Alex T Smith's Claude from Book to Screen
On the 4th June, Disney Junior UK will premiere the brand new Claude animated series based on the best-selling Claude books created by Alex T Smith.
In April, Alex and a panel of industry experts took to the stage at the London Book Fair to discuss the process of keeping creatives at the heart of a cross-platform partnership, and the process of transitioning from a character on the page to one on the small screen.
Chapter 1 – The Wonder Years As a lifelong eavesdropper and people watcher, Alex’s early childhood influences included many British TV classics such as ‘Allo ‘Allo and the Carry On films. At this time, personalities like Les Dawson and Larry Grayson were an almost constant presence on our screens, the influence these entertainment figures and many others had on the work which Alex went on to create is clear.
At its heart, the character of Claude is based around the perspective of 6 year-old, viewing the adult world in the special way in which only a child can, with innocence, awe, delight, confusion and a smattering of mischief. A concept which, when first embodied in book form almost a decade ago, provided a unique voice and reading experience that could be enjoyed on multiple levels by children and adults alike. Alex very much sees Claude as inhabiting an everyday self-contained world, finding excitement not in extraordinary fantastical scenarios in space but in situations like adventuring around an art gallery, or getting into a pickle at the seaside. Claude’s charm absolutely lies in the fact that he does the things which children really want to do but aren’t really allowed to.
Chapter 2 – The Pitch
Alex often sees his creative process as if he was watching an animated feature in his head, and it is this visual insight from an early stage which enabled Alex to come up with the perfect pitch for the Claude fiction series.
Sending a beautifully designed pitch document alongside a kooky piece of music immediately grabbed the attention of Hodder Children’s Books, who had every confidence in this becoming a visually unique series for emerging readers, despite it being a concept very different to that on offer in the children’s book market at that time. When the series emerged, with it’s stylish, unconventional two colour printing and bright humorous illustrations, it was soon supported by Waterstones and the Richard and Judy Book Club.
Claude, Sir Bobblysock and a cast of charming support characters soon won the hearts of the nation, and the books gained momentum both in the UK and worldwide.
Chapter 3 – Hitting the small screen
Hachette soon saw the potential of Claude starring in his own animated series due to the episodic nature of the books. In 2012, Karen Lawler from Hachette Children’s Group began talks at MIP with Colin Williams, Creative director from Sixteen South.
With the success of Driftwood Bay and the potential of employing over 90 people in Belfast, Alex was sold on the idea of the series being developed by Sixteen South and production began. Most importantly Karen could see that Colin truly ‘got’ Claude – having read the book with his own children, he understood that Claude reached them on their level, alongside loving the sense of humour and the daring two colour graphic approach.
Colin’s approach was to retain the distinctive illustrated style of the artwork, making it quite different from the mass market CGI that children are used to. The essence of the books had to be retained which was much more challenging than designing a TV series from scratch. Colin maintains that the potential success of the series will be down to the relationships of all the core people that worked on the show, they were all on the same page as Alex throughout the entire process.
Chapter 4 – Production
A strong creator such as Alex, with his confident creative identity is imperative in order to move through the numerous difficulties of the broadcast process. There is dialogue at the centre of the creative journey for transforming the books into a TV series. Which characters from all the books will work? It’s a small town and Claude is like The Fonz, everybody knows him. Can Sir Bobblysock talk? It was decided that he could talk and moreover could play an important role as the narrator – this was a suggestion made by Disney once they were on board as broadcasters, and Simon Callow was chosen for the role. All of the characters’ voices were a key element, they needed to have that “seaside postcard naughtiness” about them and Su Pollard was top on Alex’s list, joining Jane Horrocks, Shane Richie and Tameka Empson. Alexander Molony, a ten year-old newcomer, authentically voices Claude. The music was also going to be a huge factor in creating the mood for the show, it was a 1950’s/60’s world of films with a jaunty, jazzy feeling that the team drew on for inspiration. Original music was commissioned for the show, played live, jazz that sounds cool and timeless.
(Read more about the vocal cast HERE)
Orion from Walt Disney Co. said the pitch from Sixteen South was not an obvious fit for Disney Junior, due in part to it’s limited colour palette and the very ‘British’ landscape, but he strongly supported the concept because it was ‘now’ and very different, with magical storytelling at it’s heart. It is a show brimming with optimism and, even though Claude is a complete disaster magnet, but he has certainly has a friendly core!
Grab your popcorn and a juicy bone baguette and take a look at the theme tune and some preview episodes over on Disney Junior UK’s Youtube channel HERE