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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 01:48 GMT
Bob the Builder: Can he fix it?
Bob the Builder
A children's television hero - and wannabe Christmas chart-topper - has become a symbol of anti-yob culture. By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

"Can we fix it? Yes, we can," is his catchphrase. He's Bob the Builder, BBC Television's animated character.

For the past 18 months in his weekly 10-minute programme, he has captivated pre-school children with his positive attitude to life and his caring, sharing values.

Bob and chums
Bob and chums
He runs a building yard in a small town with his loyal assistant Wendy and a gang of machines - Muck the bulldozer, Scoop the digger, Lofty the crane, Roley the steamroller and Dizzy the cement mixer, all with fun personalities of their own.

Now, with a slick Christmas CD-single and accompanying witty pop video in which he appears in a Liam Gallagher-style parka and shades, Bob is building on his success in the same way as the Smurfs, the Wombles, the Teletubbies and the Tweenies have done before him.

If a hedgehog's in danger of being run over, Bob will build him a subway

Kate Fawkes, Bob the Builder's executive producer
And, as if in an advertiser's dream, the Sun newspaper has adopted Bob as a symbol of good in an increasingly evil society.

As the government announces measures against the so-called yob culture and the nation mourns the killing of a 10-year-old boy, the Sun, that bastion of British moral values, has elevated the annual battle for the Christmas No.1 single into a "Bob versus Yob" contest.

While Bob looks to build a better world for everyone and has not even a hint of a "builder's bum", the Yob, in the guise of aggressive white rapper Eminem, has a single called Stan, about a psychopath who puts his pregnant girlfriend in the boot of his car and drives off a bridge.

Bob's "yob" rival, Eminem
"The Sun's feature is hysterically funny", says Kate Fawkes, Bob the Builder's executive producer. She has good reason to smile.

As an employee of HIT Entertainment, which makes the series for the BBC, she has seen the company's profits increase by nearly 60% this year, most of which is down to good old Bob.

Through a commercial process conducted more by stealth than by hype, Bob the Builder can also be seen on clothes, and in videos, interactive PC games and toys.

His TV series has been sold to more than 100 countries and next year it will be broadcast in the Mecca of market-places, the United States.

"Bob is such a charming and decent human being", says Kate. "If a hedgehog is in danger of being run over, he'll build him a subway: and the children love the machines because they're so big and have the same sort of mystique as dinosaurs."

Chris Evans lookalike in Bob the Builder
Chris Evans has helped Bob out
The series has also sold more than a million books and a similar number of magazines.

Gillian Laskier, in charge of publishing rights for BBC Worldwide, the Corporation's commercial arm, says: "Bob the Builder identified a phenomenon that children love, and its creators have hooked into that. Throughout the last century from Victorian building blocks through to Meccano and Lego, kids have loved the idea of building."

Bob the Builder has a celebrity following too. Chris Evans has had a part based on himself in it. Mel C and Ronan Keating have asked if they too can appear. Even Sting is a regular watcher.

Kate Fawkes, who developed the idea from a former colleague at Jim Henson studios, has assembled a team of some of the best talent around.

The actor Neil Morrissey, of Men Behaving Badly fame, and the voice of Bob, was the team's first choice. Indeed, the series was developed with him in mind.

Shelves of toy Bobs
Bob has become a merchandising phenomenon
Anxious not to saturate the merchandising market completely, the production team have a veto on products. They are refusing to license anything aimed at the teenage market and have turned down more applications than they have accepted.

Even the CD was aimed at the very young (or their parents), though the gentle strains of Neil Morrisey's vocals have become something of a cult on the club scene.

But will Bob the Builder make it to No 1 at Christmas? Probably not. He may just have walked under his own ladder once too often. Or Eminem may have kicked it from under him.

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