Eddie Izzard and Cerys Matthews revive Ivor the Engine

By Peter Shuttleworth
BBC Wales

Media caption,
Daniel Postgate takes us behind the scenes in the cow shed where cartoon classics were made

Entertainers Eddie Izzard, Cerys Matthews, Rhys Ifans and Rob Brydon have lent their voices to cult cartoon Ivor the Engine for its first production in more than 40 years.

The stars helped work on the audiobook, featuring seven new stories about the Welsh steam locomotive, during lockdown using "phones and goodwill".

Proceeds will go to Welsh children's cancer charity Latch.

Actor Ifans described it as a "pleasure" to read Ivor's Birthday.

Image source, Smallfilms
Image caption,
Ivor the Engine played first bass with the Grumbly and District Choral Society

The cheeky steam engine was the loveable locomotive of The Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited and known for playing in his local choir.

The "ahead of its time" animation - one of the UK's first cartoons - was made in the 1950s in Kent by someone whose insight into Welsh culture came mainly from Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood.

Image source, Smallfilms
Image caption,
There were 72 episodes of Ivor the Engine, which went colour in 1975
Image caption,
The cartoon was made using cardboard cut-outs painted with watercolours

Bafta-winner Oliver Postgate wrote the scripts, filmed the scenes and voiced many of the characters - including Ivor's distinctive puffing sound - with Smallfilms partner and animator, Peter Firmin.

Although Bagpuss, voted Britain's most popular children's TV show in a BBC poll, and Clangers, which returned to the BBC recently, are Smallfilms' most famous productions, Ivor was its first.

On the 60th anniversary of Ivor's TV debut, Postgate's son revealed he was hoping to bring the cartoon out of retirement and turn Ivor into a film star.

Image caption,
Legendary cartoon creator Oliver Postgate also made 13 episodes of Bagpuss
Image caption,
Ivor the Engine was revived by BBC2 Wales for a series of promotional adverts 15 years ago
Image source, Smallfilms
Image caption,
Ivor was the short name for the engine on The Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited

Ivor's latest adventures will be the first time the locomotive has had an outing since the final television episode was produced 43 years ago.

"Oliver Postgate's stories were the soundtrack to so many childhoods," said Welsh broadcaster and musician Georgia Ruth.

"So it was a joy to get a chance to read one myself and help a really deserving charity at a difficult time."

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