Yeoman character joins cartoon firm

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The Independent Online

Budgie the Little Helicopter, the cartoon character developed by the Duchess of York, is to have a new friend. Sleepy Kids, the animation group which owns Budgie's rights, is working on a human character to be unveiled in the autumn. Step forward Yeoman Bill, who resides in the Tower of London.

"He is a quintessentially English character and we hope he will prove attractive worldwide," said Sleepy Kids chairman Martin Powell. Yeoman Bill is seen as a semi-educational creation and is aimed at pre-school and older children. Bill's identity is undergoing final make-up stages before being shown to broadcasters in the autumn.

Meanwhile, Budgie continues to reach new heights, being licensed in 51 countries and contributing 65 per cent of Sleepy Kids' profits. Last week, the company signed a $1.3m deal with Fox's Children's network, the US television channel, which has bought the first two Budgie series and ordered a third.

Mr Powell said: "The board recognises this as a major achievement. We always maintained it was unwise to rush into an American TV deal."

Transylvania Pet Shop is showing on the ITV network now and Sleepy Kids has signed a deal for a second series as well as further deals for video cassette and CD video versions. The current series, which started in June, is enjoying good ratings, the company says. Potsworth & Co, Sleepy Kids' original cartoon, will be screened on BBC for a third time.

The company hopes to build on its corporate merchandising abilities following a deal with the Prince's Trust. In April, the children's charity appointed Sleepy Kids to co-ordinate its first licensing programme.

The company says it is keen to branch into related areas of media and product licensing.

In the six months to April, Sleepy Kids increased profits by 15 per cent to pounds 304,000 on sales also up 15 per cent to pounds 736,000. There is no dividend and the shares fell 4p to 57p.