Q&A with Boj Creator / Director Claire Underwood

Claire_Underwood_Boj_director

When did Boj first pop up into your life?

I came up with the idea in 2007 as a picture book. Boj started as an awkward non-specific creature, then had time as a dog, hedgehog and elephant before finding his true identity as a burrowing bilby!

A very early doodle of Boj - as a non-specific creature!

A very early doodle of Boj – as a non-specific creature!

I wrote a rough book and sent it to various publishers – who were all very positive but ultimately rejected it saying it looked like a commercial TV idea rather than a picture book. Which wasn’t surprising as I worked in TV and had just designed and directed The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers!

So I invited animation writer Dave Ingham and my Pesky partner David Hodgson to get involved. We shaped it into a series – pitched it to CBeebies – and the rest is history!

 

What was your inspiration?

We moved from London to a farm in Lewes, Sussex, when our daughter Poppy was three. Watching her make her first independent friendships in the close-knit community of our very own Giggly Park – the Grange Gardens – was a huge inspiration!

I was also thinking a lot about sustainability, so wanted to invent a character who could show how to ‘make do and mend’ and think creatively towards a more sustainable future. A beginners guide to the principles of a ‘circular economy’ perhaps!

Boj digs deep into many areas of my life experience and is truly made from the heart with what I believe are important messages to bring to children’s lives.

 

What impact are you hoping Boj will have on its viewers?

I hope children are inspired by the Boj-a-boom ideas and to have a go at making or fixing something. I want to change the idea of ‘bodging’ from negative to positive.

When a child ‘Boj-es’ something, it’s endearing, they’re having a go, they’re using their creativity and it doesn’t have to follow rules or be perfect. The Boj-ers of today will be the engineers, scientists and artists of the future!

Boj shows us how to make our own fun!

Boj shows us how to make our own fun!

We live in a world where we aren’t encouraged to fix things – we buy new and throw away old – and in the process we are wasting resources and destroying the planet. The kids of today will need to think differently for a sustainable future – and I hope Boj has his part to play in laying the foundation for that.

I also want to inspire parents to allow the freedom we had as children – to play outdoors and build friendly communities. It’s so important!

 

Why a bilby?

I was looking for a rare burrowing animal that could pop up into a new unfamiliar environment. I love Australia, having been there as a child and many times since, so an Australian animal was ideal.

Using an endangered animal helps to reinforce the idea of the far reaching impact our wasteful, developed world has on the environment.

Since making Boj I’ve been lucky enough to meet real life bilbies over at the Save the Bilby Fund breeding centre in Charleville, Queensland. They are so adorable and it’s terrible to think they may not be around in 100 years.

Claire Underwood with a real life bilby

Claire Underwood with a real life bilby

(I also first came up with the idea for Boj the day after chatting to a children’s book illustrator ‘Ian Bilbey’ – so when I discovered a bilby the whole idea was complete!)

 

Why doesn’t Boj wear clothes?

Well – he’s a back to basics kind of guy – I’m sure we all know a child like that! (Why do the other animals wear clothes?!!)

 

What does being a Creator / Director entail?

First I came up with the initial idea and designed the characters and world. Then once in production I worked across all areas alongside our fantastic teams at Pesky, Cloth Cat and Kavaleer.

Day to day I was collaborating on story ideas, reviewing scripts, designs, storyboards, animatics, animation and sound. I also directed all the children’s voices (including weekly sessions with Ziggy Badans in Australia) and performed the high-pitched squeaking of the Twitchlets!

Claire directing Ziggy in Australia via telephone and Skype

Claire directing Ziggy in Australia via telephone and Skype

Being an enthusiastic amateur musician, one of the highlights was working with (ex Belle & Sebastian member) Mick Cooke on the music. I played the tin whistle for Mr Cloppity’s reveries and the odd bit of Pops’ ukulele! And I even got to duet with Jason Donovan when I did some singing for Mrs Nibblit!

I loved the variety of work – but it meant many long, long days in the studio!

 

How do you juggle a busy job with being a Mum?

It’s not easy – especially as my husband David was equally busy on the production. It’s such a privilege to make your own TV show – but there are many personal sacrifices you have to make too.

 

Which family in Giggly Park is most like your own?

I’m a bit like Mrs Nibblit! A fussy perfectionist! My daughter Poppy does the voice of Rupa Nibblit and she’s a lot like her too – she loves gymnastics and is good at maths!

"They've got chalk Deepak... Coloured chalk!"

“They’ve got chalk Deepak… Coloured chalk!”

How would you like Boj to be remembered?

The best bit about making children’s TV is that it can be hugely influential and stays in people’s hearts throughout their adult lives. It’s a big responsibility!

I just hope it’s remembered as a funny, feel good show, with good honest values and some cracking songs!