Ancient Egypt, Iron Age Britain, Roman Italy and Imperial China are all brought to life by a Brightons author who was inspired by his great-aunt for a new kids’ TV show.
The series will feature a ‘Harry Potter’ star as the main character amidst a set designed by a double Oscar winner and is set to be the next big thing on children’s television when it hits our screens early next year.
Set on location in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens in the single-storey red sandstone Victorian Gardener’s Cottage home – built by City Architect Robert Morham in 1886 – Tony Bibby’s ‘Teacup Travels’ is being made into a 25-part TV programme for CBeebies.
The inhabitant of the famous house is Great Aunt Lizzie, played by ‘Harry Potter’ actress Gemma Jones.
Tony’s real Great Auntie Lizzie – Elizabeth Leatherbarrow – was the second of eight brothers and sisters born in Liverpool in 1907.
Her sister Margaret had five children whose eldest was Tony’s mum, also Margaret, and the mesmerising maternal storytelling powers the ladies in his young life have certainly rubbed off on the 47-year-old, who is also owner and creative director of creative consultancy company Forty-Six, based in Brightons where he has lived for the past 19 years.
“My great aunt Lizzie was a marvellous lady,” said Tony, a married father-of-two. “Her life centred on the solid values of trust, honesty, respect and family love and friendship.
“Every Saturday we would go for tea and she would regale us with wonderful stories. Her home was full of wonders and every collected ornament, or ‘her treasures’ as she called them, had a story.
“My mum took over and became a story-teller and I started doing this for my own children, Charlotte and Elliot, and this is when ‘Teacup Travels’ really came about.”
The series is aimed at pre-school children across the UK and will introduce them to archaeology and ancient history.
The young characters are Charlotte (7) and Elliot (9) and are named after his own children. They are played by Evie Brassington and Roderick Gilkison and when they visit their great aunt and embark on the adventures from her stories.
The real Elliot does his own kind of wizardry and is now an aspiring magician.
Each 15-minute story revolves around Great Aunt Lizzie’s fictional adventures in faraway lands and episodes will be based around artefacts from British museums.
The copies of the artefacts were created by Scottish artist Judith Johnston and can be seen in museums from Inverness, Manchester and Exeter to Birmingham, Peterborough, Swansea and Belfast.
Tony added: “It’s wonderful to see an idea which started simply as bed-time stories for my children, Elliot and Charlotte, now being turned into something quite magical and exciting for other children.
“It’s been nine-and-a-half years in the making and I’ve still got the first sketchbook from when I first started creating it. I spoke to Micky and Simon and we decided it had to be based on the charm of my aunt, keeping the focus on the children who had to see the actual objects and not just pictures.
“Great Aunt Lizzie would have loved this.”
The set has been created by double Oscar-winning designer Leslie Dilley who knows a little bit about adventure setting. His credits include ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Alien’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.
The series has been developed by Plum Films, an award-winning film and commercial production company based in Leith, and was commissioned by Kay Benbow for CBeebies.
Micky MacPherson, himself an award-winning commercial and feature film producer with Plum, said: “We’re doing this because we love the idea and there is a real magic about bringing these wonderful stories to life for young people.
“Our aim and ambition is to achieve a level of production that is hand crafted and made in Scotland with international appeal and talent.
“Plum Films spent years developing Tony’s original concept into the television format.
“ Getting the commission was only the beginning. We have pulled together a brilliant team, arguably the best film craft skills in the world, from design with Leslie Dilley, script writers and production people through to our director Simon Hynd.”
He added: “We’re delighted that Leslie has been part of the Teacup Travels team. He has designed a wonderful set while the storybook-style drawings have been created in high definition by London-based digital animator John Gosler, who has worked with Disney.”
Kay Benbow from CBeebies said it was a first for the channel to bring ancient history and archaeology to its young audience and hopes kids will be inspired by the programme to seek their own historic adventures.
She said: “The series combines story telling with high adventure in a way that will inspire and encourage children to want to learn more about life in ancient times.”
Simon Parsons, a former head of children’s production for the BBC in Scotland, worked on the successful series of Balamory.
He is now a producer with Plum Films and believes Tony’s creation will be an important production for the country’s screen presence.
He said: “This is a significant children’s production for Edinburgh and for Scotland. We couldn’t possibly have brought it to life without the support of CBeebies and funding from Creative Scotland.
“Having an actress such as Gemma Jones is a huge plus for the TV series.”
1. Actress Gemma Jones, pictured right, who plays Great Aunt Lizzie, has starred in the two ‘Bridget Jones’ films as her mother. She played Madame Pomfrey in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. She has also starred in TV programmes ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Trial & Retribution’.
2. The Gardner’s Cottage in Princes Street Gardens was designed by Robert Morham who was the City Architect in Edinburgh and responsible for much of the ‘public face’ of Edinburgh at the time. Many of his buildings are police stations, fire stations and swimming baths in red sandstone rather than cream, which allowed public buildings in the city to be easily identified.
3. Plum Films is a film and commercial production company, founded in 2003 by Micky MacPherson and Tina Foster.
4. Plum Films ventured into filmmaking with director Simon Hynd winning a BAFTA Scotland for their short film, ‘Tumshie McFadgen’s Bid for Ultimate Bliss’.