Deep in the heart of Somerset’s Mendip hills a superstar celebrity hides away from the crowds at his country residence.
When he’s not filming, Tractor Ted – star of hit movies such as Tractor Ted Showtime and Tractor Ted meets the Animals – likes nothing better than to relax in his tastefully converted barn on a farm close to Bath.
In truth, Ted doesn’t get much time to rest up, so busy is he making guest appearances at shows and events around the country. In fact, this year he’s busier than ever, having signed a deal with Bath Rugby to promote the club to enthusiastic tractor fans from around the country.
The invention of farmer David Horler and his business partner Alexandra Heard, Ted is an animated green tractor who narrates and voice-overs a series of DVDs devoted to farming and machinery.
Ted’s rise to fame and superstar celebrity status have come as something of a surprise to his creators.
“Ten or so years ago, Alexandra and I were discussing what a shame it was that there were no children’s TV programmes about real-life farming,” says David.
“We were concerned that the cartoons and animated films out there weren’t doing enough to educate kids about the role that farmers play in putting food on their plates.
“So we decided to make our own film – Tractorland. Covering basic harvesting, baling and flour milling for baking, we did a run of 500 videos and advertised them in the back of Farmers Weekly.”
Within weeks, those 500 videos had sold out and so two further episodes were planned, showing how milk and potatoes made their way from the farm to the kitchen. And that’s when Tractor Ted made his first appearance.
“We needed a character to narrate the films and an animated tractor seemed the perfect way to spark children’s imaginations.
“But the key was in keeping it real-life – children want to see real machines and real animals.
“Of course the best way to do this is to get them onto farms, but health and safety is such an issue that this isn’t always possible. That’s why we’re such a big supporter of Open Farm Sunday.”
From that first video ten years ago, things have moved on apace. There are now a total of 13 DVDs and a whole series of books to accompany them. Toys, t-shirts and all sorts of other merchandise bolster the rapidly growing business. This year a total of 60,000 DVDs and 40,000 books have been sold, a good proportion through farm shops.
Such success has not gone unnoticed by the big broadcasters. At least two have recently approached David and Alexandra with a view to signing up Ted for a regular slot on TV.
“It’s always been our goal to get Ted on national TV to educate people about farming and now it looks like it might be a reality.
“It would be fantastic for the business, but more importantly we’re spreading the word about the good work our country’s farmers do.”
And it’s not just films and books. Ted regularly attends shows around the country and has his own event at Longleat Safari Park.
This year’s new Tractorland sideshow at Bath Rugby Club was reckoned to bring in an extra 2000 visitors to the team’s pre-season games and another is planned at the last game of the season in May.
While such an enterprise clearly takes up a great deal of David’s time, he still runs his own 700-acre beef and arable farm.
“Farming is at the heart of what I do, but because I have less time now we’ve simplified things and gone organic, reducing the emphasis on maximising productivity from every last blade of grass.
“To do it we’ve had to rely very heavily on our neighbours and contractors who have been incredibly supportive.
“We use the farm for a great deal of the filming. My main man – Les – is now a filmstar. He often drops Ted out to shows and events – the children recognise him and you’ll often hear his name being chanted.”
David’s eyes twinkle as he enthuses about Tractor Ted. It’s clearly incredibly rewarding work.
“At the CLA Game Fair this year I was approached by a father and his three-year-old son. The dad explained that he knew nothing about farming and had asked his son why the combines weren’t working that morning.
“The toddler had replied that the dew was far too heavy and they would have to wait until the sun had burnt it off before harvest could get under way – Tractor Ted had taught him that. That sort of thing makes all the hard work worthwhile.”