Ideas are often recycled without intent, fresh thoughts merging with half-forgotten memories. The post-war period shone with television that gradually gathered speed and confidence - and no better place to see this was in the development of children's television series. While the norm was often to stick with suit-wearing actors and restrained entertainment, they increasingly used music, puppets, imagery and intriguing sets.
In the early 1960s the BBC launched Rispin's Rhymes, intended only to run for a couple of episodes; it ultimately ran for 20. It was children's entertainment that handled wizardry and fun, anchored by strong moral values and educational content. It provided distraction for children without dumbing down content or treating the subject matter too lightly, a rarity in an age where TV still showed signs of caution and unnecessary naivety. It is possible that the magical content has spilled over into the consciousness of those who sat and watched it, feeding new generations with new and magical ideas.
The basic principle of the series concerned a lecturer, and sometimes wizard, at Everbridge University, and his bumbling efforts to manage the studies of his young apprentice, Justin. Rispin, who lived in a small tower on the edge of the University apparently, was constantly surrounding by books and stuffed animals. He provided sound advice on what to do and what not, told stories, accompanied by music and still pictures, and always ended the episodes with Justin, or his pet familiar1 Crow, proving that they knew something he didn't and, in his words, 'There's a lot more learning in the world, for you and me, and never forget it!' to which the others would reply they wouldn't.
Justin, Crow and the various other characters that visited Rispin's study were all felt hand puppets with varying degrees of detail and ornamentation. Crow was covered with real black feathers with a Plaster of Paris nose, while Justin was composed of a small wig, a felt face and a dark blue coat with stars on. Rispin himself, the only real person in the series, wore the standard paraphernalia of a magician with a pair of wire-framed, half-moon glasses, and a black wand. He would occasionally lean on an impressive looking, gnarled staff and would accompany many of the stories in the series on a banjo that was half-buried beneath the books in the room.
Rispin's study was nothing more than a room that appeared to be the size of a cupboard with a flat counter closest to the camera, then piles of books stacked in front of a painted backdrop of more books, a well-lit window and a wooden, iron-bound door.
The ongoing cast included:
- Ian Hamwell as Rispin the Magician
- Julia Ayton as the voice of Justin the Apprentice
- Tom Parkin as the voice of the Crow
Much of the rest of the cast were one-offs and occasional, often voiced by the primary actors themselves. The quality of the puppets for supporting cast tended to be slightly inferior to the primary characters and there was occasion for recycling old puppets with new faces and clothes to minimise costs.
The characters were very two-dimensional - the curious Justin, the cantankerous, scholarly Rispin and the cheeky Crow - but they managed to support the simple format and Ian Hamwell's strong, clean actor's voice meant that the stories were beautifully delivered and characterised with stereotypical tones.
Unfortunately, in December 1964, Hamwell was involved in a serious accident while playing pantomime in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and failed to recover to full health again before his death, at the age of 46, in 1967. Having lost the only human character in the series it was decided to scrap the series completely. It was replaced in early 1965 by the long-running story-telling series, Jackanory.
There were, in total, two seasons consisting of 22 episodes in total. The series was originally conceived for just a six-episode run, but proved popular enough at the time to be extended a further six in the first season. The second season was cut short due to the loss of the main character.
- 'The Wizard In The Tower'
- 'The Red Dragon Of Caerphilly'
- 'The King And His Crown'
- 'Winter Winds, Summer Sun'
- 'The Mouse And The Moon'
- 'The People In The Puddle'
- 'The Golden Goose'
- 'The Butterfly'
- 'The Foul-Tempered Frog'
- 'Island Of The Fairies'
- 'Richard And The Red Bonnet'
- 'The Box'
- 'The Return Of The Apprentice'
- 'The Dean Of Everbridge'
- 'Large And Small'
- 'The Wheelbarrow'
- 'The Wicker Tree'
- 'The Black Bear'
- 'The King And The Petal'
- 'The Railway'
- 'Crow Learns To Count'
- 'The Heath And The Hoe' (scripted but never filmed)
- 'Silver And Gold' (scripted but never filmed)
Sadly, there is good reason to believe that the entire run of the series may have fallen foul of the various culls through the archives that have destroyed tapes from other series - like Hartnell and Troughton's Doctor Who. At times over the last couple of decades original tapes have been magnetically wiped or damaged and copies - where they exist at all - have been extremely hard to find. Certainly what little information exists is primarily in the form of still photographs and scripts. Other series have been rescued through the discovery of tapes in possession of television channels in other countries or those in the private collections of collectors - and one can only hope that somewhere episodes of Rispin's Rhymes may exist in this format.