Article first published in Forbes Monaco March/April 2021 issue.
Best In Show
You sing along with his catchphrase “Can we fix it? Yes we can” and follow his animated do-good pups.
Or at least your kids do, along with millions of others around the globe. No wonder Keith Chapman’s creations
Bob the Builder and Paw Patrol—the number-one preschool series on all TV last year—
have turned into a multibillion- dollar business.
When he was 4 years old, Keith Chapman bit into the large wire coming out the back of his parent’s TV set. “Don’t ask me why!” the Monaco resident shrugs.
There was a loud bang and he was thrown across the room, left with black burn marks on his lips. “I do wonder if that had anything to do with supercharging my brain with mad ideas but I don’t recommend it to anyone wanting to become more creative,” insists Chapman, whose animated kid’s series to date have generated combined sales of over $15 billion worldwide, more than Steven Spielberg’s total box office gross revenue.
Yet for the creator of such a phenomenal portfolio of kids’ intellectual property (IP)— in 2017 Paw Patrol was the number one licensed brand for merchandise in the U.S., ahead of Star Wars, Mickey Mouse and the NFL—Chapman manages to stay out of the spotlight, including in the Principality, the place he has called home since 2017.
“I prefer my shows to be famous rather than myself,” he says. “When I’m on holiday, sometimes people I meet will mention that their kids love Paw Patrol. When they ask what I do and I tell them, I’ll inevitably have to sign books or doodle something for their kids, which is always a pleasure.”
Born in Basildon, Essex, east of London, the 62-year- old grew up watching Disney movies and TV shows of his generation, from Hanna-Barbera’s Tom & Jerry and the Flintstones to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s legendary Supermarionation puppet shows, like Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.
When he was not playing football (which he just gave up last year), Chapman was in class drawing caricatures of fellow students or inventing funny characters. “I did get asked to stand outside of class a number of times for not paying attention,” he admits. “One time, when I was about seven, I received a box of Maltesers from a teacher who loved a drawing I gave her. That taught me I could get paid for my drawings.”
His biggest lesson, though, came years later, in global IP and the merchandising and licensing industry when he worked for Jim Henson International, designing and art directing licensing products for brands, such as The Muppets and Fraggle Rock and on movies, including The Dark Crystal.
“I understood just how big a global break-out hit show can be. I started to work on my own ideas at nights and weekends during this time,” says Chapman, who studied Graphics and Illustration at Great Yarmouth College of Art & Design.
It was a door of opportunity he nearly didn’t open.
At the time of the Henson gig, Chapman was also offered the position of Creative Director for an advertising agency in Covent Garden, which came with an apartment overlooking Regent’s Park.
“It sounded too good to refuse so I turned down the Henson job. But after a few months, I knew I’d made the wrong decision. Creating ads was great fun but creating characters was in my blood,” he remarks.
A year later, Chapman’s wife randomly attended a party and bumped into the Creative Director at Henson, who relayed that they’d never found anybody ideal for the position and the job was still available.
“I phoned him the next day and started a few months later. Everyone who worked there was brilliant, the top people in the entertainment industry. Next door was the Creature Workshop where all the fantastic costumes were made for the Henson TV shows and movies. I was in heaven!”
When Henson closed its doors in the U.K. and moved everything back to the U.S., Chapman returned to advertising, had children, and kept on creating kid’s TV concepts. His very first idea, Bob the Builder, was optioned by former Henson colleague and friend Peter Orton, who had started HIT Entertainment (with Henson’s blessing).
Bob the Builder aired on the BBC in 1999 and became a global smash hit and eventually a $5 billion brand. The show picked up a BAFTA in 2003 for Best Pre- school Animation. (In 2015, a re-imagined CG series was launched).
In 2002, the creator went on to cofound Chapman Entertainment and with some of his Bob royalties bought an office building overlooking the Thames in Wandsworth, London. “These were great times.”
Over the next decade, 80 employees created and produced four shows—Fifi and The Flowertots (voiced by Jane Horrocks), Roary the Racing Car (voiced by Peter Kay), Raa Raa the Noisy Lion (voiced by Lorraine Kelly) and Little Charley Bear (voiced by James Corden). They also handled the licensing and merchandising and had an animation studio in Manchester.
Chapman Entertainment closed its doors in 2012 “due to bad timing.” As he explains, “I am very philosophical about life and not a lot tends to faze me. I personally lost a lot of my own money by keeping our shows in production and making sure the animators and staff were paid. But it was all to be in vain when the bank called in their overdraft.”
At the time, the company was on the verge of being bought out by a large Canadian company, but the financial crash had impacted profits so they backed out. “When the bank sold our IPs to DreamWorks Animation, for peanuts, it was a blow. And knowing DreamWorks have never refreshed or optimized those great brands—apart from making a few more episodes of Raa Raa— makes it all the more galling. But I am an optimist and I knew things would come right again.”
In 2013, Paw Patrol, launched in the U.S. and is now rated the No. 1 most successful preschool show in the world, with global retail sales of over $9 billion. And that figure is climbing every year as the series—seen in 160 countries speaking more than 30 languages—generates sales of well over $1 billion annually. There is even a Paw Patrol movie launching this August, through Paramount.
“I sent a pitch about pups who saved the day, their kennels transforming into emergency rescue vehicles, and Spin Master took a good idea and made it into a great one. They have been very good to me and I will be forever indebted to them.” (Spin Master cofounders Anton Rabie and Ronnen Harary are currently No. #2057 on Forbes Billionaires).
Paw Patrol licensing categories range from live theater to fruit snacks to birthday cakes to a theme park, and Chapman collects royalties from every deal. “As an IP owner, deal with best in class. Accept only the best quality. Push for the best royalty rates you can get.”
Chapman admits his two creations with Spin Master, Paw Patrol and the latest “awesome blockbuster” Mighty Express, now on Netflix, have been his personal favorite collaborations.
Knowing he has been part of some very talented teams of people responsible for brands generating sales of almost $15 billion makes Chapman proud. “That’s a lot of jobs created for a lot of people around the world,” comments the father of four. He has three grown sons in London from his first marriage who “inherited my creative genes but each is far more talented than me,” as well as a nearly 3-year-old daughter with wife Emily, with whom he has cocreated a news series Paddypaws & Pals.
Apart from a fair number of kids TV shows, the avid golfer has several other projects in development or production, including his family movie about a young, orphaned orangutan who goes on a journey to find her parents and save her rainforest world from destruction, due to deforestation. After ten years, the film is being animated in Paris with a release date of summer 2022. “The art is sensational and the movie will make audiences laugh and cry. Profits from the film will be going to important orangutan and rainforest charities.” He cannot reveal too much but there are some soon-to- be-confirmed giant Hollywood names on board.
Paw Patrol is now rated the No. 1 most successful preschool show in the world and generates sales of well over $1 billion annually.
Chapman is also working on a trilogy of books for the teen market, in partnership with one of the world’s biggest-selling authors, and he has collaborated on a U.K. sitcom with a good friend. He is involved on other movie outlines, primetime animation concepts and reality show formats. “I’m pretty busy but I love what I do.”
The recipient of a Lifetime Honorary Achievement at the British Licensing Awards in 2018 says his industry is close-knit. “People talk. For me, I try to treat everyone honorably and fairly. My word is my bond. I know what it is like trying to get a break and always give advice to upcoming creatives where I can.”
He embraces the adage “never give up.” “I still dream of doing something with Disney. Hopefully, that will happen one day,” Keith Chapman confesses.