances   were   in   International   Puppet Festivals, winning numerous awards. The   UNIMA   Congress   and   International   Puppet   Theatre   Festival   in   Dresden   invited   us   to   perform   our   production   ‘The Princess   Who   Would   Not   Laugh’,   in   The   Palace   of   Zwinger.   Criticism   of   the   production   by   from   one   of   Germany’s   leading critic’s, he particularly mentioned the two leading comic actors, this led to performances in East Berlin. The   company   frequently   toured   to   Belfast   performing   and   workshops   in   some   of   the   most   difficult   and   dangerous   venues and areas. We had some of the most responsive audiences we performed to. ‘The   Theatre   of   Marvels’   was   collaboration   with   the   mime   Geoffrey   Buckley,   an   early   Jacques   Lecoq   professor.   Its   purpose was   to   explore   a   range   of   new   multi   media   production   techniques.   We   explored   dynamics   of   performance   spaces,   visual, non   verbal,   and   physical   theatre   techniques,   object   manipulation   on   rostra   or   table   tops.   The   production   was   seen   in   the City   of   Birmingham   Town   Hall,   and   Cannon   Hill.   The   BBC   filmed   items   from   the   production,   for   a   series   of   evening   slots, but described them as obscure, and too advanced, despite the fact that we performed it to children and young people. One   of   the   company’s   most   popular   productions,   ‘Tiger   Peter’   toured   to   Hong   Kong   and   China   for   a   major   Birmingham City   Council   cultural   event,   performing   in   theatres   seating   two   or   more   thousand   people.   Most   tours   also   had   educational workshops   attached.   The   company   performed   at   the   Teatro   Alla   Scala   Pisa,   in   Italy   as   part   of   the   year   long   Festival   of twelve   of   the   world’s   leading   children’s   theatres.   I   directed   Tiger   Peter   for   the   Tasmanian   Puppet   Theatre   at   the   Theatre Royal in Hobart followed by a tour in Australia. On   the   occasion   of   an   International   Puppet   Theatre   Festival   held   in   the   Theatre   Royal,   Tasmania,   it   was   to   be   opened with   a   performance   by   Sergei   Obraztsov.   Unfortunately   he   was   taken   ill,   and   as   the   second   guest   I   had   to   perform   my   ‘An Illusion   of   Life’   to   a   full   theatre   of   international   puppeteers.   Its   success   brought   me   many   new   puppeteer   friends, including,   ‘PUK   Theatre’,   from   Japan,   and   the   legendary   Yang   Feng   and   his   company   from   Longzi,   China.   ‘An   Illusion   of Life’ is my one-man performance, performed in many parts of the world, but rarely in the UK. Many   members   from   the   company   created   their   own   successful   film   and   television   companies.   One   popular   puppet character   was   Roland   Rat,   who   presented   many   prime   time   programmes   with   major   personalities.   Roland   performed   in the   Children’s   Royal   Variety   Show.   David   Clarridge,   Roland’s   creator   started   in   the   children’s   workshops,   joined   Cannon Hill   Puppet   Theatre   when   he   left   school,   and   performed   in   our   first   production.   At   sixteen,   he   designed   our   production   of ‘The   Tin   Soldier’.   David   was   also   a   fine   actor   and   performed   in   leading   London   and   provincial   theatres.   He   now   has   a Television and video and DVD studio in America. Simon   Baron   came   to   Cannon   Hill   from   High   School.   He   joined   the   company   as   stage   manager;   he   became   a   fine puppeteer,   and   sound   and   lighting   technician.   He   was   assistant   director,   and   later   became   floor   manager   to   Independent Television,   and   now,   a   director   in   Hollywood.   Many   members   of   the   company   played   in   many   of   the   Henson   films   and programmes,   and   many   of   the   top   television   programmes   in   the   UK   and   the   USA,   including   Spitting   Image   and   other programmes. Robin   Stevens,   a   former   student,   presented   ‘Pob’s   Programme’,   the   Channel   4   storytelling   series.   I   created   the   Pob character   for   Robin.   It   is   now   recognised   as   one   of   the   top   children’s   programmes   along   with   Thunderbirds.   He   also performed   in   all   the   Rag   Doll   programmes.   He   is   now   working   in   the   USA.   Other   actor   puppeteers,   technicians   and directors   from   company   secured   positions   in   major   UK   and   European   theatres.   Now   there   is   a   talented   second   generation performing in films, television and West End musicals. We   held   writing   competitions   for   texts.   A   number   of   leading   authors   produced   some   fine   works   for   us;   John   English   from the   Arena   Theatre,   Joyce   Chessman   from   the   Victoria   Theatre,   Stoke   on   Trent,   Dave   Arthur,   Simon   Painter,   Ivan   Jones and his ‘Zot the Dog’, Nigel Moffatt, ‘Stop the Carnival’, ‘The Twits’, Roald Dahl. I   undertook   government   work   placements   and   other   pioneer   training   initiative   projects.   The   company   was   recognised   as a   model   of   good   practise   and   achievement.   I   developed   many   projects   in   different   countries.   The   Senahassa   Centre,   in Colombo,   Sri   Lanka,   there   I   trained   four   groups   of   young   people   to   create   puppet   theatre   productions   for   theatre   and television. In   Thailand,   master   classes   for   young   actors   in   Chulalongkorn   University.   Aborigines   in   Alice   Springs   in   Australia.   Two major   Governmental   research   projects   on   puppet   theatre   took   place   in   the   Australian   Elizabethan   Trust,   and   for   the Chinese Government, a study of the status of Chinese puppet theatre related to other parts of the world. In   1986   I   was   the   Professor   for   the   Summer   Academy   for   the   Bavarian   Academy   of   Fine   and   Applied   Arts   in   Munich,   and the Folk Theatre in Endorf. We created a performance based on the life of King Ludwig. Many   puppet   related   exhibitions   were   mounted   in   Cannon   Hill   and   elsewhere.      Major   exhibitions   were   mounted   in   many parts   of   the   UK.   ‘The   Magic   World   of   Puppets’,   in   Birmingham   Museum   and   Art   Gallery   in   1985   as   part   of   a   major anniversary,   attracted   72.000   visitors   in   two   months.   Part   of   the   exhibition   went   to   Sheffield   Museum   and   Art   Gallery   and attracted   60.000   visitors   in   two   months.   ‘Around   the   World   with   Mr   Punch’,   at   Wolverhampton   Museum   and   Gallery   was opened by Peter Baldwin. Two   interesting   programmes   for   Independent   Television   were   made.   The   Making   of   Hatu   Patu,   an   Aboriginal   story   for series    screened    by    ITV    Children’s    Educational    Channel.    The    Pomegranate    Princes,    a    Cannon    Hill    Puppet    Theatre production, for ITV. I   designed   stage   settings   for   the   Crescent   Theatre,   in   Birmingham.   ‘The   Devils’,   ‘Maria   Martin,   or   Murder   in   the   Red   Barn’, and   ‘Lilly   in   Little   India’.   I   designed   two   versions   of   ‘Noah’s   Flood’,   one   by   Benjamin   Britten,   and   one   by   Stravinsky,   a work created for television. ‘Masks   and   Painted   Faces’,   was   a   week   long   collaboration   with   ‘Centre   Ocean   Stream’   exploring   Indian   performance   arts. For   Time   Cycles,   I   designed   the   stage   setting.   I   designed   the   stage   setting   for      Nahid   Sidiquie   and   Company,   for   a national tour of contemporary Kathak dance. Nahid is one of the worlds leading Kathak dancers, I also designed the pantomime Cinderella for Leeds City Variety Theatre. Educational   projects   played   a   significant   role   in   my   work,   particularly   autism   and   special   educational   needs.   With   our first   marionette   show   where   children’s   hospital   visits   were   performances   were   given,   also   creating   ways   to   encourage people   to   use   puppets   in   wheel   chairs.   I   undertook   a   great   deal   of   teacher   training   programmes   in   a   number   of   cities; work was based on the use of puppets and puppet theatre. Other   interesting   projects   in   the   UK   were:   serving   as   a   Ghost   Client   and   Consultant   for   Puppet   Theatres,   in   Birmingham and   Manchester   University.   A   series   of   master   classes   performance   for   a   Conservation   Play,   using   objects   and   dispensed materials   at   Goldsmiths   College,   London.   Puppets   for   Shakespeare’s,   The   Tempest   at   the   Phoenix   Theatre,   Leicester. Puppets    for    Seasons    Greetings,    Alan    Ayckborn.    English    National    Opera,    training    actor    puppeteers,    and    Bunraku consultation   for   Stephen   Sondheim’s,   Pacific   Overtures   at   the   London   Coliseum.   Design   and   direction   for   Debussy’s,   La Boite   a   Joujux,   for   Simon   Rattle,   London   Sinfonietta,   and,   South   Bank   Summer   Music   Festival,   at   the   Queen   Elizabeth   Hall and in Cannon Hill. I organised two ‘Punch Cavalcades’, in Cannon Hill Park, featuring twenty four professors. Demonstrations   on   Bunraku,   and   Noh   masks,   for   The   Japanese   Consulate,   and   the   Japanese   department,   in   Edinburgh University.   Demonstrations   of   the   carving   of   Noh   masks   with   Baku   Adachi,   the   last   student   of   Hisao   Suzuki   in   Edinburgh University, and Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow. I   organised   the   Alexander   Pushkin   Anniversary   Festival,   in   Glasgow,   in   the   Royal   Concert   Hall,   and   Sharmanka   Kinetic Theatre,   with   Russia’s   leading   Pushkin   actor.   An   exhibition   of   Pushkin   inspired   paintings   and   drawings   by   children   from Russia   and   Glasgow,   a   major   Pushkin   Exhibition,   and   a   production   of   Two   Little   Pushkin   Tales,   by   The   World   through Wooden Eyes, in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. In   recent   years   we   collaborated   with   Sharmanka   Kinetic   Theatre,   mainly   undertaking   automata   workshops   for   children and   young   people,   and   The   Russian   Cultural   Centre,   where   we   took   part   in   projects   based   on   our   production   of, Snegourotchka, with opera singers and musicians. In   2003   I   created   an   automata   of   Parker   and   the   Bodach   a   Scottish   folklore   character   for   the   Arima   Museum   of   Toys   and Automata   Kobe,   Japan.   In   2004   created   two   more   automats   of   Parker,   from   Thunderbirds   for   the   Arima   Museum   of   Toys and   Automata.      A   major   Thunderbirds   exhibition,   including   my   Noh   masks,   and   puppets,   and   the   Japanese   influences   on my   design   and   craftsmanship   in   puppet   theatre.   A   performance   of   my   Illusion   of   Life   was   performed   in   a   temple   in   Arima; there were also workshops for children and adults. International   UNIMA   played   a   significant   role   in   my   life   and   work,   as   did   The   British   Puppet   and   Model   Theatre   Guild,   and The   Educational   Puppetry   Association.   I   was   particularly   drawn   to   the   organisation   due   to   its   focus   on   international friendship.   Two   of   the   organisations,   and   three   independent   puppeteers,   formed   the   British   Centre   UNIMA   during   a meeting   of   the   Executive   Committee   of   UNIMA   in   London.   Jan   Malik,   from   the   Central   Puppet   Theatre   in   Prague, Czechoslovakia,   Lenora   Shpet   from   the   State   Central   Puppet   Theatre   in   Moscow,   and   Henryk   Jurkowski,   from   Poland, encouraged   me   to   become   more   involved   in   International   UNIMA.   I   regularly   travelled   to   different   parts   of   the   world   with the   Executive   Committee   of   UNIMA.   With   Henryk   Ryl,   from   Poland,   I   joined   with   him   on   a   UNIMA   Publicity   and   PR project.   In   the   1976,   UNIMA   Congress   and   Festival,   I   was   made   a   Member   of   the   International   Executive   Committee   of UNIMA.   At   the   same   time   as   Sergei   Obraztsov   became   UNIMA   President.   The   event   took   place   on   the   stage   of   the Moscow Arts Theatre. I   became   a   member   of   a   number   of   UNIMA   committees,   these   include   the   Publication   Commission   where   annual   Pictorial Calendars,   books   containing   the   finest   examples   of   puppet   theatre   productions   in   the   world   also   the   first   stages   of   the UNIMA   Encyclopaedia.   As   a   member   of   the   Training   Committee,   we   established   the   International   Institute   for   Puppet Theatre,   in   Charleville   Mezieres.   I   was   one   of   the   early   professors,   and   I   collaborated   with   Koryu   Nishikawa,   and   Toru Saito    in    master    classes    for    Bunraku,    Kuruma    Ningyo.    Also,    the    International    Puppet    Museum,    in    Chrudim    in Czechoslovakia with Jan Dvorak from Drak Theatre. For   twenty   years,   with   my   colleagues   in   the   Executive   Committee   of   UNIMA,   I   sat   on   Juries   for   performances   in International   Puppet   Theatre   Festivals   in   many   parts   of   the   world.      My   brief,   given   by   Jan   Malik,   was   ‘The   Craftsmanship of Performance’. During this period I witnessed hundreds of the finest productions in the world. Rarely ever seen now. As   Chairman   and   President   of   British   UNIMA   I   Edited,   illustrated   and   contributed   to   55   British   UNIMA   Bulletin’s   from 1978    to    1996,    and    other    national    and    international    magazines.    I    have    been    mentioned    in    French    and    Russian encyclopaedia and other books. In   2008   there   was   an   auction   of   all   of   the   puppets   created   in   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre.   The   finances   raised   were   used to   develop   the   Midlands   Arts   Centre.   I   percentage   of   the   puppets   are   now   in   Glasgow,   and   others   went   to   museums   and collections in the UK, America and Europe. In   Glasgow   in   2004   I   established   The   World   through   Wooden   Eyes,   housed   in   the   Mitchell   Library,   one   of   the   great European   libraries.   It   is   dedicated   to   the   extraordinary   personalities   from   the   world   of   the   puppet   theatre   that   I   had   the pleasure   of   working   with   for   so   many   years.   It   houses   the   John   M.   Blundall   Collection   of   Puppets   Masks,   prints, engravings,   original   designs   and   other   works   on   paper,   and   related   material.   The   library   holds   over   6000   of   the   most   rare and   valuable   books   from   many   parts   of   the   world,   also   one   of   the   finest   collection   of   puppets   and   masks   of   all   types   and techniques   from   far   and   wide   in   the   UK   and   abroad.   Japanese   Bunraku   figures   and   woodblock   prints,   a   range   of   Chinese puppets,   Victorian   marionettes   and   trick   props,   The   Cannon   Hill   archive,   British   and   European   toy   theatres,   including   the archive   of   Peter   Jackson’s   original   toy   theatres,   and   the   whole   Cannon   Hill   archive,   and   original   designs   and   stage models.   A   selection   of   puppets   from   the   collection   is   on   show   in   Kelvingrove   Museum,   a   major   part   of   the   collection   is held   in   the   Glasgow   Museum   Resources   Centre,   Nitshill.   The   collection   preserves   unique   creations   of   the   artists   and masters of the art and craft of the puppet theatre for future generations. Two   twelve-foot   giants   and   other   figures   were   designed   and   built   for   the   Lord   Provost   of   Glasgow   Procession   in   2000   and 2001.   Numerous   exhibitions   have   been   mounted   in   The   Mitchell   Library   and   other   museums   in   Scotland,   they   include   The Immortal   Villain   Mr   Punch,   Mr   Jackson’s   Toy   Theatres,   From   Punch   to   Parker   at   Motherwell   Heritage   Centre,   and   the   Old Kirk   Museum   Kirkentiloch,   Pierrot,   Puppets   and   Pictures,   Saltcoates   Museum.   Peddlers   of   Pleasure   -   Punch   and   Judy   a year   long   exhibition,   opening   a   new   Community   Centre   in   Glasgow.   A   number   of   exhibitions   at   the   Russian   Cultural Centre in Café Cosachok, these include Noh Masks, and Designs for the Puppet Theatre. For a period of time I Represented ‘Artists in Exile’ in Glasgow, making frames and helping with exhibitions. Over   the   years   I   did   many   television   and   radio   interviews   and   demonstrations   with   most   of   the   leading   personalities; Magnus Magnusson, BBC TV, Jack Demanio, BBC Radio, Philip Schofield, Sue Lawley, Sue Cook and many others. Any   Artistic   Director   is   only   as   good   as   his   or   her   company,   and   I   am   always   grateful   to   have   so   many   talented   people who   helped   me   to   entertain   million’s   of   families   and   children   in   the   UK   and   abroad.   I   have   also   been   blessed   with   the kindness,   friendship   and   inspiration   of   vast   numbers   of   the   most   extraordinary   academic   and   creative   genii   of   the   world of the puppet theatre, the arts and the performing arts through the years. Memberships. Member of the Committee British Children’s Theatre Association. Member of the Drama Panel of West Midlands Arts Board. Advisor of children’s and puppet theatre. Member   of   the   advisory   panel,   and   assessor   of   children’s   and   puppet   theatre   for   the   Arts   and   Leisure   Department of Birmingham City Council. Chairman   of   the   British   Centre   of   UNIMA   (the   Centre   International   de   la   Marionette   –   part   of   the   structure   of UNESCO). Hon President of British UNIMA. Member of the International Executive Committee of UNIMA 1976-2000 Honorary Member of International UNIMA for Services to the development of international puppet theatre. Member of the International Training Committee of UNIMA. Member of the International Commission for Amateur Puppeteers. Member of the International Publications Commission of UNIMA Editor of more than fifty British Centre UNIMA Bulletin’s. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre who’s Who of Men of International Achievement 1984. Listed in the Cambridge International Biographical Centre Who’s Who of Intellects 1985 Member of the ITI (International Theatre Institute) International Liaison Committee. President of The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, also a member of its Committee. Patron of ‘Artesian’, ‘Outsider Art. Member of the Committee on ‘Orcadia’, Organisation for people with disabilities.   Teachings Venues International Institute for Puppet Theatre, Charleville Mezieres. Drama Department, Oxford University. Aberdeen School of Art. Lanchester College, Coventry. Leicester Educational Drama Centre. Birmingham University, Architecture Department. Manchester University. Department of Architecture. Scottish Mask and Puppet Theatre. ‘The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’, Glasgow. National Institute for Dramatic Art, Sydney, Australia. Chulalongkorn University. Bangkok. Thailand. Sennahassa Centre. Colombo. Sri Lanka. Tasmanian Puppet Theatre, and the Theatre Royal, Hobart. Tasmania. Numerous venues in Hong Kong and the New Territories China. Guangzhou and other puppet theatres in China. Theatre PUK. Tokyo. Japan. Arima Museum of Toys and Automata. Kobe. Japan. Goldsmiths College. Conservation Play. London. Birmingham School of Art and Crafts. Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. Training and five productions. Birmingham. Saddlers Wells Royal Ballet. Birmingham. Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Birmingham. Highbury Little Theatre. Birmingham. Malvern Festival Theatre. Malvern. Swan Theatre. Worcester Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Birmingham. Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery. Lichfield Art Gallery. Lichfield. Warwick Art Gallery. Warwick. Coventry Museum and Art Gallery. Coventry. The National Theatre. London. Motherwell Heritage Centre. Exhibition Centre, Birmingham. Warrington Art Gallery. Warrington. North Ayrshire Museum, Saltcoates, Artesian. Edinburgh. Scottish National Library. Edinburgh. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow.   Collections. Moscow. Dresden. Budapest. Switzerland. France. Spain. Italy. Yugoslavia. Germany. Japan. Australia. USA. China.
John M Blundall
Copyright ©  Nigel Dickinson
John M Blundall
   60   DEDICATED   YEARS   IN   THE   PUPPET   THEATRE   –   A   short biography in his own words. Artistic   Director,   designer,   craftsman,   author,   mentor.   Often called,   the   walking   encyclopaedia   of   the   puppet   theatre.   The most    prolific    producer    of,    multi    media    puppet    theatre productions in the UK. My   life   began   in   March   1937.   My   mother   studied   painting, and    my    father    was    a    fine    craftsman.    With    my    younger brother    and    sister,    we    regularly    visited    the    Birmingham hippodrome;    this    inspired    me    to    become    a    performer. Birmingham    Museum    and    Art    Gallery    introduced    me    to mediaeval   wood   carving,   and   a   costume   by   the   Russian   artist Alexander Benois. At   school   drama,   woodcarving   and   metal   work;   I   even   made a steam engine that worked. The   ‘Lilliput   Marionette   Theatre’   was   the   most   interesting puppet   theatre   for   the   design,   figures   and   scenery,   and   the dramatic productions. In   1951,   I   created   my   first   marionette   theatre,   ‘The   Festival Marionettes’.    I    joined    ‘The    ‘Birmingham    Puppet    Guild’; affiliated   to   the   ‘British   Puppet   and   Model   Theatre   Guild’   I received   two   awards   for   puppet   theatre   designs,   and   clown marionettes   from   Harry   Whanslaw.   Later   on   I   was   presented with   the   ‘Presidents   Plate’,   by   Cecil   Madden,   the   pioneer   BBC television   personality.   After   his   death   I   took   over   the   role   of President.   I   proposed   that   regional   meetings   should   be   held to   enable   members   to   play   a   greater   part,   also   hold   joint Guild   and   UNIMA   meetings   in   different   parts   of   the   country, each    one    of    them    with    special    events.    ‘The    Puppeteers Roadshow’    was    held    to    provide    a    hands-on    range    of specialised     technical     and     craft     skills     led     by     leading exponents.   The   Festival   Marionettes’   consisted   of   four   people   working   in a   marionette   theatre,   and   a   marionette   variety   act.   Hughie Green    and    the    musician    Steve    Race    spotted    us    for    their ‘Opportunity Knocks’. The   variety   act   performed   in   the   annual   ‘Summer   Theatres’ in    the    City    of    Birmingham    Parks,    and    we    won    numerous prizes    in    ‘Search    for    stars’    talent    competitions,    we    later appeared   as   guest   artistes.   We   also   performed   in   ‘Stars   of Magic’ shows. In    1952    I    saw    Sergei    Obraztsov’s    solo    performance    this inspired me; later he became a friend and mentor. I   started   to   develop   carving,   design   skills,   stage   craft,   circus skills, and classical dance. Obraztsov    inspired    me    to    study    the    ‘Mir    Iskusstva’    (The World   of   Art)   the   ‘Ballet   Russe   of   Serge   Diaghilev’.   Designers Alexander   Benois   and   Leon   Bakst,   were   a   great   influence   in my designs. Leaving   school   at   fifteen,   I   had   to   take   a   ‘proper   job’   at   the ‘General    Electric    Company’,    where    I    received    my    ‘Higher National   Certificate’   in   electrical   engineering.   The   GEC   had   a theatre   company   and   there   I   designed   my   first   stage   design. We    also    performed    the    marionette    act    in    their    Christmas Pantomime. I   left   the   GEC   at   the   end   of   the   year,   to   perform   with   the marionettes’;   I   also   worked   as   a   graphic   designer,   for   an exhibition    and    display    company.    I    worked    on    the    first production    of    the    BBC    Television    studio    in    Gosta    Green, Birmingham. Two   years   of   National   Service   was   spent   in   ‘JARIC’   the   ‘Joint Aeronautic    Intelligence    Centre’    in    the    RAF.    I    also    taught painting   and   drawing   to   officers.   Running   a   touring   variety show    of    some    sixty    performers    was    another    activity,    I trained   another   puppeteer   to   work   with   me   I   also   performed a clown act. Leaving   the   RAF   I   joined   the   theatre   company   as   a   stage designer   and   stage   director   at   ‘Dudley   Hippodrome’,   one   of the   leading   UK   theatres.   There   I   designed   and   painted   the scenery,    and    stage    managed    my    first    major    pantomime, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. With    the    company,    I    moved    to    the    ‘Pavilion    Theatre’, Liverpool.   There   I   had   the   pleasure   of   working   with   some   of the    legends    of    the    music    hall,    and    many    of    the    leading variety performers. The   decline   of   the   variety   theatres   let   me   to   looking   for another   outlet.   I   was   offered   the   position   of   ‘Floor   Manager’ at   ‘Granada   Television’.   Coincidentally,   puppeteer,   Christine Glanville   asked   me   if   I   would   join   the   puppeteers   in   the ‘Century   Twenty-one   Studios.   I   accepted   the   opportunity.   I created    puppet    characters    in,    ‘Supercar’,    Fireball    XL5’, ‘Stingray’   and   ‘Thunderbirds’,   including   ‘Parker’,   who   became an    ‘international    ‘puppet    superstar’.    Three    of    the    ‘Parker figures   sold   for   the   highest   prices   ever   paid   for   puppets; thirty four, thirty eight, and fifty thousand pounds! I    started    to    explore    the    idea    of    a    new    form    of    puppet theatre,   combining   the   skills   that   I   had   already   acquired. International   dance   and   visual   theatre   companies   were   of interest;    they    included    the    design    and    choreography    of ‘Alwyn    Nicolais    Dance    Company’;    he    was    previously    a puppeteer;   Martha   Graham’s   scenographer   Isamu   Naguchi, Depero Futurista, and the Bauhaus. Frequent   visits   to   Russia   enabled   me   to   see   the   repertoire   of Obraztsov’s    Moscow    State    Puppet    Theatre.    Lenora    Shpet, dramaturg   to   the   theatre   arranged   visits   to   meet   Alexander Voloshin,   the   Director   of   the   ‘Moscow   State   Circus   School’,   to watch    training    programmes.    I    sent    him    a    number    of    my circus    drawings    for    the    school.    I    had    been    very    much involved   in   the   circus   in   the   UK,   and   performed   as   an   acrobat and clown. I   met   the   legendary   Bunraku   master,   Monjuro   Kiritaki   the Director    of    the    ’National    Bunraku    Theatre’,        and    actor puppeteer    Tamamatsu    Yoshida,    to    study    Bunraku    figures; their   building   and   manipulation.   Later,   Koryu   Nishikawa   and the Kuruma Ningyo, in Hachioji.  With   Hisao   Suzuki,   the   great   master   Noh   Mask   master,   I mastered   the   art   and   craft   of   the   Noh   Mask.   Suzuki’s   masks can   be   seen   in   ‘The   Victoria   and   Albert   Museum’   and   the ‘National     Gallery’.     I     started     to     study     de-humanisation techniques   of   Japanese   actor,   and   Tai   Chi   as   exercise   for actor puppeteers. Extensive   travelling   to   Eastern   and   Central   Europe   connected me   with   the   legendary   personalities   of   UNIMA,   and   puppet theatres.      The   quality   of   puppet   theatre   design,   direction, production   values,   and   nationalistic   strength   were   an   object lesson. I   left   the   television   studios   and   I   joined   Jane   Phillips   at ‘Caricature   Theatre’.   We   had   a   commission   to   create   a   rod puppet   and   mask   production   as   part   of   the   ‘Commonwealth Arts    Festival’.    The    production,    based    on    the    ‘Mabinogion’, ‘Culwhych   and   Olwen’.   The   first   performance   was   seen   by The   ‘Duke   of   Edinburgh.   It   toured   Wales,   and   we   made   a three-part,    Welsh    language,    television    film    for    the    BBC. Harro    Seigel    invited    us    to    perform    the    production    in    his ‘International     Puppet     Theatre     Festival’,     in     Braunsweig, Germany.    Jan    Malik    from    Prague    and    Ludwig    Krafft    from Munich,    invited    us    to    perform    in    ‘International    Puppet Theatre Festival’, during the UNIMA Congress in Munich. A    journey    to    Poland    to    see    as    many    puppet    theatre productions       revealed       a       plethora       of       remarkable, contemporary    and    innovative    works.    One    of    my    actor director   puppeteer   friends   organised   a   visit   to   Grotovsky’s ‘Laboratorium’, to see his work and training methods. Returning    to    Cardiff,    I    explored    new    ideas,    and    made    a documentary for BBC Wales’s television. After   the   visit   to   Poland,   in   two   days;   I   designed   and   created a production of ‘Peter and The Wolf’. A    commission    to    design    a    production    of    ‘Pinocchio’,    for Warren   Jenkins,   the   director   of   ‘The   Welsh   National   Theatre’, with    actors,    masks.    The    production    toured    in    Wales,    and later   toured   to   leading   English   theatres,   that   included   the Belgrade   Theatre,   Coventry,   Leeds   Playhouse,   and   Watford Palace Theatre. The   first   purpose   built   Arts   Centre   in   the   UK,   ‘The   Midlands Arts   Centre   for   Young   People’   was   to   open   in   Cannon   Hill Park,    Birmingham.    I    was    invited    by    the    Director,    John English,   to   join   the   management   team   and   undertake   the role   of   designer   and   puppet   master   for   the   ‘Midlands   Arts Theatre    Company’.    I    designed    classical    and    contemporary plays;   part   of   a   ‘Theatrical   Literacy   Programme’   for   young people.        Puppets    and    masks    were    frequently    featured    in them.   For   twelve   years   I   ran   weekend   puppet   workshops and   educational   projects   for   children   and   young   people.   An early    exhibition    in    the    centre    was    puppet    theatre,    with Waldo    Lanchester.    The    Lanchester’s    donated    their    touring marionette   theatre   and   some   marionettes   as   a   foundation for a puppet theatre. Caricature   Theatre   was   invited   to   perform   for   the   first   time in   the   new   Studio   Theatre   with   ‘Peter   and   the   Wolf’.   This enabled   me   to   explore   the   potential   of   a   major   contemporary professional   puppet   theatre   in   a   well   designed,   flexible   and technically      equipped      studio      theatre      building.      Sergei Obraztsov   was   the   first   major   personality   to   visit   the   new Arts   Centre;   he   generously   gave   us   the   Moscow   State   Puppet Theatre    version    of    ‘Buratino’,    a    version    of    ‘Pinocchio’.        I designed    and    directed    two    different    productions    of    this. Lotte    Reiniger    was    a    regular    visitor    to    Cannon    Hill;    she screened   her   films,   and   cut   silhouette   animals   chosen   by   the children. Saturday     and     Sunday     puppet,     mask     and     improvisation workshops   for   children   from   five   to   fifteen   years   of   age   took place,    this    created    and    ideal    opportunity    to    explore    how children    and    young    people    developed    creative    play    with disposable   objects,   also   to   develop   alternative   arts   education and   expressive   arts   and   crafts.   Each   evening   puppet   and mask   workshops   for   fifteen   to   twenty   five   year   olds   also took   place.   Other   creative   artists   in   the   Centre   was   the   film maker,    Mike    Leigh,    who    directed    plays    and    films    with students. A   ‘Studio   and   Performance   Group’   was   formed   to   explore new,   multi-media   production   techniques,   in   unusual   spaces. Original   productions,   for   adult   and   children’s   audiences   were created.      The   first   production,   was   a   Polish   Christmas   Legend with   a   vast   stage   setting   based   on   the   ‘Polish   Szopka’,   rod puppets,    and    a    company    of    young    Polish    dancers.    The production   was   toured   to   a   number   of   large   halls   in   the   City of Birmingham. The    group    was    twice    invited    to    perform    in    International Amateur        Puppet        Theatre        Festivals        in        Chrudim, Czechoslovakia.   One,   with   an   adult   play   ‘Peter   in   Heaven   and Hell’,    and    Mozart’s    opera,    ‘Basteine    and    Bastienne’,    and ‘Narcissus’, with live opera singers and orchestra. Two    performances    spaces    were    available    to    us.    A    highly flexible   ‘Studio   Theatre’,   seating   over   two   hundred   people, and   a   ‘Hexagon   Theatre’,   a   lecture   style   theatre   that   seated one   hundred   people.   The   two   performance   spaces   required two   distinct   production   techniques.   The   ‘Studio   Theatre’   with its   flexible   open   stage   was   a   perfect   performance   space.   We were    able    to    present    productions    from    visiting    foreign companies,      these      included,      ‘Drak’,      Czech.      ‘Takeda Marionettes’,    Japan.    ‘Marcinek’,    Poland.    ‘Albrecht    Roser’, Germany. Yang Feng and his company, China; to name a few. Children   and   young   people   deserve   only   the   finest   quality entertainment   and   education.   In   the   early   years   adults   found it   difficult   to   accept   the   new   style   of   puppet   theatre,   even   so, children    and    young    people    were    excited    by    the    rich    and varied    combinations    of    puppets,    masks,    mime    and    other disciplines     in     productions.     In     the     early     years     even puppeteers   rarely   came   to   performances;   it   was   considered that   the   new   dynamic   was   not   puppet   theatre.   This   attitude continued   for   a   number   of   years,   despite   the   fact   that   family and   children’s   productions   were   always   sold   out,   even   before we     opened     new     productions.     The     pioneering     type     of productions   created   by   us,   instead   of   traditional   confines   of the    puppet    theatre,    with    their    proscenium    frames,    and playboard's,    continued    to    be    used    in    UK    and    European puppet   theatres   for   many   years.   It   is   interesting   to   note, that   now;   virtually   all   puppet   productions   now   use   the   new dynamic style. My    intention    was    to    develop    a    repertoire    of    classical children’s   works   and   introduce   a   wide   range   of   international material.    Cannon    Hill    Puppet    Theatre    presented    its    first production   in   1968.   The   company   comprised   of   actors   from the   Arts   Theatre   Company,   and   three   from   the   Studio   Group and    myself.    It    was    supported,    with    a    studio    craftsman, sound   and   lighting   technician   from   the   Studio   Group.   The actor   Tony   Robinson   was   one   of   the   first   members   of   the company.   Later   Ronnie   LeDrew   joined   us,   later   he   became assistant    to    the    Director.    The    company    consisted    of    an artistic    director/designer,    administrator,    studio    craftsman and      production      manager,      stage      manager,      six      actor puppeteers,   sound   and   lighting   technician,   stage   carpenter, and   wardrobe   mistress.   The   company   was   like   a   family   unit working   to   the   old   theatre   adage   ‘no   play,   no   pay’.   Everyone had above Equity rates, with rises every year. Creating   our   own   model   it   was   essential   to   train   specialists, actor   puppeteers   had   to   explore   the   role   and   function   of   the actor   puppeteer   on   stage,   and   how   to   direct   multi-media performances.    A    lack    of    available    texts,    required    new methods    of    writing    and    we    created    a    project    with    John English   to   explore   it.   I   discovered   that   the   great   Japanese writer,   Chikamatsu   Monzaemon,   considered   his   writing   for the    Bunraku    theatre    not    to    reach    the    highest    literary qualities as that of the human actor. Specialised   technical   skills   became   an   important   element.   I engaged   young   technicians   from   the   pop   world,   who   were exceptionally   creative.   Later   on,   a   leading   opera   sound   and light   designer   joined   us.   John   Wolf,   the   Royal   Shakespeare Theatre    composer    produced    our    music.    My    intention    was always   to   develop   the   skills   of   a   new   and   talented   younger generation    of    people    who    had    open    minds    and    were prepared to explore new ideas. Young   actors   with   good   voices   from   Birmingham   School   of Speech    Training    and    Dramatic    Art    were    retrained    for    the company.    Weekly    puppet    theatre    courses    in    the    drama school   were   also   held   to   explore   new   work   and   ideas,   and students    had    to    create    work    without    finance,    and    only allowed to use disposable material. A    one,    and    two    year,    professional    full-time    training    for puppeteers   and   other   specialists   were   established.   Simon Buckley,   Robin   Stevens   were   two   of   the   early   students   who later   joined   the   company,   and   became   significant   television puppeteers.   Adrian   Kohler,   the   creator   of   the   ‘War   Horse’ figure   spent   a   two   year   intern   with   us,   and   Ronnie   Burkett once   applied   to   join   us.   Darryl   Worbey   was   an   apprentice   in the   workshops   of   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre   from   1982   to 1984   he   showed   a   great   deal   of   talent   and   on   completing   his education   he   secured   a   contract   as   a   puppeteer   in   a   film   in Canada.    After    its    completion    joined    the    Henson    Creature Shop    and    now    his    Studio    is    one    of    the    leading    film    and television    companies    creating    high    quality    puppets.    The company   performed   eight   performances,   sometimes   sixteen each   week   by   splitting   the   company.   Each   performance   ran for   two   hours,   with   a   short   intermission.   Apart   from   two week summer breaks the company performed all year round. During   the   twenty   five   years   of   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre we   created   over   eighty   productions,   all   of   them   completely different     in     design     style     and     techniques.     I     produced, directed,   designed   and   created   over   fifty   productions,   wrote over   thirty   texts,   carved   and   painted   all   puppets   heads   and hands,   and   created   numerous   unique   puppet   techniques.   I also designed our posters and programmes. The   puppet   theatre   was   recognised   by   Equity   as   the   spear head     puppet     theatre     company     in     the     UK,     with     an international   reputation.   It   is   interesting   to   note   that   the Arts   Council   Drama   Panel,   despite   the   fact   that   we   received no   direct   funding,   asked   us   to   remove   the   word   ‘puppet’ from   our   title.   The   puppet   was   always   our   central   means   of expression, and would always be so through its history. The   company   was   recognised   as   one   of   the   three   jewels   in the   City   of   Birmingham’s   cultural   crown,   alongside   Simon Rattle   and   the   City   of   Birmingham   Symphony   Orchestra,   and Peter   Wright,   director   and   choreographer   of   The   Birmingham Royal Ballet. The   Company   made   tours   to   many   of   the   leading   theatres   in the   UK,   including   our   London   base   at   the   ‘Unicorn   Theatre’. International   tours   representing   the   UK   took   us   to   China, Hong    Kong,    Hungary,    Belgium,    East    and    West    Germany, France,    Denmark,    Yugoslavia,    Thailand,    Australia,    Italy, Sicily   and   Greece.   Many   performances   were   in   International Puppet Festivals, winning numerous awards. The    UNIMA    Congress    and    International    Puppet    Theatre Festival   in   Dresden   invited   us   to   perform   our   production   ‘The Princess   Who   Would   Not   Laugh’,   in   The   Palace   of   Zwinger. Criticism   of   the   production   by   from   one   of   Germany’s   leading critic’s,    he    particularly    mentioned    the    two    leading    comic actors, this led to performances in East Berlin. The   company   frequently   toured   to   Belfast   performing   and workshops    in    some    of    the    most    difficult    and    dangerous venues    and    areas.    We    had    some    of    the    most    responsive audiences we performed to. ‘The   Theatre   of   Marvels’   was   collaboration   with   the   mime Geoffrey    Buckley,    an    early    Jacques    Lecoq    professor.    Its purpose    was    to    explore    a    range    of    new    multi    media production       techniques.       We       explored       dynamics       of performance   spaces,   visual,   non   verbal,   and   physical   theatre techniques,   object   manipulation   on   rostra   or   table   tops.   The production   was   seen   in   the   City   of   Birmingham   Town   Hall, and   Cannon   Hill.   The   BBC   filmed   items   from   the   production, for   a   series   of   evening   slots,   but   described   them   as   obscure, and   too   advanced,   despite   the   fact   that   we   performed   it   to children and young people. One    of    the    company’s    most    popular    productions,    ‘Tiger Peter’     toured     to     Hong     Kong     and     China     for     a     major Birmingham     City     Council     cultural     event,     performing     in theatres   seating   two   or   more   thousand   people.   Most   tours also    had    educational    workshops    attached.    The    company performed   at   the   Teatro   Alla   Scala   Pisa,   in   Italy   as   part   of the    year    long    Festival    of    twelve    of    the    world’s    leading children’s   theatres.   I   directed   Tiger   Peter   for   the   Tasmanian Puppet   Theatre   at   the   Theatre   Royal   in   Hobart   followed   by   a tour in Australia. On   the   occasion   of   an   International   Puppet   Theatre   Festival held   in   the   Theatre   Royal,   Tasmania,   it   was   to   be   opened with   a   performance   by   Sergei   Obraztsov.   Unfortunately   he was   taken   ill,   and   as   the   second   guest   I   had   to   perform   my ‘An    Illusion    of    Life’    to    a    full    theatre    of    international puppeteers.   Its   success   brought   me   many   new   puppeteer friends,    including,    ‘PUK    Theatre’,    from    Japan,    and    the legendary   Yang   Feng   and   his   company   from   Longzi,   China. ‘An   Illusion   of   Life’   is   my   one-man   performance,   performed in many parts of the world, but rarely in the UK. Many     members     from     the     company     created     their     own successful    film    and    television    companies.    One    popular puppet    character    was    Roland    Rat,    who    presented    many prime    time    programmes    with    major    personalities.    Roland performed    in    the    Children’s    Royal    Variety    Show.    David Clarridge,     Roland’s     creator     started     in     the     children’s workshops,   joined   Cannon   Hill   Puppet   Theatre   when   he   left school,   and   performed   in   our   first   production.   At   sixteen,   he designed   our   production   of   ‘The   Tin   Soldier’.   David   was   also a   fine   actor   and   performed   in   leading   London   and   provincial theatres.   He   now   has   a   Television   and   video   and   DVD   studio in America. Simon    Baron    came    to    Cannon    Hill    from    High    School.    He joined   the   company   as   stage   manager;   he