Thursday, May 31, 2007

Maria Bird

Maria Bird is at the intersection of two recent threads here on Bear Alley. She was one of the early contributors to children's post-war television (as was Muffin the Mule) and she was also a contributor to Robin Annual, appearing in the first six or so volumes ("or so" because she isn't credited in number 5, although that might simply be an editorial slip). I believe she was also the main writer of the Andy Pandy strip that appeared on the front cover of Robin for many years; indeed, she (possibly in collaboration with Freda Lingstrom) may have written the strip from 1953 until it came to an end in 1969.

Maria Bird has proved to be somewhat elusive as far as solid information is concerned. Surprising, as she was one of the main creative forces behind some of the most famous children's TV shows of all time, including Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men. I can find no record of her death although it would seem to have been some time between 1979 (her last appearance in the phone book) and 1984 (an article in The Times which refers to her as "the late" Maria Bird). Without a date of death it is impossible to locate her date of birth as it would seem that Maria Bird was born in South Africa.

Since at least the late 1940s, Maria Bird lived with Freda Lingstrom at Chartwell Cottage, Westerham, Kent, but calls to various people in that area (such as the local library) have drawn a blank. The internet provides nothing about her life except the notion that she may have been an ex-school teacher.

We're on better ground with Freda Lingstrom, who was born in 1893 and attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Her paternal grandparents were Swedish and Lingstrom's first book was based on her travels of Scandinavia entitled This is Norway (1933). She also wrote two novels, The Seventh Sister (1938) and A Flower in his Hand (1939).

In 1940, Lingstrom joined the BBC's staff pool of the home and empire talks department, her work involving reporting, script writing and monitoring. Between 1945 and 1949, she worked on the editorial team of the children's periodical Junior whose contributors included George Orwell and Maria Bird. Both Freda Lingstrom and Maria Bird were engaged to soldiers during the war but both men died; Bird moved into Lingstrom's home at Chartwell Cottage, in the grounds of Chartwell House, the family home of Winston Churchill.

Lingstrom's experience on Junior led to her becoming Assistant Head of BBC Schools Broadcasting in 1947, creating the series Looking at Things and Listen with Mother. She was asked by Head of Television Talks Mary Adams if she could create a new programme for a new experimental slot that was to be aimed at very young children. Lingstrom and Bird set up Westerham Arts (named after the village they lived in) to produce their creation Andy Pandy. Lingstrom and Bird wrote the scripts, whilst Bird composed the music. A chance meeting on a train introduced Lingstrom to Audrey Atterbury who was persuaded to study under puppeteer John Wright of the Little Angel Theatre in London. In June 1950, production began on Andy Pandy which began a trial broadcast of four episodes on 11 July. After several episodes, Andy was joined by Teddy and Looby Loo (at the same time, Molly Gibson joined the small team to help Audrey perform with the puppets). The show was narrated by Vera McKechnie, a continuity announcer and presenter, and the songs were performed by Gladys Whitred, accompanied on the piano by Maria Bird.

Andy Pandy, with his stripey pajamas, the moth-eaten Teddy with his bow-tie and the silent doll Looby Loo became known to generations. The show was originally broadcast live on Tuesdays, a total of 70 episodes appearing between July 1950 and April 1952. Between 1952 and 1957, 32 editions were filmed by the BBC Film Unit, 4 of which were refilmed in early 1957.

Freda Lingstrom was appointed Head of BBC Children's Television in May 1951. Expanding on the idea of For the Very Young, Lindstrom created a second series, The Flower Pot Men which debuted on 18 December 1952. 31 episodes were made by Westerham Arts in 1952-54, these episodes filmed in a shed on the outskirts of the BBC's Lime Grove Studio; later episodes were filmed in an especially prepared puppet studio in Television Centre.

Bill and Ben, the two flowerpot men, were voiced by Peter Hawkins who created a language known as Oddlepoddle; Julia Williams was the narrator with Gladys Whitred and Maria Bird providing the same musical interludes they did for Andy Pandy.

The Flower Pot Men was broadcast on Thursdays until 1953 when it moved to Wednesday to make way for a third Westerham Arts production, Rag, Tag and Bobtail, the story of Rag the hedgehog, Tag the mouse and Bobtail the rabbit. The creative lineup for the new series was different to the previous two: although produced by Lindstrom and Bird, the new characters were glove puppets rather than marionettes, designed and made by Sam and Elizabeth Williams. Charles E. Stidwell provided the narration with David Enders and James Urquhart the voices. Most of the 24 episodes were directed by David Boisseau.

With three shows now running in the same daily time slot, Lindstrom decided to give the shows a new title. The title chosen was Watch With Mother (named after the radio series Listen With Mother which had debuted in January 1951).

Watch With Mother added Picture Book on Mondays from 14 February 1955, presented by Patricia Driscoll and, from Friday 9 September 1955, the fourth Westerham production, The Woodentops began appearing, completing the weekly lineup. Lindrop was credited as producer with Bird as editor of the 26 episodes with Audrey Atterbury and Molly Gibson operating the puppets and Charles E. Stidwell narrating some of the segments.

This last show was once again created and written by Maria Bird, who also wrote the music. 26 episodes were made between 1955-57, with Audrey Atterbury and Molly Gibson, supplemented by Gordon Murray of the . Eileen Brown, Josephina Ray and Peter Hawkins provided the voices.

Lingstrom retired from the BBC in July 1956 when it was decided that a new approach was needed because independent television's arrival had seen the BBC rating decline alarmingly.

Westerham produced other programmes, including The Magic Doll's House for ITV's Small Time slot, first broadcast from 4 May 1959; the show was written and introduced by Gladys Whitred, with Audrey Atterbury and Molly Gibson also involved (Gibson is also credited along with Whitred as scriptwriter).

17 new episodes of Picture Book (with Vera McKechnie replacing Driscoll) were made in 1963. The show was last broadcast in 1966, although one animated character, Bizzy Lizzy graduated to her own 13 episode show, first broadcast in 4 April 1967.

In 1969, 13 new colour episodes of Andy Pandy were made at Abbey Road Studio, reuniting most of the original team (with Gladys Whitred replaced by Valerie Carndell and Maria Bird's piano augmented by a clarinet played by Thea King).

During this period, both Freda Lingstrom and Maria Bird continued writing dozens of story books featuring the characters they had created. In the list below of books by Maria Bird there are a number of question marks because I've yet to resolve all of the reprint information on the numbered series. Some later titles may be reprints or collections of earlier books.

If I am correct in assuming that Maria Bird died in the early 1980s or thereabouts [NOTE: Mary Edith Bird, died 25 August 1979], she was outlived by her good friend Freda by only a few years. Freda Lingstrom died on 15 April 1989, aged 95. She was still living at Chartwell Cottage, the home she and Maria Bird had shared for forty years. Lingstrom was survived by a step-daughter.

Books by Maria Bird

Andy Pandy
Andy Pandy the Baby Clown, with Freda Lingstrom; illus. Irene Hawkins. London, Faber & Faber, 1953.
Andy Pandy and the Gingerbread Man
, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1953.The Golden Voice Andy Pandy Record Books, London, 3 vols., 1953.
Andy Pandy's Jump-Up Book
, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1954.
Andy Pandy Nursery Rhymes
. London, 1954?.
Andy Pandy, Teddy and Looby Loo
, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products (Colour Photo Books 4), 1954.Andy Pandy and the Queen of Hearts: A pop-up book, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1955.Andy Pandy's Shop, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1955.Andy Pandy Builds a House for Looby Loo, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1956.Paint with Andy Pandy, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1956.Andy Pandy and Teddy at the Zoo, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1956?.
Andy Pandy's Kite
, illus, Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1957.
Andy Pandy Paints His House
, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1958.
Andy Pandy and the Hedgehog
, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1959.
Andy Pandy and the Woolly Lamb
, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Adprint, 1959.
Andy Pandy's Adventures
, illus, Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1959.
Andy Pandy's Puppy
, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1959.
Andy Pandy's Counting and Rhyme Book
, illus. Norman Satchel. London, Paulton, 1960.

Andy Pandy Books, illus. Matvyn Wright.
__1: Andy Pandy and the Willow Tree.
__2: Andy Pandy and the White Kitten.
__3 Andy Pandy and Teddy at the Zoo. (ex-1956?).
__5: Andy Pandy's Tea Party. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1960.
__6: Andy Pandy and the Gingerbread Man.
__7: Andy Pandy in the Country.
__8: Andy Pandy's Shop. (ex-1955)
__9: Andy Pandy's Jack-in-the-Box.
__11: Andy Pandy Paints His House. (ex-1958)
__12: Andy Pandy and the Hedgehog. (ex-1958)

__13: Andy Pandy's Washing Day
__14: Andy Pandy and His Hobby Horse.
__15: Andy Pandy's Kite. (ex-1957)
__16: Andy Pandy's Puppy. (ex-1959)
__17: Andy Pandy and the Teddy Dog. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1960.
__18: Andy Pandy's Dovecot. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1960.

__19: Andy Pandy and the Baby Pigs
. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1961.
__20: Andy Pandy's Little Goat. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1961.
__? 21: Andy Pandy and the Patchwork Cat. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1962.
__22: Andy Pandy and the Snowman. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1962.
__23: Andy Pandy's Weather House. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1963.
__? 24: Andy Pandy's New Pet. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1963.
__25: Andy Pandy Plays Lions and Tigers. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1964.
__26: Andy Pandy's Playhouse. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1964.
__27: Andy Pandy and the Green Puppy. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1965.

__28: Andy Pandy and the Badger
. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1965.
__29: Andy Pandy and the Scarecrow. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1966.
__30: Andy Pandy's Red Motor Car. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1967.
__31: Andy Pandy and the Yellow Dog. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1968.
__32: Andy Pandy and the Spotted Cow, illus. David Barnett. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1971.
__33: Andy Pandy and the Baby Monkey, illus. David Barnett. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1972.
__? 34: Andy Pandy and the Tiny Piglet, illus. David Barnett. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1973.
Andy Pandy's Train and other stories, illus. Norman Satchel & Matvyn Wright. London, Paulton, 1961.Andy Pandy's Busy Friends. London, Purnell & Sons, 1974.Andy Pandy and Rocky Red. London, Purnell & Sons, c.1975.Andy Pandy and the Ducklings.Andy Pandy's Shopping Bag, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press.
Bill and Ben
Bill and Ben and the Potato Man
, illus. Janet & Anne Grahame-Johnstone. London, Publicity Products, 1953.The Flowerpot Men and the Bush Baby, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1954.The Flowerpot Men and the Weathercock, illus. Matvyn Wright. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1954.Nursery Rhymes for Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. London, Publicity Products, 1955.
Henny Penny and the Flowerpot Men (The Flowerpot Men Jump-Up Book)
, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1955.Paint with the Flowerpot Men, illus. Matvyn Wright. London, Publicity Products, 1955.Bill and Ben and the Silly Goose. London, 1961.

The Woodentops
The Woodentops' Washing Day, illus. Barbara Jones. London, Publicity Products, 1956.The Twins' Birthday, illus. Barbara Jones. London, Publicity Products, 1957.The Woodentops Painting Book, illus. Barbara Jones. London, Publicity Products, 1957.The Woodentops at the Fair. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1957.The Woodentops' Spotty Dog, illus. Anna Jelly. London, Paulton, 1961.

Watch with Mother Jump-Up Picture Book, illus. Monique Partridge. London, 1955.Flowerpot Men and Woodentops Annual. Manchester, World Distributors, 1970.

MusicSongs Under Sail. A book of sailor shanties, written & illus. Peter Heaton with musical arrangements by Maria Bird. London, Burke Publishing Co., 1963.

(* Information on Freda Lingstrom is derived from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the BFI Screenonline website. A very good biographical sketch about Audrey Atterbury can be found at the Realm of Rubovia website. Much of the information about Watch With Mother was derived from the series of articles 'Of Finger Mice and Mr Men' by T. J. Worthington, to be found on the Off the Telly website. The pictures have been grabbed from various sites around the web.)


  1. Thank you for this account.
    As I remember, Maria Bird died in the late 1970s.
    Freda Lingstrom is survived by an adopted daughter/niece - adopted originally by her novelist sister Elsie ("Elsa") Lingstrom.

    Frances Marshall (great niece of Freda Lingstrom).

  2. Hi there,

    Maria Bird is my great Aunt. I am starting a wikipedia page to create an archive for her. You are welcome to contribute ! Theo Bird

    1. Please feel free to contact me re your Aunt Maria Bird at

  3. This was a wonderful piece of research. I got thinking about the Flowerpot Men today and wanted to find out a bit more about them. This answered a lot of my questions. Cheers John Farrow (Englishman living in Stockholm)

  4. This article needs correction; all the black & white 1950s original transmissions of Watch With Mother were narrated by Maria Bird and not Vera Mc Kechnie as stated.

    1. Was Vera McKechnie only the narrator of the later series? Wikipedia is contradictory on the subject, saying in the entry for Andy Pandy that Maria Bird was narrator for the 1950 series and in Vera McKechnie's own entry that she narrated from that first series.

  5. Fascinating. I have lovely memories of all these programmes. I have always remembered the name Maria Bird from reading her name on screen aged 4 (I was an early reader) and I found this post as I wanted to know more about her. I always thought she was just the narrator, didn't realise she had a part in creating the whole thing, including the music. I am sure everyone born in England in the 1950s will remember "Time to Go Home". My sister and I used to play Andy Pandy (me) and Teddy (she) and climb into my mum's huge laundry basket and shut the lid on ourselves. She must have been a huge influence on millions of children and really deserves to be more famous, as indeed does her partner Freda.



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