Peter Arthur Firmin
11 December 1928
|Died||1 July 2018 (aged 89)|
|Occupation||Artist, puppet maker, illustrator|
Peter Arthur Firmin (11 December 1928 – 1 July 2018) was an English artist and puppet maker. He was the founder of Smallfilms, along with Oliver Postgate. Between them they created a number of popular children's TV programmes, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Bagpuss and Pogles' Wood.
Born in Harwich, Essex, in 1928, Peter Firmin trained at the Colchester School of Art in Colchester. After National Service in the Royal Navy, he attended Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949-1952. He worked in a stained glass studio, as an illustrator and as a lecturer.
It was while he was teaching at Central School of Art that Oliver Postgate came looking for, as Firmin put it: "... someone to illustrate a television story – someone who was hard up and would do a lot of drawing for very little money". Postgate and Firmin went on to form Smallfilms.
Firmin was best known as half of the Smallfilms production company, active from 1958 to the late 1980s. Most of Smallfilms' animation work was produced in a barn on Firmin's land in Blean near Canterbury in Kent. Firmin made the sets, puppets and backdrops for the programmes, often also contributing to making sound and visual effects during filming.
In addition to his work with Oliver Postgate, Firmin made other puppets and children's programmes. In 1959, with his wife Joan, he devised a programme of nursery rhymes for Associated-Rediffusion, called The Musical Box, which used live cardboard animation and puppets. It was presented by Rolf Harris and then by Wally Whyton.
In 1961, ITV commissioned another puppet. Olly Beak was a little owl made of chicken feathers stuck into a crocheted body. He appeared on Smalltime, and was joined in 1962 by Fred Barker (a shaggy dog made for Postgate/Firmin 1961 production The Dog Watch) and in 1963 by Whiffles, an otter puppet, and Penelope, another owl.
With Ivan Owen, Firmin co-created the TV puppet Basil Brush in 1962. He made the first puppet for The Three Scampies, using a real fox brush, lending the correct name for a fox’s tail to the puppet character.
Firmin continued to work as an illustrator. He wrote and illustrated many books of Smallfilms characters, as well as children's books of his own devising and books for adults including Vita Sackville-West's poetry (ISBN 9780863502729) and Seeing Things, Postgate's autobiography (ISBN 978-1847678416).
In 1994, Firmin provided an illustration for a British postage stamp, SG1804, featuring characters from Noggin the Nog. It was one of a set featuring characters from British children's literature. He produced further illustrations for the advertising campaign to publicise the stamps.
Firmin was married to Joan, who knitted the Clangers from vibrant pink wool. They met at the Central School of Art and Design in London, where Joan was studying bookbinding. They were married in 1952 and lived in London until moving to Kent in 1959. They had six daughters: One, Emily, appeared in the opening sequence of Bagpuss.
Firmin died on 1 July 2018 at his home in Kent after a short illness at the age of 89.