Gullane to pay £1.6m for half the rights to 'Fireman Sam'

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Gullane Entertainment, the owner of Thomas the Tank Engine, plans to expand its stable of children's TV characters with a deal to buy half of the rights to Fireman Sam.

The company – which recently changed its name from Britt Allcroft – will pay S4C International, the owners of Fireman Sam, an initial £1.35m for the 50 per cent stake. The animation has been screened on BBC television for 16 years and is shown in 20 other countries.

Gullane is set to pay a further £280,000 to S4C, a Welsh language commercial TV company, at a later date. Yesterday Gullane's shares were unchanged at 497.5p.

William Harris, the chief executive of Gullane, said: "We have big plans for Fireman Sam. We are going to make 26 new episodes of the programme over the next year and freshen the titles on existing programmes, so we will have 59 episodes to distribute around the world."

Gullane also owns the rights to the veteran children's puppet Sooty and last year the company paid Diageo £45m in cash for the rights to the Guinness Book of Records business.

Gullane said it will expand the reach of Thomas and other characters next year. It will make 78 new episodes of the story about a tank engine which was dreamed up by a vicar and recently made a new Sooty series. Gullane also owns Captain Pugwash and Art Attack, a production company that makes children's programmes.