If you’ve brought the likes of Roland Rat, Tinky Winky and Igglepiggle into people’s homes, what do you do next? Over the past four decades, Anne Wood, 77, has created or produced some of the best-loved television shows for pre-school children. Now she’s back with a new set of characters.
Meet Great BigHoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick, four vividly coloured bird-like creatures – and the stars of Twirlywoos, a show that Wood describes as a “situation comedy for three-to-four-year-olds”.
The question for her – and for CBeebies, which has bought the rights to broadcast 50 episodes of the new series – is: will today’s children (and parents and grandparents) take to these characters with as much relish as their predecessors did to the Teletubbies?
The names help with this, of course. How did Wood arrive at names like Great BigHoo and, Toodloo? She’s not quite sure, though the “hoo” part came from a bird’s call, and after that, “There needs to be a sort of rhythm to it and a certain amount of alliteration.” In fact, the show itself was originally going to be called Oodle-Oo, until her lawyer unearthed a similar name in an obscure corner of American television.
Twirlywoos uses stop-frame animation rather than hand puppets or men and women waddling about in funny suits. “It’s particularly appropriate for the young because it’s so tactile,” she says, harking back to the 1970s heyday of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s Clangers and Bagpuss. “There’s a charm to it which other things don’t have.”
In this, Wood is moving directly against the fashion in children’s TV. A whole host of old favourites are being remade, and a vast majority of the new shows have opted for computer animation even if the originals on which they were based used puppets (for example, Thunderbirds) or stop-frame (The Wombles).
Wood doesn’t sound enthusiastic at the return of such shows. “I’m a bit sad. It comes down to the times we’re in: people feel safer remaking hits of the past rather than investing in something new.”
Hold on a moment? Isn’t there to be a series of brand-new Teletubbies episodes?
Yes there is – but it is nothing to do with Wood.
Wood no longer owns the rights to Teletubbies, which she co-created with Andrew Davenport, having sold them in 2013 to raise cash to continue making new programmes. “I was sad but I had to do it.” As a result, the new Tele- tubbies series, due to air on CBeebies later this year, “has nothing whatever to do with me.”
She laughs, but I sense the sadness in her voice. Have you been shown any of the new shows, I ask. “No.”
Will you watch them when they air? “No.” Really? “No. I couldn’t bring myself to. I mean I have nothing against them, it might be brilliant. They tell me they’ve got the best producer possible on it, so that’s a good sign. But how could I watch it? All my programmes are like my children. It’s like seeing a child remade in somebody else’s image. So good luck to them. They bought it and I can’t do anything about that.”
Are you sorry that the show is being remade?
“In general, I’m just saying that there are such a lot of programmes being remade and I just feel the children’s television industry is worth more than that. It would be nice if more encouragement was given to new work, that’s all.”