Q Pootle 5 creator Nick Butterworth on taking the children’s character from page to screen

The celebrated author and illustrator reveals how his son helped him brig his creation to life

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Q Pootle 5 is a friendly little alien who first appeared in the best-selling books by children’s author and illustrator Nick Butterworth. Creative and resourceful, Q Pootle 5 and his friends find fun and adventure wherever they go, with stories that will spark children’s imaginations everywhere! New episodes started this week on CBeebies.

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Here Nick Butterworth explains how Q Pootle 5 was created and transformed for screen.

Q Pootle 5 landed on my drawing board sometime in 1999. He appeared at the end of my pencil, one day, as I was musing about a new character for a children’s book. I wondered what kind of world he came from.

When I drew his spaceship, I had my answer. That first scribbled version of Q Pootle 5’s spaceship set the style and tone for his world. A combination of low tech and high tech. I drew inspiration from the way children’s imagination trumps reality. A cardboard box becomes a boat or a spaceship. A hair dryer makes a great outboard motor – or a lateral stabilising jet! Cushions, chairs, a bit of old hi-fi equipment with knobs to twiddle, these are all you need to go exploring.

Q Pootle 5 made his way from my drawing board to the printed page and soon, he was winning a lot of new friends. There was interest, from a number of quarters, to make a TV series, but for one reason or another, nothing happened.

As a boy, I wanted to be an animator. So when, one day, my son Ben (grown up with a career in film and TV) said, ‘We can do this,’ I think it called to something buried deep inside. Ben’s can-do attitude is infectious. I and my wife, Annette (my best friend and business partner) were won over. Together we formed Snapper productions with a view to producing the series ourselves. We launched out.

As extremely new-kids-on-the-block, we realised we would need to show people – broadcasters, animators, financiers, etc, what we had in mind, rather than simply ‘talking a good show’. We made a short pilot with British animators, Blue Zoo, who did a superb job. The pilot spoke more convincingly of our ambition than we could ourselves.

As Arthur Rackham said, (to paraphrase) ‘Children deserve the best.’ From the outset, our aim was to produce a high quality series that was funny and inventive, engaging for both young children and their parents. We wanted to celebrate simple values such as friendship and kindness. A series that was inspired by children should, in turn, inspire them.

As a writer and illustrator of children’s books, I have largely worked on my own, for more than thirty years. Animation is a much more collaborative process and, although the old dog has had to learn new tricks, the rewards that come from working with some wonderfully talented people are immense.

Before we could start work on fifty-two episodes, the world I had originally envisaged had to be more fully fleshed out. When Ben suggested that Q Pootle 5 would live in a silver mobile home, I knew he understood the world of Q Pootle 5. I had an important ally!

A firm grasp of the ethos of this quirky, friendly, alien world has been essential for everyone involved in the creative process. So many have made valuable contributions. Stories. Voices. Music. Animation. Sound effects..

And now Q Pootle 5 is ‘out there’. It’s fascinating to discover what our audience makes of it. Already some have favourite episodes, favourite characters. For me, the hard work all seems worthwhile when I hear my two year old granddaughter saying, ‘More Coop Five . . . ’


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