Hey Duggee won Best Pre-School Animation at the 2018 Children’s BAFTA Awards for the third time running! It also won Best Director for the genius that is Grant Orchard, and Best Digital for the Counting Badge. For those unaware, Hey Duggee is a charming and funny series that follows the adventures of five young animals as they attend Squirrel Club. Supervised by Duggee the dog, the animals take part in all kinds of activities, and earn badges for their accomplishments.
I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the writing team since the show started in 2014, and I’ve learned a lot from the wider creative team that makes Hey Duggee so special. Writing the scripts are always great fun but also a creative challenge as the characters and comedy could take the storylines pretty much anywhere. Here are 3 key things I’ve learned while writing for the show.
- Start Simple: Sometimes you’d just get the particular badge as an episode idea (Comedy Badge, Shape Badge, Theatre Badge) with a general suggestion of what might happen. Naturally, you’d brainstorm the idea, and attempt to come up with all sorts of cool and amazing moments. But I discovered it was always best to start simple when developing a storyline as that way it gave room for all the cool and amazing moments to find their way through rather than work a story around them. Jenny Landreth the brilliant script editor would also be on hand for a helpful nudge or steer – distilling everything into a neat narrative clarity for all the fun to emerge.
- Fun For Everyone: There’s lots of cultural references and sophisticated humour in Duggee, so that everyone beyond the core audience (2-5 year olds) are able to sit down and enjoy the show. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so successful, methinks, yet it’s got a gloriously warm and inclusive tone so that the gags don’t really go over the children’s heads. Kids might not understand the brilliance of an Apocalypse Now-inspired episode (The River Badge, with nods to African Queen too!) but they can appreciate Chew Chew the panda in desperate need of biscuits. Right? ‘The biscuits, the biscuits…’ (watch it here while you can)
- Team Benefits: On some shows, you can sometimes feel slightly isolated from the show’s creative team or be left in the dark once you’ve delivered your script. But with Studio AKA, the production company behind Duggee, you get a lovely and supportive vibe, plus everyone is contributing to make every episode the best it can be. That means that the scripts are often improved upon well after delivery, as the storyboarder Philip Warner works his magic and Grant (and co-director Sander Jones, who also voices Duggee) makes a moment stronger. The best moments in my episodes are often from their creative minds, yet I get the credit! Studio AKA would always remember the writer, too, inviting them to screenings (and even writer lunches to celebrate the show’s success), and emailing them with relevant updates.
This all helps to generate an extra attachment to the show, making you willing to always go that extra writing mile for whatever the show needs. Hey Duggee is very special from the top down as it maintains a creative and constructive environment for everyone to deliver top quality material. Best Pre-School Animation at the BAFTA for three years in a row is certainly testament to this, a-woof!