There’s probably not many folk around now who would remember me from the ten years between 1972 – 1982 when I was Dick’s only business partner and ‘creative producer’. That was his title for me. It was certainly a remarkable period of my life – and also of the Studio in Soho Square. I had been Head of Television at a London advertising agency (now Saatchi & Saatchi) when Dick approached me to join him after discovering that his previous producer was a crook. Having worked with Dick earlier on some animated commercials and been extremely impressed when shown some amazing line tests of “The Thief and the Cobbler” I accepted this challenge.
At my welcoming party I discovered that the Studio was virtually bankrupt having overspent on “A Christmas Carol” – and on developing “The Thief”. I’d been shafted.
("A Christmas Carol” was produced 1971/1972, the Oscar awarded 1972).
However, having acquired an excellent reputation producing commercials I was able to attract an overwhelming amount of business from every corner of the globe – the profits of which were always ploughed back into Dick’s dream feature.
It was often true that we would deliberately over-spend on certain potential award winning commercials and film title sequences if we felt that the company’s showreel would benefit eventually. Always gave clients a little more than they expected and paid for. That was the best way to ensure a regular supply of work. However, in order to make as much overall profit as possible for the Studio we would also produce a lot of lower quality work – hoping of course that it wouldn’t damage our reputation too much. The Studio in London was not vast – and therefore to maximise on the volume of work I was obliged to use quite a large number of freelancers – and also to sub-contract jobs to other animation companies. Dick did not very often associate himself with commercials – although he always insisted on taking the credit for the prize-winners at awards ceremonies. This caused a great deal of discontent amongst those animators who’d put their heart and soul into a job – only to have the glory taken away from them. Dick Purdum and Russell Hall probably won more prizes than anyone else in the studio, and deserved a lot more praise but it would be Dick who would stride up to the rostrum to collect them. People would be surprised at the amount of work Dick Purdum did for the studio – which Dick would just draw over and make some really minor adjustments. When I first joined the company they sat back to back – with Purdum working like crazy, passing his animation drawings over his shoulder for Dick just to add the odd line here and there. A fantastic duo really – if only the credit was shared fairly.
Ken, Grim, Art, Purdum, Dick
Unfortunately, Dick was incapable of spending money wisely. Very rarely satisfied and always striving for perfection, the same scene would be animated countless times. It was a real struggle balancing the books despite the huge profits being made from T.V. commercials. Obviously, the quest for funding for “The Thief” was always a priority but whenever a real money deal was close, Dick would somehow sabotage it. At one point the Royal Bank of Canada was interested on the basis that this was an opportunity to put a Canadian in a prime position as a film maker. Despite Dick’s protests, we dressed him in a smart grey suit and began an intensive two day presentation in Toronto – which started really well. Then, when I was elaborating on the previously agreed £13.4m budget to be spread over the schedule of 33 months, Dick got up and argued that he didn’t want to be tied down to animating only 96 minutes. He insisted that 120 minutes should be completed and then edited down at his discretion. The bankers were horrified and asked whether this would effect the budget – and of course we had to admit that the cost would need to be increased accordingly. Dick also said that he didn’t want to be restricted to the agreed schedule – and completion should only be when he was satisfied with the result. The bank eventually terminated their original offer – fearing of course that an open cheque book would be needed if the deal ever went ahead.
Golden opportunities for other projects came our way often – but Dick wasn’t at all interested, even after Paul McCartney had called me on several occasions wanting us to produce a Rupert Bear animated feature with a $20m budget.. “I don’t want to animate a f***ing bear for God’s sake” was his response when I tried to arrange a meeting.
Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac was another interested party, eager to spend a lot of money on her own love story of a goldfish and a ladybug, unable to resolve their relationship for obvious reasons. Dick asked me to fly to New York to turn her down – which I reluctantly did over a dinner but he then asked me to fly on to L.A. to reject someone else’s multi million dollar proposal.
Nothing was going to detract him from “The Thief” – until 1975 when he was personally approached by two Broadway producers to direct “Raggedy Ann and Andy”. Believing that this could make him ‘bankable’ at last and because he liked Joe Raposo who would provide the music, he agreed. However, he had a really rough ride as they insisted that it was made in New York – and I wasn’t there to protect him from the ever budget watching accountants. However, he was able to call upon a great animation crew involving Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Emery Hawkins, Corny Cole and Tissa David etc. – plus of course many newcomers at the time like Eric Goldberg, Dan Haskett and Michael Sporn. I was left to keep the London studio churning out commercials – whilst Dick commuted back and forth (1976/1977), spending our hard earned money on new Thief scenes. Unfortunately, Dick was eventually fired from the production to leave Gerry Potterton to finish it.
Eager to re-establish Dick’s working relationship with Art Babbitt, Ken Harris and Emery Hawkins etc. – and to cope with a huge new influx of commercial work coming from the US, I then opened a branch studio at 5631 Hollywood Boulevard where he spent more and more of his time working with these grand old masters. To make this all viable Dick promised to deal with a fair share of the US commercial work being initiated by Tom Parker, our rep in Chicago. Tom was good at flying the flag in the big agencies – but he often promised clients too much. Dick was not true to his word and once out of my sight he much neglected the commercial side and indulged in “The Thief” disproportionately – relying on freelancers for the commercials too much without giving them very much supervision. Deadlines were often missed – and on some occasions London had to come to the rescue with scenes being couriered back and forth. As a consequence the US work dwindled and Dick would then call me for overflow work from London. On one occasion I shipped out a very important commercial from a very loyal German client – and despite the urgency, Dick missed the absolutely crucial deadline putting me in an extremely difficult position. With my client coming to London the next day to approve the spot and take it back with him, I sent one of my daughters to L.A. to be met at the airport and to return on the next plane with it. It was too important to entrust to a courier company.
(Thanks Michael Sporn and Tygerbug for the images)