FOR more than 30 years Wivenhoe's Roger Mainwood has been an intrinsic part of Christmas for millions of people all over the world.

This year his involvement is going to be doubly impressive.

That's because the animator and director not only will have his best known work-to-date shown on television, he'll also have his new film screened as well.

Since 1982, Roger has perhaps best been known as the man who created one of the opening scenes to The Snowman but that might be about to change with the release of another Raymond Briggs penned story, Ethel and Ernest.

Based on the 1998 book by the acclaimed British author and illustrator, the hand-drawn, animated feature film tells the true story of Raymond’s parents – Ethel and Ernest - two ordinary Londoners living through a period of extraordinary events and immense social change.

Heart-warming, humorous and bittersweet, the film follows the lives of lady’s maid Ethel and milkman Ernest from their first chance meeting in 1928, through the birth of their son Raymond in 1934, to their deaths, within months of each other, in 1971.

"I was first approached back in 2007," Roger says, "by the producer of the original Snowman, John Coates, who has sadly now died. He was involved in the making of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, which really inspired me to get into animation.

"Originally Raymond was very reluctant for it to be adapted because it's such a personal story to him but fortunately John persuaded him. He then called me and said he had a 'little' project I might be interested and so we went to lunch.

"Initially we started with just some voice readings with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn and a little bit of storyboarding, then, as is the way with these kind of films, things took their time to get going."

By 2014 with Lupus Films leading the way, the film got properly underway with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn on board as well as a whole host of other big names lending their voices, including Luke Treadaway, Virginia McKenna, Pam Ferris, EastEnders actress June Brown, The Fast Show’s Simon Day and The Thick of It’s Roger Allam.

A team of around 300 people in London, Cardiff and Luxembourg worked tirelessly to bring Ethel and Ernest to life using a combination of hand-drawn and hand-painted techniques and the very latest animation technology.

"We wanted to re-create the book as much as we could," Roger adds, "but that does make producing a film such as this quite time consuming and costly.

"With The Snowman and even The Snowman and his Dog we were still doing the drawings on paper, and that's what we were going to do with this. But technology has moved on quite a bit and the industry standard is now to draw onto a tablet with a stylus. It's still hand drawn and most people cannot tell the difference."

As well as the drawings, music plays a large part in the film, with an original score by internationally renowned composer and conductor Carl Davis, and two songs courtesy of Sir Paul McCartney.

Back in the Twenties Sir Paul's father, James, wrote a tune called Walking in the Park with Eloise when he was leader of the Jim Mac's Jazz band, a version of which has been re-arranged specially for the film by Carl Davis. In addition the former Beatle has written and performed a brand new song for the film - In The Blink Of An Eye.

"Sir Paul is a huge fan of Raymond's," Roger tells me, "so I suggested Raymond might write to him about the film, which he did on Fungus the Bogeyman paper.

"He agreed to be a part of it and back in July this year he had a small window to do something, so we all went down to his studio in Sussex and spent a wonderful afternoon with him."

Born in Whitstable, Kent, Roger has been in Wivenhoe for the last 30 years.

Always interested in art and graphic design, he studied at the London College of Printing, where he discovered a little room where someone was making films.

"That's where it all started," he smiles. "I made my first film there and after I graduated I went on to the Royal College of Art where I did film and television.

"My first proper job was making a video for the German band Kraftwerk. At the time I had no idea how significant they were and it was basically for their record company to promote their new laser disc. I don't think the band knew anything about it."

A few years later and Roger was then part of the team working on a new animated film called The Snowman.

"Again at the time," he adds, "no one knew much about it. The film came out in the first year of Channel 4 and has been shown every Christmas since but when it began its popularity grew very slowly until of course more recently as it's become this massive huge thing."

Having worked on the follow-up The Snowman and the Dog as well as When the Wind Blows, The Wind in the Willows, The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, and many others, Ethel and Ernest is Roger's directorial debut and has already netted him huge plaudits as well as a nomination for an Evening Standard British Film Award.

Roger says: "It was an honour that Raymond could entrust us to depict the lives of his family on the big screen. People sometimes ask me who the film is intended for, and I answer first and foremost for Raymond Briggs. I’m happy to say that he is over the moon with the end result so I feel confident that it will now find its audience.

"I believe the warm and honest human story that is told in Raymond’s original book has found its way into cinematic form with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn giving wonderful performances in the title roles.”

Released in cinemas back in October, the film will get its television premiere on BBC One on Wednesday December 28 at 7.30pm.