Robin Lyons is one of the most respected animators in the business today and a true renaissance man: writer, actor, composer, jazz musician, teacher, multiple BAFTA winner etc etc. Formerly the MD of the Welsh animation powerhouse Siriol he now runs Calon the production company responsible for Hanna’s Helpline (a staple of Channel Five), Igam Ogam and Zoo Factor. Robin also breathed life into Super Ted, Fireman Sam, Hilltop Hospital and many other childrens’ favourites.
As busy a man as you’ll ever find he still makes time to pass on his expertise to the next generation of animators (and some seasoned hands as well) – be it as visiting Professor of the University of Glamorgan’s School of Creative Design, lecturing and giving workshops throughout Europe as part of the European Media Programme or even through his own blog writinganddevelopinganimation.blogspot.com.
1. What are you watching on television just now?
The Borgias – a family soap, but with sex and violence. Just how Neighbours should be.
2. What are you working on at the moment?
We’re starting a second series of our stop-motion series Igam Ogam, for S4C, Five and ZDF. We’ve also developed a series based on the Lettice books written by Mandy Stanley, which we are beginning to get some interest in. We’re working with some talented Italians on the development of a very funny series for teens called 390.
3. How did you get into the children’s television business?
Well, I used to work as an actor, writer and singer doing comedy and music for radio and television. A sound engineer introduced me to Mike Young, who had created Super Ted and was looking for someone to ghost write the books. A few months later we pitched the idea to the newly formed S4C and set up a company to make it.
4. Did you have any alternative career plans?
I’ve never really had a career plan, but I’m beginning to think I might need one!
5. What were the best children’s programmes ever?
I love all the Oliver Postgate shows (Klangers, Bagpuss etc). Particularly, Ivor the Engine. As a Welshman, I love the idea of a Welsh village that has its own gold mine, and an elephant kept in the gas works.
6. Who is your favourite musician?
I play saxophone in a jazz funk band. We play a lot of original numbers, but also covers of tunes by Pat Metheny, McCoy Tyner, and Bela Fleck, all of whose music I love.
7. Do you keep your BAFTAs in the loo or is it in an illuminated display cabinet in the lounge?
I don’t think either my family or friends are too impressed by my BAFTAs, so I keep them at work. Unfortunately, colleagues and clients aren’t too fussed about them either.
8. What makes you throw things at the television?
Big Brother, Noel Edmonds, actors mugging at camera, celebrities standing in front of a landscape and telling us how beautiful it is. The list is endless. My TV has great big dents in it.
9. Your all time favourite movie?
Now this changes from week to week. I’m into Westerns at the moment, and my favourite is High Noon. It may be conservative, but it has a great script, wonderful acting, and a terrific song (Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won Best song AND Best Score Oscar for the movie).
10. What was SuperTed really like?
I always liked SuperTed when he was not stripping off and flying around to rescue people. He had a gentle, domestic side that surfaced in a few episodes. I particularly like the episode where he is seen vacuuming the space station with Spotty. It’s a bit like a scene from The Odd Couple.
11. Who would win in a fight between Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam?
Those two would never get into a fight – neither of them has enough personality – far too busy being role models. When we were doing SuperTed, we had a very healthy relationship with Cosgrove Hall, and our animators used to exchange drawings of SuperTed and Danger Mouse doing unspeakable things to each other. Often this also involved Bananaman in a compromising situation. SuperTed and Danger Mouse would definitely fight, though Danger Mouse would probably win, because he plays dirty.
12. People you’ve admired the most in your career?
I admire what David Lord and Dave Sproxton have done with Aardman. Of the people I’ve worked with, I’ve particularly liked Stanley Baxter and Nigel Planer.
13. What advice would you give to Gavin Henson?
Forget about rugby. Stick to ballroom dancing.