It is hard to believe that before 1997 nobody had heard of Dipsy, Po, Tinky Winky and Laa-Laa. The post-Teletubby era is different, with children all over the world sitting down to a daily diet of the furry creatures’ antics. Sold to 90 broadcasters worldwide and translated into 36 languages, Teletubbies is one of the most successful television series the world has ever seen. Ragdoll Productions, which makes Teletubbies, was founded in 1982 by Anne Wood, a former teacher and BBC producer. In the past three years the company’s sales have risen 106% a year, from £2.5m in 1996 to £21.9m in 1999. And Teletubbies merchandise – appearing on everything from computer games to Thermos flasks – has helped turn Ragdoll into an outstandingly profitable company, making pre-tax profits of £10m last year. Wood, who still owns 85% of the business, has invented more than one winner. Rosie & Jim, Brum and Tots TV have also proved their capacity to travel long distances and across national boundaries. Wood, 62, attributes her success to close observation of children’s behaviour and a willingness to take creative risks. Ragdoll, named after her daughter’s toy, pays parents to install cameras on their television sets to monitor children’s reactions to different storylines. And a dedicated shop in Wood’s home town of Stratford upon Avon has play areas that allow staff to observe the relationships formed between children and the fictional characters. Wood has also overturned the old rule in children’s entertainment that ‘the shorter the kid the lower the budget’. She will typically invest up to £200,000 in a concept before seeking a partnership with a big player such as the BBC or Carlton to make and market a programme.
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