From Timbertwig to Wurzelzweig

Mention Story Teller and Timbertwig will come to many people’s minds. One of the most popular characters to ever come out of the partwork, Timbertwig was written and illustrated by Peet Ellison. Here, he tells us about his endearing creation. 

by Peet Ellison

When Story Teller began, I was not long out of art college, and looking to find some freelance work. As I lived on Merseyside, the geography was a bit of a problem. Emails and broadband were the stuff of science fiction. I got a small break with a little independent publisher who was producing a sort of undercover magazine called ‘Pssst’. This featured many new artists, most of whom looked as though their work had been inspired by magic mushrooms! They put me in touch with Marshall Cavendish (MC), as they had heard they were looking for new writers/illustrators for a new partwork concept.

I met with the people at MC who were very supportive, and encouraged me to develop Timbertwig, which at the time was more of a fantasy concept.

Story Teller was rolled out by TV region. The area where I lived had Granada TV, which came later on the roll out. My biggest thrill was when on a job in Newcastle I saw a full window display in WHSmiths, of Part 5, my first edition. [MC] originally commissioned three episodes but the stories proved to be very popular and so two more stories were commissioned for later in the series. They wanted me to change my style, and pushed for a more “cartoony” feel. You can see the difference, but I am not sure it was an improvement.

As the magazine continued to sell well, they hit on the idea of a Christmas issue and asked me to write a contribution. As I was travelling home from London [one day] the train was delayed in snowy weather, and I wrote the story there and then. The story was printed almost word for word, with no editing. I had no idea that the whole cover would be taken up with one of my pictures. I wish that they had told me this was their intention, as I would have liked to have produced something a bit better. However, they did only give me two weeks to write and illustrate each story.

To celebrate the success of Story Teller, they threw a fancy dress party in London. I went dressed as Granny Knot, and won a prize for best costume. I also met George Layton, the narrator, who didn’t seem impressed at meeting an eight-feet witch who had drunk one too many glasses of wine!

Story Teller 2 was inevitable, but try as I might, I couldn’t get [MC] to take any [of my] new stories, despite my best efforts. Now that the magazine was established, they could call on lots of new illustrators and writers. As far as I know, there were no plans for a third series. Looking back, it is amazing that they produced so many, as there was a lot of work putting together the whole package, with the tapes as well.

Little Story Teller was obviously aimed at a younger market, and they published two further episodes of Bubble and Squeek. But that was the end of the road as far as MC and myself were concerned.

I knew from their reactions that Timbertwig had been a success, but no, I never received any fan mail or other correspondence.

In 2002, I held an exhibition in Warrington called The Secrets of the Lost Time Capsule. This was a concept exhibition which combined my fantasy artwork with a storyline, and interactive exhibits for the children. It was a great success, visited by 10,000 people. In the guestbook I read a comment from a French student, who was living in the area, who was teaching at a local school. She recognised my style, and linked me back to her childhood, when she used to read and listen to the adventures of Tirondin over and over again.

There is something really satisfying to know that you have reached so many people.

In Germany Timbertwig is Wurzelzweig, In Spain, Palitroque, In Italy, Bastoncello, and Tirondin in France. The more you dig, the more you find.

There are DJ’s and bikers with Timbertwig as their nickname. And to think it was just my brother’s nickname when I was little!