Ask Penelope K a question and chances are she can find the answer somewhere in her Information Station.
As a children’s go-to character on CBeebies, Penelope K is the original creation of writer producer Michael Bourchier, (The Upside Down Show).
The series, for 4 – 6 year olds, is the first Australian-made production for the BBC’s children’s channel. The concept was selected amongst a fiercely-contested production initiative from 100 other submissions.
The character of Penelope K is played by actress Amanda Bishop. Each episode sees a child ask her a general knowledge question which she never quite knows the answer to, until she has consulted her supporting cast of colourful puppets.
As Michael Bourchier explained to TV Tonight, in finding out the answer the sum of the parts makes up a whole.
“All of the characters give her a bit of information, and quite often a good bit of it’s wrong, but there’s always some fact in the middle of it. At the end of the end of the episode she’s got all the facts, but not always in the right order. So it’s the kid who recognises the pattern and identifies the answer,” he explained.
Bourchier says while he doesn’t generally do educational shows, he stuck upon an entertaining premise that imparts useful knowledge, while hopefully inspiring kids to discover for themselves.
“It just occurred to me while I was putting the show together that the idea of being wrong is just the first step to being right. And it’s a great opening for comedy.”
Amanda Bishop has worked with Bourchier on The Upside Down Show as well as Double Take, My Place and Review with Myles Barlow.
“The idea of working with a physical comedian was alluring. I knew that for kids that kind of kinetic learning is where they’re at. Having said that, I’m not really interested in making sure that kids know the answers to questions, I’m more interested in the idea that they ask questions in the first place,” he said.
“It’s knowing things like whether worms have eyes, or what forms a rainbow, or how strong is an egg? They’re good fun bits of physics to know.”
Bourchier says there is not a huge amount done in the live action world for kids in the 4 – 6 age group. Penelope K will have 25 x 12 minute episodes produced by Blink Films in association with production partner Freehand.
The show also has a distinctive and colourful look with earthy colours that reflect Australian landscape by designer Dorotka Sapinska. While it is produced for an Australian audience it will broadcast on all CBeebies channels internationally, without diluting its accents or even the occasional Aussie question.
“It was fun creating the idea of an Information Station because one doesn’t exist. I didn’t have to make her a Librarian or a Museum Attendant or anything like that. She’s just the person who runs the Information Station,” he says.
“It’s just a place for kids to go and ask questions.”
Amongst her supporting characters ‘Hank and Frank’ as two coy fish who help her with questions, a shadow rabbit, and a Rubber Band of musical instruments without musician bodies.
“One of the reasons I created the character Squirm, the puppet on her arm, is that if you want to know the answer to a question you really start by asking yourself what you know about it. It was a fun way we could give the kids the ability to be able to do that and it’s a nice to be able to create things that are outside the licensing and merchandising world. Any kid can go and get a sock out of a drawer and talk to themselves,” said Bourchier.
The series is also the first production for CBeebies outside Britain.
“I just reckon knowing stuff is cool.”
Penelope K, By the Way premieres 8am today on CBeebies and continues daily.