Martin McGuinness was famously pictured with Muppets Potto and Hilda at the launch of the first series of Sesame Tree, the local co-production with Sesame Workshop. This morning he was accompanied by fellow eejit (his words, not mine) Peter Robinson at the launch of the second series which airs on BBC’s CBeebies from 22 November.
In their speeches, the First and deputy First Ministers were both upbeat about the production and the local creative sector. Continuing the banter started by the International Fund for Ireland’s Denis Rooney who’d enjoyed a smacker on the lips from Hilda at a party in the American Consulate last night, Peter Robinson declared that he was “vying for Hilda’s interest too”. He also reassured the parents in the audience not to worry about their children’s noise or running up the aisles. “Martin and I are used to all of that – we go to the Assembly every week!”
Referring to Sesame Tree – as well as productions being filmed in the Paint Hall – Martin McGuinness was gratified about “the skills that [local] people are learning … that will lead to other projects”. He noted the “key messages of tolerance, acceptance and equality” embedded in each episode.
The show’s executive producer Colin Williams explained that Sesame Tree was the first network children’s television “100% written and produced in Northern Ireland with an entirely local cast and local crew”. The BBC’s Jane Cassidy said that CBeebies were delighted with the localness of the show: “[CBeebies] love us the way we are with our accents and humour”.
Northern Ireland Screen’s chief executive Richard Williams said that Sesame Tree was “an absolutely picture perfect project for NI Screen” and had grown into “a cultural export” as it made the transition from BBC NI to network TV on CBeebies. He singled out production company SixteenSouth’s entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that made them “the most exciting children’s TV producers in the UK”. (SixteenSouth are also responsible for Big City Park, set in Belfast’s Ormeau Park.)
When the adults had finished their speechifying, children from three local schools involved in the show’s production were ushered in to the front seats and sat entranced as they watched the first episode before taking part in a live Q&A with Potto (a big purple recluse), Hilda (a young Irish hare who wears gutties) and their new friend Archie (a next-door neighbour squirrel).
In each episode, a child from across Northern Ireland poses the puppets a question (linked back to the Northern Ireland curriculum) sending it through to Potto’s Big Whizzing Machine. Maybe after the messages of sharing and cooperation are finally exhausted, one day there’ll be a series that asks “How do laws get made up at Stormont?”, “Will John Lewis ever open at Sprucefield?” and “How many councils does Northern Ireland really need?”.
Update – Over on Alan in Belfast you can see an interview with SixteenSouth’s Colin Williams and Sesame Workshop’s Charlotte Cole over on Alan in Belfast, as well as hear Potto and Archie chatting and the FM and dFM’s full speeches.)
Photo – Darren Kidd/Presseye.com