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The Ragdoll Story


In the beginning....Founder Anne Wood

Anne came from a working class background. She was born in Spennymoor, County Durham and grew up in a small coal mining village nearby.

Encouraged by loving parents to develop her talents she qualified as a secondary school teacher and one of her early missions was to encourage her pupils to read - not easy in a school grossly under-funded.

This was the era of the first children's paperback books and Anne became a pioneer of a children's paperback book club scheme for schools which proved to be an exciting solution to encourage children to enjoy reading.


1965

Anne founded a quarterly magazine - Books for your Children. Such was the success of this that circulation became nationwide. Anne expanded her consultancy to embrace book publishers, radio and then television. This prompted an offer from Tyne Tees television to produce 'Puzzle Party' which in turn led to other television productions for various companies.


1981

Anne was invited to create a children's department for the newly launched TV-AM and Roland Rat was created. This anarchical character, with mis-spelt captions and chaotic interviews, satirised the serious content of the breakfast show, proved hugely popular with children and their parents and began to reverse the declining ratings for the station. Concurrently, Anne filled Sunday mornings with an innovative one-hour magazine programme for young children, Rub-a-dub-tub.

Following a change of management at TV-AM, cost-cutting measures were introduced resulting in children's programming being entirely imported cartoons with live links from the studio. Under these circumstances, there was no possibility of Anne's contract being renewed so she left... and the idea of starting her own independent production company was born.

With her background in education and publishing, Anne Wood was committed to the development of young children, capturing their imaginations through fantasy and play and enabling them to learn just some of life's lessons through the medium of broadcast television, video and related publishing. The fact that nearly every home and child had access to TV was the challenge and the motivation.


1984

When the company was formed the inspiration for the name Ragdoll came from a much loved and well-worn ragdoll called Jemima - the proud possession of daughter Katherine Wood. As part of the Wood family, Jemima had featured in many imaginary and real adventures and, as such, had to have various makeovers from grandmother to avoid disintegration. Jemima was never beautiful, but always had great spirit.


Pob

The first creation of the new company was broadcast from 1985 to 1988. He was a sort of 'goblin baby' who lived in the TV and interrupted normal transmission. Pob knocked on the back of the screen and then introduced himself by writing his name on the screen. He created his programme by interacting with his special adult guests. Guests for the series included fans of Pob such as Spike Milligan.

The success of Pob's stories on Channel 4 led to a 13 x 10 minute adaptation of a puppet animation series that had originated in the world famous Trinka Studio in Czechoslovakia.


Playbox

Meanwhile, Ragdoll had been asked to produce Playbox, a pre-school educational series for Central TV. The 34 x 15 minute programmes were first shown on ITV from October 1988 and proved something of a watershed for Ragdoll. Not only was it the beginning of a relationship with Central TV's Education Department, it demonstrated the need the company had to create and own its own characters.


Storytime

Concurrently Ragdoll linked up with BBC Education to help produce Storytime. This series of 18 episodes was transmitted from January 1989.


The Magic Mirror

Inadvertently, controversy and Ragdoll never seem too far apart and the company hit the headlines with its next project The Magic Mirror which was first broadcast in 1989. This programme came about because although British animators were lauded for their originality internationally, at home their work was rarely seen.

So, wanting to reverse this trend, Anne set up a competition for British animators and found an enthusiastic funder for the scheme in Kellogg's UK. Out of an amazing 76 entries, 13 were chosen - each to make an original 7 minute film based on a fairy story. The resulting series proved visually exciting and original featuring a magical collection of monsters, giants, heroes and heroines.

The problems and controversy surrounding this unique series was over its sponsorship. Although detailed discussions had previously taken place with both ITV and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, just prior to transmission panic and broadcasting politics set in and postponement was only averted at the last moment when Ragdoll agreed to the minutest changes, primarily to the Kellogg's 'K' logo. What had rankled with the broadcaster was that the sponsorship money had all been invested in the production. It was no coincidence that only a few months after the transmission of this pioneering programme the rules of sponsorship were changed and broadcasters receive all sponsorship money.

While all this was happening, Jeremy Isaacs moved on from Channel 4 and was replaced by Michael Grade who very early on pronounced that Channel 4 was no longer in the business of producing mainstream children's television. So, at a stroke, one of Ragdoll's main customers was no more.


Boom

Grade later qualified his decision by announcing that they would continue commissioning programmes for children with special needs. Ragdoll offered the idea of Boom - a magazine style show presented by wheelchair user Andrew Miller and broadcast in 1990 - 1991. 1990 proved to be the major breakthrough year for Ragdoll as a key independent production company.


Rosie and Jim

Following their satisfaction with Playbox, Central were keen to commission a new production from Ragdoll to help boost their quota of independently produced programmes. This was Rosie and Jim, the adventures of two ragdolls who live a secret life on a canal boat. Shot entirely on location, the production had to contend with the vagaries of the British weather and, as a result, the first series of 25 episodes went well over budget. However, following an excellent audience response to the transmission in September 1990, ITV commissioned a second series - which helped to stave off a financial crisis for Ragdoll.

The launch of Rosie and Jim coincided with the first developments in 1991 of the children's video market and Rosie and Jim had the distinction of being one of the first children's television characters to sell over a million videos - the proceeds of which went primarily to Central TV, rather than Ragdoll!

Rosie and Jim also came to life in two UK theatre tours in 1993 and 2000.


Brum

To ensure financial stability, Ragdoll has always endeavoured to have at least two series in production at a time. In 1988, Birmingham City Council came forward to offer some financial support to a project that involved a little car that has adventures in the big city. Appropriately named Brum, this live action creation involved a radio-controlled car whose adventures were shot in and around the city of Birmingham. The first series was broadcast in 1991, the second in 1994 and the third in 2001.

Brum's international exposure has now reached 41 countries and his profile continues to rise.


Open a Door

Even as early as 1992, it was becoming obvious that if Ragdoll wished to continue producing high quality programmes, an international profile was essential.

Anne realised that the most interesting and relatively inexpensive way of achieving this might be through some form of programme exchange. And so Open a Door was born. This unique initiative invites producers to contribute a five-minute film featuring a young child in their home environment. It continues to draw support from all over the world - currently 36 different countries participate, Each contributor brings to a producer's conference in Stratford upon Avon a story board for a five minute programme and a guarantee of transmission of the series in their own country.

Each producer returns home with a series of programmes that enable children in their country to learn more of children's lives and concerns around the world. In this way, not only is a series created that brings together children all over the world, but Ragdoll makes new production friends on a global scale. The series is broadcast by the BBC in the UK.


Tots TV

At the beginning of the '90's both Thames and Central TV were keen to include Ragdoll's next project in their franchise renewals. Partly through loyalty, and partly through having a Midlands base Tots TV went to Central.

Tilly, Tom and Tiny are puppets who, along with their friend Donkey, live in a secret magic cottage in a wood. For the production, a fully working scaled down 'real' thatched cottage was built. Tots TV was the first mainstream programme to feature a character speaking a foreign language.

In total 276 programmes were produced and it has been shown in over 50 countries around the world.

First broadcast by Carlton between 1993 and 1998 in 2004, the BBC bought the broadcast rights to the programme and it is currently enjoying a renaissance.


The Teletubbies Phenomenon

Easter week 1997 - and children's television would never be quite the same again. This was the week that the BBC launched Teletubbies, a programme that impacted on the world like no other children's programme - before or since.

The immediate reaction in the UK was initially a mixture of shock and horror. It made the main news headlines and Anne had to appear on TV in its defence. The main concerns seemed to centre around these extraordinary creatures - Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po - being incapable of speaking the Queen's English and, as a result, future generations' diction would be irreparably damaged. What was never doubted was that the children were entranced and enchanted by the Teletubbies.

The programme came under deep educational scrutiny and even learned professors pronounced on the educational value of the Teletubbies - and in virtually every instance, the experts came down on the side of the programme.

With the educational case proven, the media began to look at new angles of covering the phenomenon. Hell bent on trying to destroy the magical appeal of Teletubbies, some of the press were determined to expose the characters as actors in suits. The set was besieged by photographers hiding up trees and the shoot was interrupted by low flying helicopters - the ultimate objective being to acquire a shot of a Teletubby without its head!

Now, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po have been loved by children from all corners of the globe and their adventures have been translated into 45 languages in 120 countries. The series proved to be the most successful export ever for BBC Worldwide. Importantly for Ragdoll, the company had negotiated to keep the American rights as it was clear that, to survive, Ragdoll needed more financial control as well as creative control and if this meant taking more financial risk as well as creative risk, that was the path that must be followed.

Production on Teletubbies ended in 1999 after 365 episodes and a 'treat-sized' version Teletubbies Everywhere was developed from the original concept to be shown in parallel with the original series.


Badjelly the Witch

Ever since Pob, Spike Milligan had taken an interest in Ragdoll's work. He actually rang and asked if he could take part in Pob, and of course the production team were happy to include him. During the course of their working together Anne had told Spike how much she had enjoyed Badjelly the Witch, which he had written for his children, and suggested a collaboration to make a screen version. In the intervening years there had not been an opportunity to create this and it wasn't until after Teletubbies that Badjelly was finally broadcast at Christmas in 2000.

Badjelly the Witch was the last television that Spike ever made, so the team were very pleased with his verdict that he thought they had created something quite enchanting.

There are no plans to make it into a series. It remains a stand alone, one off special.


Ragdoll USA

In the early days of the company, Anne's cold calling on US broadcasters and distributors became legendary. She was always received with polite respect for the modest Ragdoll catalogue, but the enthusiasm was never transformed into deals.

Then came Tots TV with it's unique ability to feature a second language. Alice Cahn the Head of Children's at PBS was quick to spot its potential for mixing English and Spanish and Anne had her breakthrough - Tots TV went on to the PBS network.

Coincidentally in 1995, an approach was made to Ragdoll by Kenn Viselman of the itsy bitsy Entertainment Company to represent Ragdoll in the US. Similar approaches had been made in the past, but Viselman's in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Ragdoll catalogue (which at this point did not include Teletubbies) swung the issue in his favour. Kenn's expertise in launching new programmes on an unsuspecting American market contributed greatly to the North American success of Teletubbies and it was a shock when he parted company with itsy bitsy. This left Ragdoll with a major predicament as to its future presentation in North America. In the end, believing in 'controlling your destiny before someone else does' it had little option but to set up its own office in New York and represent itself.

So, 2002 saw the opening of Ragdoll offices in New York's SoHo to manage and exploit the Ragdoll catalogue of programming in the Americas.

Following the creation of the joint venture between Ragdoll and BBC Worldwide, it was a natural progression in 2008 for Ragdoll to merge its North American team with the children's division at BBC Worldwide in New York. This further strengthens the management of the Ragdoll portfolio in the US and Canada.


Boohbah

The end of the frantic Teletubbies production allowed Ragdoll time for reflection on which way the company intended to develop. In an ever-changing world, listening to children and observing how they communicate was more important than ever.

Out of this came Humbah, Zumbah, Zing Zing Zingbah, Jumbah and Jingbah. Children around the age of four really want to move and so the programme encourages them to get up off the couch and move with the Boohbahs.

The studio for the 104 adventures of Boohbah was built in a warehouse just outside Stratford upon Avon, whilst the Storyworld sequences were shot on location in Spain. In 2003, the warehouse/studio also became the headquarters of Ragdoll incorporating offices for both production and marketing and more space for editing, in addition to the two studios.

The programme was first shown in the UK in April 2003 on both GMTV and ITV. It launched in the US on PBS in January 2004 and is shown in over 20 other countries worldwide. To provide the additional running time required by the PBS network, Ragdoll again broke new ground with 'Look what I can do' - an additional feature which shows children of all kinds demonstrating their joy in their own physical activity.


Blips

BLIPS is a comedy show for 5 to 6 year olds. Research with this age group showed that one common interest they all had was their future careers. The topics covered by the shows all came from children - and provided some unexpected surprises with a range from Cake Baker to Princess!

The production team spent several months interviewing and researching the various jobs the children had chosen although the “Princess” episode’s research was confined to studying fairy tales !

That children love it when adults get things wrong provided the basis for the comedy. The slapstick and visual style of humour was a tribute to the classic comedians of the early cinema, particularly Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

The programme is a mix of live-action and animation. The animation was provided by the team that had so successfully transformed Spike Milligan’s Bad Jelly The Witch to the screen.

The first 13 episodes of BLIPS began transmission on ITV on September 29th 2005. A further 13 episodes are scheduled for early 2006. The series has great international appeal with dialogue limited to a voice-over (provided by “Keeping Up Appearances” star Patricia Routledge in the UK). The visual humour has worldwide appeal.


Ragdoll Worldwide

In September 2006, Ragdoll and BBC Worldwide formed a joint venture company, Ragdoll Worldwide, as it moves into the next stage of its commercial life alongside its long term and most successful commercial partner, BBC Worldwide.


In The Night Garden

In the Night Garden is Ragdoll's creation for children aged 2-4 years. Again the show is international in its appeal and with 100 half-hour programmes, it has the breadth of scale that establishes a new standard for pre-school television.

The idea for the show originated from Ragdoll's response to these anxious times we live in today and directly references a pivotal moment in a child's experience - bedtime; that universal time of imaginative pictures and thoughts or indeed at any time little children take a nap.

It is best described as a thoroughly modern interpretation of a nursery-rhyme picture book and features a host of wonderful characters, based loosely on toys, living together in a caring, happy community. Upsy Daisy, Igglepiggle, Makka Pakka, the Tombliboos and the Pontipines all have their own unique song and dance and each play their own special role in the imaginative journey a child encounters during each episode.

In the Night Garden is filmed in High Definition, in a real woodland setting. It makes use of the latest technical innovations in live character costume and CG animation to create a compelling and fully immersive experience for young viewers.

In the Night Garden was awarded the British Academy Children's Film & Television Award (BAFTA) for Best Pre-School Live Action Programme 2007 and 2008.


Tronji

Tronji is Ragdoll’s creation for children aged 6 – 8 years. This exciting new television series is accompanied by an interactive website and a 3D multi-player game site.

Tronji is a world parallel to the real world, populated with brilliant landscapes and wonderful, quirky characters, all thoroughly happy with their crazy world. The most important of these is the Great Eek, who oversees all Tronji activity and brother and sister, Tronji I and Tronji O.

However, disaster strikes when a catastrophic ‘wobble’ happens and the world of Tronji fragments, colour and happiness drain away, and Tronji I disappears. He becomes stranded in our world, along with the lost colour and happiness, which appear in the form of little gem stones. Only children can save Tronji and restore colour and happiness to the fragmented lands by creating their own Tronji characters based on their own special skills.

In addition to the television series, there is a CBBC website containing more information about the world of Tronji and its inhabitants, as well as a suite of single player games. It is also the portal for Tronji World, a state-of-the-art 3D multiplayer game which is currently in open BETA testing and will launch later in 2009. Players can create their own avatar that can roam and explore a detailed and populated 3D representation of the pre-wobble Tronjiworld and link up with other players in a safe, secure environment.

The game is free-to-play and has been commissioned by BBC Worldwide, developed by Nice Tech Ltd and Ragdoll Productions.


Dipdap

Dipdap is a fun and very silly animation created by Steve Roberts from Ragdoll. It is simply the interaction of a drawn Line that creates endless challenges and surprises for the unsuspecting little character, Dipdap.

It was acquired by BBC Children’s TV and made its first appearance on BBC2 and CBeebies on 3rd January 2011.

There are 52 x 3 minute episodes of Dipdap.


The Adventures of Abney & Teal

Abney and Teal live on an island in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a park, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the big city. They share their island with unusual and funny characters Neep, Bop, the Poc-Pocs and Toby-Dog, who also observe and take part in Abney and Teal's adventures.

The series creator Joel Stewart is not only an artist, but also a writer and musician. Ragdoll were delighted therefore when Joel accepted their invitation to work with them to create something entirely new for children's television. The result, The Adventures of Abney & Teal, combines a unique hand-drawn style with contemporary animation techniques.

Joel's picture books are a distinct brand of gentle, fantastical humour and exquisite drawing style. Joel is well known for his illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen fairytales and for his Dexter Bexley & the Big Blue Beastie picture books, but it was the publication of Addis Berner Bear Forgets, with its filmic quality, that first prompted Ragdoll's Anne Wood to contact Joel.

Narrator and voice of Abney is accomplished Olivier award-winning actor, Adrian Scarborough and the voice of Teal is multi-talented Shingai Shoniwa, lead singer of Alternative Pop band, The Noisettes.

Ragdoll are immensely proud of this work for the way it successfully brings together Joel's classic art style and Ragdoll's production expertise and technical excellence. Abney, Teal, Neep, Bop, and the Poc-Pocs are all characters guaranteed to make you smile and their world is a place where everyone will want to be.

The 52 x 11mins episodes broadcast on CBeebies from 26th September 2011.


The Future

Ragdoll is focused on several new projects. Ideas are never a problem for Ragdoll, but all take time to research and implement in a way that best meets the needs of children in today's world. What is most essential for the future is that the way of working, developed since the inception of the company, where new ideas are given the time, money and space to evolve, with children's needs at the centre, be safeguarded.