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10 minutes with Bob the Builder creator and graduate Keith Chapman

We speak to graduate Keith Chapman, a television writer and producer, most famously known for writing Bob the Builder, PAW Patrol and Fifi and the Flowertots. In this conversation with Keith, we find out more about his studies in Norfolk and what advice he might give to current students.

Why did you choose to go to art college?

I was drawing cartoons from a young age and I got my first cartoon published in the Eastern Daily Press when I was around 15 or 16. I used to follow a guy called Bill Tidy who used to illustrate a cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror back in the day.

I wrote to him and asked: “How do you become a cartoonist?” And he very kindly wrote back suggesting that going to college was the best course of action.  My mum and dad moved to Norfolk from Essex when I was 16 and it was a question of looking at art colleges and Great Yarmouth seemed to be a good one.

When you were at college, what were your hopes for the future? 

I loved illustration and cartooning. But I loved the world of advertising too, coming up with ideas every day. In my mind, I thought I’d do something within those industries. And in the back of my mind, I was thinking I’d love one day to be in films or working for Disney.

Bob the Builder courtesy of CBeebies

“With Bob the Builder I just ignored everybody and just carried on until it got picked up. My dreams started coming true from that moment on.”

What lessons have you learned along the way that others might learn from?

Work hard and keep going. And don’t give up on your dreams.

Believe in yourself when everybody around you is telling you, “Why are you still doing that? You’re never going to get anywhere with that!” With Bob the Builder I just ignored everybody and just carried on until it got picked up. My dreams started coming true from that moment on. 

How do you stay creative day-to-day?

I’m always writing or doodling ideas and then coming back to them to work up treatments. It’s all about opening your mind to possibilities. And I’m always looking for original ideas, which are harder to find. 

I’ve got about eight shows in development at the moment with various production companies around the world.

But one in particular, I was looking at news articles and reading about Mars, and future missions to Mars, and so thought it would be cool to do something based on Mars. Well, kids love farms … so I thought what about putting a farm on Mars? How interesting would that be; with all the Martian animals and some Martian kids working on their dad’s farm? The next thing I know, a big Canadian company has come on board to develop it. 

Paw Patrol courtesy of Amazon

And what projects are you planning next?

The new idea is about trains and has been in development for 3-4 years. The launch has just been announced in the trade press: the show is called ‘Mighty Express’ and will start on Netflix in September. 

What are your top tips about turning a great idea into a business proposition?

It’s not just about your own skills, talents and determination. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. 

That’s what happened with Bob the Builder. I had lots of ideas, and I put them all together in treatments and I went in with about six and pitched them all at the same time. But I knew in my heart they were going to go for Bob because he stood out.

It was a pretty good idea that had not been done before. Construction is the biggest industry in the world. It was a very commercial idea; you could see what could be done with it. And the timing was perfect. Building houses, garden design, interior design had become sexy. I just knew they were going to choose it.