‘Stop the car, stop the car!’ is a chant which parents across the land recognize when their small children have spotted a tractor or digger working in the fields. I’m Alexandra Heard and for me, this was the seed of an idea, which has since become a growing addiction amongst small children across Britain – that of Tractor Ted and his real life farming films, books, toys and live experiences.
In 2002, I was a new mum to two sons and a daughter and living in rural Wiltshire. My children always wanted to watch the briefest few minutes at the end of a cartoon video that showed a real tractor pulling a plough in a field. Nothing with film like this seemed to be available in the shops and so an idea took hold, to make a video for young children, which showed real farm machinery working in the fields. Added to this would be all the answers to the many questions my children would always ask about ‘What’s this?’ and ‘Why is that happening?’. To make it fun we would add songs, reading and counting together with little mishaps that children find so funny! We wanted a ‘big brother’ character to present the real life adventures and interact with the children. And so the wonderfully cheerful and utterly trustworthy, Tractor Ted was born.
This simple idea proved a winner not only with children but their parents, grandparents and teachers alike and a decade or so on, Tractor Ted is a national favourite with over 90,000 DVDs and 40,000 books sold each year (more than many characters on TV)! We have expanded into a big range of Tractor Ted giftware and clothing plus live experiences and permanent Tractor Ted children’s farms.
I continue to write and direct all the new Ted films and books because whenever I see something happening in the countryside I am inspired to think ‘Oh children would love to see that or know about it’. I also enjoy observing what children love – too many things are created from an adult’s perspective rather than that of a child.
Tractor Ted has a loyal following of high profile ambassadors who volunteer their support, such as Ben Fogle, Clare Balding, AP McCoy and William Fox-Pitt. They have all witnessed the passion that small children develop for the little green tractor. How much enjoyment they get from his films and the fantastic information they pick up when watching over and over again! As Ben Fogle says, “Our son is obsessed with Tractor Ted and it's taught him all about life on a farm. He can name all the different machines and he's only two! An absolute essential for boys and girls.”
Before setting up the Business, I realised we would need an agricultural expert to be part of it, so I got in touch with childhood friend and neighbouring farmer, David Horler, to become a partner. With two small children of my own, when Alexandra approached me, I could see what a great idea this was. Like many farmers I was looking for good ways to diversify - regardless of the fact that not many farmers get into film production, this really appealed to me. From my point of view, this was a way to give a modern and accurate portrayal of the best of UK farming practice to the next generation. Over a decade on and I am as familiar with the editing suite as the tractor cab!
For our first film we decided to cut our teeth at making a pilot version, which we called simply, Tractorland. It took a year with help from two students studying media at Bath University. We built up footage such as filling up the tractor with diesel, hitching the plough, ploughing the field, seed drilling, seeing the wheat growing and going to the local bakery to watch it being made into bread. Once we had finished editing at a friend’s corporate video offices in London, we took out an advertisement in Farmers Weekly and sold 300 copies of the video in a week!
From this early success the team grew to include a third Director, Alex Beeley, an Essex farmer’s daughter, teacher and marketeer whose family farm appears in Tractor Ted Big Machines. “My children’s grandparents loved appearing in the DVD and unusually for them are very keen on children watching television - but only if its Tractor Ted because of everything they learn!”
The busy Tractor Ted Head Office occupies a cluster of beautiful converted stone barns at Highchurch, David’s home farm just outside Frome in Somerset. From views across the spectacular rolling Somerset countryside the new films and books are developed, Little Farms planned, mail orders despatched, live events organized and products sent to over 600 shops in the UK, Ireland and the US.
Tractor Ted can now be visited at two permanent venues, Tractor Ted Little Farms at Bowood House in Wiltshire and Active Kids Adventure Park in Perthshire with more than 250,000 visitors to them each year. These children’s farms are tailored to engage little people with small farm animals and enjoy farm themed active play. Children who visit grow in confidence by watching and handling the animals and discover all about them from the Tractor Ted Farmers who look after them. Other weekend events take place as the Little Farm Live Roadshow travels with a mini farm and a giant bouncy Tractor Ted to racecourse, sports clubs, shops and attractions across the country.
The Tractor Ted Farm Show takes place with the charity Dog Show on the Bowood Estate in Wiltshire every summer and is attended by over 10,000 visitors including many of Tractor Ted’s biggest fans. Families enjoy this traditional Country show where they can watch, take part and enjoy all sorts of farming demonstrations and artisan produce. The event has raised close to £250,000 for local charities since it began nine years ago.
So from the seed of an idea planted while watching children; Tractor Ted is now watched by thousands of children, all growing in confidence and knowledge about great British food and our wonderful countryside while also having lots of fun!