Who is the amazing Anne Wood? She is an 84-year-old children’s television producer with numerous awards for outstanding children’s television shows. She is best known for her 1997, Teletubbies characters for pre-schoolers. In 2000, she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire, (CBE) for her services to Children’s Broadcasting. Anne has received a variety of awards for her work from as far back as 1969, the latest one in 2014, including Businesswoman of the Year in 1998.
Anne was born into a very poor coal-mining family. In her work as high school teacher, Anne was very concerned about the lack of access to books for working-class children.
Anne was another of the wonderful female pioneers who changed the world. Although a secondary school teacher, she turned her attention to the world of tiny tots. The swinging 60s changed the way many of us saw the world, from rock-and-roll to the hippy and flower-power movement, but Anne’s world was also changing. Just as nothing was ever the same again for us, so it was for Anne.
With the birth of her daughter, Anne became the typical stay-at-home mum, however, nothing about Anne’s life was typical. Anne was busy breaking into the new world of children’s paperback books, and the book club scheme for schools, through Scholastic Publications. She wanted to highlight the way children perceive the world to the way adults do.
Her interest was in how to expand her interest in books and involve children’s development at the same time. In 1969, Anne set up the Foundation of Children’s Book Groups, that still operates today. Anne’s work has always been from the children’s angle, and how they think, rather trying to turn children into young adults.
Entry to BBC
In 1983, Anne was made the head of the BBBC’s Children’s at TV-am. Working with Andrew Davenport they created the four technological Teletubbies. Andrew, now aged 57, is an English writer, puppeteer, producer, composer and actor, who specializes in creating television and publishing for young children.
Together, they created high-volume and technologically character-based productions. In an interview Anne said, “Children should not have to measure up to one perfect model, as the perfect model does not exist. We’re each our own perfect being, in a sense. We need to be more aware of our similarities rather than our differences.”
Anne’s desire was to engage the children by imitating what they do naturally and make children feel happy on the inside. “At the risk of sounding soppy, the thing that joins us together is laughter. It makes you feel better whatever you do.” She knew the value of the children getting up and moving, as physical activity stimulates the brain.
Anne Wood and Controversy
The Amazing Anne Wood’s creations of Teletubbies began before 1993 and the show continued to 1998. The characters were revolutionary in more ways than one, as they communicated through a baby-type gibberish, bearing resemblance to toddlers.
They show took the world by storm and quickly became a global brand. Opinions were divided, for while the children loved the program, but adult opinion was divided. Some parts of Anne Wood’s program caused controversy as to what youngsters find funny, but appalled the mothers. How dare a child’s character pass wind, yet isn’t that normal home life? Not only that, Teletubbies did everything twice and spoke gibberish.
Anne says, “The stories are what you might call ‘puzzles’. In a script for young children, you’re always to encourage curiosity. Having aroused their curiosity, then leave it long enough for them to work it out for themselves.”
The Teletubbies live in an earth house known as the ‘Tubbytronic Superdome.” Sounds like a hobbit home but designed for tiny tots. The show was specifically designed to appeal to the attention-span of infants, while unlocking different sections of the mind, and educating the children to the sort of transitions that life dishes out.
The BBC was flooded with complaints and in America the debate became hysterical. Reverend Jerry Falwell accused the program of sending ‘damaging’ messages. In his exalted opinion, Tinky Winky had to be gay, carrying a handbag, spending too long in the kitchen, was purple and his antenna was triangular.
Amazing Anne Wood’s Technological Characters
Their Teletubbies were revolutionary in that they were ‘technological toys’, as in real models, not cartoon characters. Real actors dressed up as the characters, and played the different roles. It was like adults playing down, but in a far more complex way. “It all looked very simple, but was in fact very sophisticated.”
Meticulous attention was given to the costumes the characters wear and all the characters’ actions were carefully choreographed. “Children are not passive viewers but active consumers.” This has led to years of hard work and experimentation.
Children and Technology
Anne knew that children relate well to technology. “All around them in the home they have machines that bleep and talk to them. We simply humanized the machines.”
Together, Anne and Andrew created 365 x 10-minute episodes, plus a further Teletubbies Everywhere 52 x 10-minute episodes. The original run of Teletubbies did not end until 2001, but a rebooted series was green-lit in 2014. Re-runs of the original series continue to be still shown on tv worldwide, including Netflix. Teletubbies have been viewed by children in over 120 countries and territories, including all 11 time zones of the Russian Federation.
Anne’s work was not just in her imagination, as she created her own television studio, with a huge department that is the Children’s Response Unit. It is central to Anne’s child-based approach, where researchers observe children at play and video them watching television at home. She says, “Our goal was to encourage the joy of discovery, while valuing each individual child for what they can do.”
Amazing Anne Wood’s Success
Amazing Anne Wood’s success has been that her shows are television as if a child had made it, reflecting a child’s perspective back to the child. It was not enough to imagine the characters, but they needed to be relevant to her reactive viewers . This did not happen by accident, but years of painstaking observation and retrospection.
Anne and Andrew went on to produce 100 x 30 minute episodes of Night Garden another television production for children from 1 to 6-years-old. In totality,
A single record based on the show’s theme song reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom Singles Chart in 0997, remaining in the Top 75 for 32 weeks, selling over 1 million copies. By October 2020, the franchise had generated over $1.6 billion in merchandise sales. Anne Wood is said to be the ‘richest British woman in television’. Amazing Anne Wood deserves every inch of her success, as she faced a tidal wave of opposition from grown-ups.
Anne’s TV production Company Ragdoll Productions, founded by Anne in 1884, has been responsible for the revolution in children’s television programming. The characters were all created from Anne’s imagination and her firm belief that television plays an important role in the development of young children. Anne says she is “A conceptualizer and a deviser”.
Ragdoll Productions has produced over 1000 television programs for young children. Their ethos is ‘Ragdoll works for children’.
Anne’s son, Chris Wood, carries on the family business, Ragdoll Productions, no spanning video productions, book publishing, audio, music and theatre. Daughter Katherine runs a contemporary art gallery in Colchester, England. Anne is one of the few women who has remained married to her husband, Barrie, since 1959. Anne remains her colourful self, refusing to be described as a ‘white-haired’ grandmother.
Thanks to Anne’s influence the company’s library is filled with children’s fiction, television almanacs and books on science, architecture, and almost any subject you can name.
Anne Wood and You
The vast majority of us never receive an award for our work, or remotely achieve what Anne has. However, for all the numerous awards and accolades, Anne is a very private person, living for the public through her work.
However, your voice is just as important in your sphere of influence, just as that of the amazing Anne Wood. Never underestimate the power of a woman, as a mother, a friend, or simply an empathetic ear. I find a lot of people only need someone they can trust, that allows them to voice their inner feelings. It’s not that you have the answers to their problems and difficulties. You just need to be a sounding board for them to air their deepest concerns.
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Wendy is an inspirational writer, for which she has a strong passion. She is also very passionate about her garden and family. She says life is too short to waste, so live it to the fullest.