Simpsons writer makes new CBBC series

Strange Hill High Strange Hill High headteacher Mr Abercrombie is partly inspired by John Cleese

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He was a showrunner at The Simpsons and Futurama but Josh Weinstein has made his first British series for CBBC.

Strange Hill High starts on Wednesday, blending eccentricity - the headmaster is inspired by John Cleese in 1980s film Clockwise - with groundbreaking animation.

The premise, from the mind of independent producer Kat Van Henderson, is simple: students attend a school full of secrets and mysteries.

But Weinstein compares making the new CBBC series with early years at The Simpsons when "there was this feeling that we were on to something really good".

"It feels like we're doing something special, so in that way it's similar," he said at a recent screening in Salford's Ordsall Hall.

"But it's so different because I spent 20 years in 2D animation, and this is like a real world with miniatures."

Strange Hill High uses a new technique that blends traditional forms of stop-motion and rod puppetry with facial expressions designed by CGI.

It's a pioneering visual style that has been dubbed "hypervynorama".

Emma Kennedy and Josh Weinstein Emma Kennedy and Josh Weinstein have both written for Strange Hill High

Around 35 sets were created in a Cheshire studio, which uses crew experienced in making the likes of Danger Mouse and Fifi and the Flowertots.

Only 100 seconds could be filmed every day, and at least five weeks were spent on making each 22-minute episode.

'Never condescend'

Animators, some of whom previously worked at Bristol's Aardman studios, also helped make 60-odd puppets.

The characters look like a smoother version of Lego, and Strange Hill school is occasionally reminiscent of a Hogwarts dungeon during its first episode, which features a toilet knight called Sir Bogivere (yes, really).

In a testament to what feels like the increasing pulling power of children's TV, the voiceover cast includes some of the UK's best-known comedy actors.

Strange Hill High

Strange Hill High
  • Created by Kat Van Henderson at Factory Transmedia in Altrincham. Showrunner: Josh Weinstein
  • Vinyl puppetry by Mackinnon and Saunders
  • 13-part series comprises around 30,000 shots
  • Co-produced by CBBC, Fremantle Media Kids & Family Entertainment and Factory Transmedia

Caroline Aherne and John Thomson (formerly from The Fast Show) feature during the series.

But Weinstein, a fan of British comedy, was also keen to get Ben "Doc Brown" Smith - recently seen rapping with David Brent on Equality Street - The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade and writer Emma Kennedy, who make up the central trio.

Kennedy voices sweet underachiever Becky Butters, one of a few animated characters to be awarded a Blue Peter badge, but she also scripted one of the episodes.

"I've been writing for many, many years but I tell you this, when the head writer of The Simpsons walks into the room, my golly, you sit up straighter, you really do," she says.

The 13-part series refuses to limit itself to one genre, embracing fantasy, drama, comedy and even a musical episode. Weinstein also hopes the show will eventually air in the US.

Recalling his experience on The Simpsons, he says: "We would never write down to kids, never condescend, because they're smart and they get it, and so we write what really makes us laugh."

  • Strange Hill High, Wednesdays, 5pm, CBBC

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