Fifi gives Bob the Builder's creator yet another TV hit

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The Independent Online

When a digger truck outside Keith Chapman's window inspired a series of bedtime stories for his sons, the idea turned him into a multi-millionaire.Bob the Builder, first heard by his sons, William, Ben and Bertie, is now shown in 200 countries.

So when friends pleaded with him to come up with a pre-school programme aimed at girls, the pressure to equal that phenomenal success was considerable.

Yesterday it was revealed that Chapman's latest creation, Fifi and the Flowertots, which is available in more than 100 countries, last year sold more than two million products - enough for every pre-school girl in the country to own a toy or book.

Chapman has become the first person to create two of the top three best-selling licences for products based on the characters, according to NPD products, with Bob at number two and Fifi at number three. Thomas The Tank Engine is number one.

The shiny world of children's entertainment is lucrative, with the global market for children's DVDs and videos worth £24bn a year and toy sales worth an additional £31bn."I think that having children helps you become a bit of an expert on pre-school because you are living with it. You get to see what children laugh at," Chapman said.

He said that his experience in advertising had also helped: "Basically, I am just looking for gaps in the market," he said. "It is no different from advertising, I come up with lots of ideas all the time, even on holiday, and then whittle them down."

It was while he was sitting in his garden that he thought of Fifi, now shown on channel Five at 8am. He said: "The idea came to me for a half-girl, half-flower, a forget-me-not who forgets a lot. I intended it for girls, but a huge number of boys are watching Fifi because they find it funny; Stingo the wasp and the other male characters create friction, like boys and girls in the playground."

When he thinks of ideas, he said, he does think "Can this sell worldwide?", and of the toy sales that will help to fund the programme.

His next project may be his biggest yet.Roary the Racing Car is being developed by Chapman Entertainment. The comedian Peter Kay has been proposed to be the voice of Big Chris, one of the characters, and the series will start in May next year. "All of the broadcasters wanted this one," Chapman said.

The successes of Bob and Fifi have transformed his life. He said: "It has been amazing, I can send my kids to private schools and have bought a house for my mum and dad. It has given me creative freedom to start my company, Chapman Entertainment."

His skill at generating ideas has gained him admiration from colleagues. Nick Wilson, Five's controller of children's programming, said: "The key to Keith's success is his ability to create wonderfully simple and direct ideas and characters and to get extremely good people on board to turn them into reality."

Children's favourites

Dora The Explorer

The animated show Dora the Explorer, below, on Nick Jr daily, has American origins. Created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh, and Eric Weiner. Dora the Explorer has generated over $3bn (£1.6bn) in retail sales since 2000.

Thomas The Tank Engine

The series was based on Reverend W V Awdry's the Railway Series. The television rights were sold to Britt Allcroft during the 1980s and she began producing the series, which has been narrated by Ringo Starr, Michael Angelis, George Carlin and Alec Baldwin. It has been shown in more than 130 countries.

Big Cook, Little Cook

Big Cook Ben and Little Cook Small, broadcast on the BBC, was the idea of Jo Killingley. A team of writers provide the script performed by comedians Steve Marsh and Dan Wrights.

Tweenies

A huge team contribute to the BBC show created by Tel-Tale Productions. The Tweenies have toured the country in a live stage show.

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