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April 6, 2018
Writer and producer Andrew Davenport will deliver the keynote address at Brand Licensing Europe, which is being held from Sept. 28 to 30 at London's Grand Hall, Olympia. The title of his talk is, "From Laa Laa and Po to Igglepiggle and the Pinky Ponk—Teletubbies, In the Night Garden, and Other Stories."
It will be the first time Davenport will speak at a formal trade event like BLE and it promises to be a highlight of the show, shedding light on the work of one of children's television's most admired creators. It has been 13 years since the launch of "The Teletubbies," co-created by Davenport and Anne Wood, and it is easy to forget just how groundbreaking the show was for its language and its look, as well as its commercial success and global appeal.
Davenport studied speech sciences at university and met Anne Wood, the founder of independent production company Ragdoll, when she offered him a role as a puppet character in a series called "Tots TV." He went on to write for the series, bringing to it his knowledge of child development and language acquisition. He believed and continues to believe that television is ideally suited to the processes by which children learn and assimilate information.
His and Wood's subsequent project was "The Teletubbies," produced for the BBC, and first broadcast in 1997. Davenport wrote all 365 episodes and it broke linguistic and visual ground in its mission to appeal to an audience of very young children. "The Teletubbies," which was aired in more than 120 countries and translated into 45 languages, has clocked up £2 billion ($3.1 billion) of retail sales and sold 50 million plush toys worldwide.
One key to the success of "The Teletubbies" is that its central premise is developmental rather than educational. Things unfold in each episode simply, just as they do for a young child. There is no curriculum.
When it came to making "In the Night Garden," another complex preschool production featuring eccentrically sized characters, Davenport was inspired by the ritual of bedtime and rightly identified that it can be an anxious time for young children. The soothing music he wrote and the playful references to children's nursery rhymes have been a hit with children and adults in the U.K. In the Night Garden was the fastest-growing toy and game license in its first year (2007) and nearly 4.5 million plush toys have been sold to date. Outside the U.K., "In the Night Garden" is making progress—it has been translated into 19 languages and sold to 35 countries.
The Teletubbies demonstrated what was possible for a newly created European preschool brand on the international stage. And BBC Worldwide (which manages the In the Night Garden brand) hopes that In the Night Garden will do the same. It makes its debut in the U.S. in October on The Hub and BBC Worldwide will support the launch with huge promotional efforts aimed also at sparking a full-blown licensing program for the U.S. market. It is a vital part of BBC Worldwide's strategy for international growth, but the key to its success will be whether Davenport's magic captures the imagination of young children.
Davenport is working on another large-scale series for children. I hope he tells us something about it during his keynote at BLE because it will, no doubt, feature his unique use of music and language, and his respect for a child's progress in understanding the world. Like thousands of people in this business, Davenport designs and makes something to entertain young children. He is a master in the art and it's not often we get to sit and listen to a master. His keynote address at 1:00 p.m. on Sept. 28 is an hour you should write into your schedule.
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