22 March 2002

TRACTORTEDSETFORVIDSTARDOM

Make way Bob the Builder

and Postman Pat – Tractor

Ted intends to plough his way

into the affections of young

viewers as Tessa Gates

discovered at Tractorland

TRACTORLAND, also known as Highchurch Farm, Hemington, Somerset, is becoming familiar to hundreds of machinery mad youngsters. The farm is the setting for the Tractor Ted series of videos aimed at younger children, which mix education and entertainment with a good dose of real machinery in action.

The videos are produced by Alexandra Heard who runs the White Lodge livery near Devizes, Wilts, and farmer David Horler whose 243ha (600-acre) mixed arable and beef farm has a starring role in the films. The third partner in the venture is Jacaranda Productions.

"My boys are mad about farm machinery. They wanted to watch real life tractors but we could only find videos showing pretend ones," recounts Alexandra, mother of sons aged five and three, and a year-old daughter. "It gave me an idea and I approached David, who I have known for years, and asked if we could do a joint venture as he has the machinery."

To test the concept, a pilot video was made and shown to 2-300 children and feedback resulted in the creation of Tractor Ted – a green animated tractor. Tractor Ted tells the story and helps along the educational aspects of the videos, which show the positive story of British farming, the growing and producing of good quality British food.

Tractor Ted Grows Potatoes features the whole process from planting through to selling the crop. David grows 26ha (65 acres) of spuds and grades, washes and stores them on farm. The crop is marketed locally in shops and through two farmers markets and supplied direct to wholesale caterers, hotels and restaurants in and around Bath.

"Staff really enjoyed taking part. The local paper printed a story on the filming and the student we had here then, became a household name," says David. "My dad, granddad and sister were all helping and my son Edward was filmed at the farmers market."

"Filming takes time and you have to do a lot of farming to get a few seconds of film. An hour and a half of ploughing made 15 seconds of video. The video company found out how hard it was to film on the farm – how you cant plan definite times to do things. And the cameraman kept complaining about the weather – we said it is farmers who are supposed to complain about that!

&#42 Field to table

Tractor Ted Makes Bread follows the wheat crop from field to table and Davids daughter Hettie makes an appearance in this one. Tractor Ted Goes Milking had its dairy scenes filmed on a friends farm. "Alexandra and I are always there for the editing to make sure that farming sequences run in the correct order," says David.

The videos are 30 minutes long and cost £12.99 or £35 for the set of three. "The sets account for half of our sales," says Alexandra. "They are available by mail order (01380-850787) and local farm shops and an agricultural engineers stock the videos too."

Filming has taken two years and with three videos in the bag, the venture has come to a crossroads. The pair have ploughed their own money into Tractor Ted and now it needs to make a profit. To do this they must market hard. An education advisor ensured sound teaching principles were used in the films and it is hoped they can be distributed for use in schools as they cover both Nursery and Key Stage &#8226 syllabus and are also suitable for children with special needs. Alexandra intends to produce a Tractor Ted book and a dairy company is showing interest in featuring the character on their products. But to hit the big time they really need to make Tractor Ted a TV star.

&#42 National name

"We want to get known nationally and get the series on television if possible," says Alexandra.

To do this there may have to be two story-lines for Tractor Ted – one for schools and one for general entertainment "We may have to decide whether we promote knowledge or entertainment," she says.

David is finding it an enjoyable if unusual venture. He is no stranger to diversification and has converted some of his farm buildings to craft workshops and his wife Emma has her own business selling West Country foods in hampers made on the Somerset Levels.

"It all provides a bit extra," he says. "But I still love farming best. The cattle are hard work and prices are bad but when you sell a bunch of heifers and the chap rings and says what a lovely bunch and wants more – that is rewarding – and when the harvest is finally in."

No doubt Tractor Ted will reflect on this in future videos.