Guest blog: Nick Butterworth on the creation of Q Pootle 5


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Q Pootle 5 is a friendly little alien who first appeared in the best-selling books by award-winning children’s author and illustrator Nick Butterworth. They will be landing at the Royal Observatory on Tuesday 26 July for a special Q Pootle 5 themed morning packed full of fun! Ahead of this he discusses his inspiration behind the series and explains how Q Pootle 5 was transformed for screen.

Inspired by space

As a boy, I’d often spend the day at my grandparents’ house. I would go out with my grandpa to his shed and knock nails into scrap wood, or hide under the living room table and pretend to be the radio. And always, at some point, I’d sit on my granny’s knee for a story – or three.

"There we’d stand, awed by the magical blackness of a sky bedecked with countless stars"

In the evening, my granny would bring me the short walk home and without fail, on a starry night, we’d stop and look up and together we’d sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'.

I’m pretty sure that my life-long affinity with everything to do with space goes right back to those times. There we’d stand, awed by the magical blackness of a sky bedecked with countless stars. The wonderful vastness of it all. Be amazed! it said. This is where you live!

"Q Pootle 5 has no ambition to conquer the universe"

It was probably this sense of belonging that led me to create a friendly alien character, Q Pootle 5. Unlike the aliens of so much sci-fi, Q Pootle 5 has no ambition to conquer the universe. He and his friends are content to live on Planet Okidoki, pootling about in their conspicuously home-made spaceships as they tackle the everyday problems of the final frontier. These might include fixing a leaky rocket booster or dealing with yet another wrong delivery from Galacto (‘They’re hopeless!’) or how to make sure that Planet Dave doesn’t miss out when Groobie is giving one of his legendary musical performances.

From page to screen

Did I say I created Q Pootle 5? Well yes – the books came first. But with the TV series, I was very definitely part of a team. It began when my son Ben (the producer of Q Pootle 5) persuaded me to leave the relative safety of my drawing board and, together with my wife Annette, to form our own production company. Our first project was to help Q Pootle 5 make the jump from page to screen.

It was a steep learning curve. Slowly we pulled together the many components that would be essential to making the high quality animation we had set our hearts on. A team of writers. Voice artists. Musicians. And of course, animators.

"the ethos of Q Pootle 5 is inspired by the way children’s imagination trumps reality"

Everyone involved would need to have a good understanding of the ethos of Q Pootle 5 which is inspired by the way children’s imagination trumps reality. A cardboard box becomes a boat or a spaceship. A hair dryer makes a great outboard motor – or a lateral stabilising jet! Cushions, chairs, a bit of old hi-fi equipment with knobs to twiddle, these are all you need to go exploring.

The great bonus of working with so many talented people was that they constantly surprised and delighted us with individual contributions that enhanced the work beyond even our high expectations. The skill of the actors voicing the characters. The nuanced movements produced by meticulous animators. The inventiveness of sound designers. And not least, the huge contribution made by the music.

Sometimes, when I’m watching a familiar episode, my eyes wander to the sweeping space skies that were specially created for the series. Then, I’m taken back to the days when I was four or five. My granny and I, hand in hand, are walking back home and gazing at the millions of stars whose light began their journey to Earth well before either of us was born. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star… 

Nick Butterworth

Holiday to Space with Q Pootle 5!

On 26 July Join Nick Butterworth and Q Pootle 5 at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Nick will present an interactive show featuring the space adventures of the little alien and his friends. He will read from his book Q Pootle 5, entertain with live illustrations and talk about how he created the books and TV series. You can also watch episodes of the hit CBeebies series on the big screen, surrounded by stars in the Planetarium.

Find out more and book tickets

or call 020 8312 6608.