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Man behind Bob the Builder honoured

PUBLISHED: 15:53 03 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:19 03 July 2010

HE has given endless joy to millions of children - and their parents.

But Keith Chapman, the creator of Bob the Builder, can walk down the street without any fear of being recognised by his fans.

HE has given endless joy to millions of children - and their parents.

But Keith Chapman, the creator of Bob the Builder, can walk down the street without any fear of being recognised by his fans.

Yesterday, he stepped out from backstage to grab his share of the limelight as he picked up an honorary degree in Norfolk, the county where his talent was honed in the 1970s.

Mr Chapman, who has added Roary the Racing Car and Fifi and the Flowertots to his portfolio of kids' TV favourites, was at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) to receive his award.

By a circuitous route, he is a celebrated alumnus of the university college. He studied for three years at Yarmouth College of Art and Design before it closed and merged with the then Norwich School of Art and Design, which was renamed NUCA last year.

Mr Chapman was accompanied by his wife of 25 years, Kirsty, a former student of Norwich High School for Girls, who he met when they were students in Yarmouth.

The multi-millionaire businessman admitted he had a host of future projects up his sleeve - including shows for pre-schoolers, 6-9s, over-10 “tweenagers” and animated sitcoms for adults.

But he allowed himself some time to reminisce about his time in Norfolk, which he moved to from Essex with his parents in 1975 when he was in his late teens.

He said: “My parents took over the King's Head at Coltishall and transformed it into pub of the year, with food that featured in the Egon Ronay Guide.

“My brother threatened to leave home when we moved to Coltishall. I almost did, too. But when we got there it was amazing.

“I remember going out and getting summer jobs, including working on the back of a tractor, picking potatoes. It was an amazing experience for someone who had a paper round in a concrete jungle new town in Essex.

“I used to come home and dive into the water at Coltishall Mill. I also remember ducks walking through the bar at the King's Head every morning with their ducklings.”

Mr Chapman did a three year graphic illustration degree at Yarmouth, then went to Nottingham. He regularly returned to Norfolk, first to Coltishall and then to Norwich when his parents took over the Black Swan in the city.

He spoke fondly of his time in Yarmouth, where he had digs.

“Being able to do art in some form every day was amazing. That's the only thing I was any good at. I was practically kicked out of my other lessons because I was staring out of the window, dreaming.

“At college, we wore fancy dress every night and took over the pubs. We were a weird bunch of students with odd clothes who used to get beaten up by the locals.”

Having moved to London to make his fortune, Mr Chapman spent a few years working with Muppets creator Jim Henson, turning creatures like the Muppets and the monsters in Labyrinth into merchandising.

His big break came when he worked up the drawings for Bob the Builder, which was bought by Hit Entertainment in 1996 and first screened in 1999. In 10 years, Bob has generated worldwide income of $5bn. While Mr Chapman does not hold the rights, he picks up handsome royalties and his name is always on the show's credits.

Having set up his own business, Chapman Entertainment, in 2002, he owns the rights to Roary the Racing Car, which is shown on Five and Nick Jr and features the voices of Peter Kay and Sir Stirling Moss, and Fifi and the Flowertots, which is on Milkshake and Nick Jr and voiced by Jane Horrocks


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