This series is certainly inspired by my childhood and the experiences I had because I learned differently to other people – but it’s a comedy first. The emotion is completely relatable but we exaggerate the humour."Henry Winkler
Date: 18.12.2013 Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.55
Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler comes to CBBC this January in the brand-new comedy drama series, Hank Zipzer.
The 13x30-minute series - which is inspired by the book series Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever – is based on Henry Winkler’s own experiences as a young boy growing up with dyslexia. Fast paced and funny, the series follows the everyday life of 12-year-old Hank Zipzer, a young man with a unique perspective on the world.
Hank is a boy whose glass is always half full… he just sometimes spills it everywhere. When problems arise he deals with them in a way no-one else would, which often sets him on a collision course with teachers, parents and his homework. Despite not always seeing eye to eye with everyone else, Hank has a big heart and always remains positive and hopeful that next time his plan will pay off. But, there’s usually a trail of chaos to clear up first…
From landing himself (and his classroom) in hot water – literally! – to ending up being pelted with tomatoes; trying out for the school play, to attempting to create the world’s scariest haunted house, there’s never a dull moment when Hank is around. With the help of his best friends, Frankie and Ashley, the young boy with the big heart goes on a multitude of mischievous adventures, but often ends up learning a valuable lesson or two along with way.
Henry Winkler said: “This series is certainly inspired by my childhood and the experiences I had because I learned differently to other people – but it’s a comedy first. The emotion is completely relatable but we exaggerate the humour. When I was young, teachers and other people used to tell me I’d never achieve anything because I’m in the bottom three percent academically in America. I never thought I’d be able to write books, let alone to have them made into a TV show. Outside of having my children, the Hank Zipzer series makes me incredibly proud.”
Henry Winkler plays music teacher Mr Rock (Henry’s real life teacher) alongside newcomer Nick James as Hank. The series also stars Felicity Montagu (I’m Alan Partridge, Nighty Night, Bridget Jones’s Diary) as Hank’s teacher Miss Adolf, Juliet Cowan (The Revolting World Of Stanley Brown, The Bill, Shameless) as his mum Rosa, Neil Fitzmaurice (Peep Show, Mount Pleasant, Waterloo Road) as his dad, Vincenzo Nicoli (Black Books, The Knot, EastEnders) as Papa Pete and Nick Mohammed (Sorry I’ve Got No Head, Reggie Perrin, Drifters) as head teacher Mr Love.
Cheryl Taylor, Controller of CBBC, said: "I am certain that CBBC viewers and their parents will love the Hank Zipzer TV series. Hank’s adventures illuminate the ups and downs of a child navigating through life with dyslexia and do so with great warmth, insight and humour. The fact that Henry Winkler also appears in the show is just a huge cherry on an already delicious comedy cake. Felicity Montagu is formidable as Miss Adolf and the rest of the cast will also delight as we follow Hank and his friends on their rambunctious escapades.”
Anne Brogan is executive producer for Kindle Entertainment, Helen McAleer for Walker Productions and Sue Nott for CBBC. Steven DeNure is executive producer for DHX Media and Hugo Heppell for Screen Yorkshire, which is providing additional funding through its Yorkshire Content Fund. DHX Media will handle international sales for the 13x30-minute children’s show which will start on CBBC in January.
Can you tell us about Hank Zipzer?
Hank Zipzer is a comedy series for CBBC all about a young boy Hank, whose glass is half full – he just spills it everywhere. Hank sees the world in a unique way. The show is based on the books, 'Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever', which I write with my co-author Lin Oliver. I'm so proud that these stories exist and prouder still of the many wonderful letters we get from children who have read them. We get correspondence from all over the world from children who relate to the stories and see a bit of Hank in people they know. I really hope that kids love the TV series as much too.
How did the series come about?
It was a fantastic whirlwind created by amazing women from Walker Productions, Kindle Entertainment and CBBC, all of whom came together to make ‘Hank’ happen. I've learnt that when a woman from the UK says: 'Leave it to me', she really means it and one better get out of the way! An amazing cast and crew gathered together and created a delightful experience from start to finish. I can't wait for the viewers to start watching.
Is it true Hank Zipzer is actually based on your life growing up with dyslexia?
This series is certainly inspired by my childhood and the experiences I had because I learned differently to other people – but it’s a comedy first. The emotion is completely relatable but we exaggerate the humour. When I was young, teachers and other people used to tell me I’d never achieve anything because I’m in the bottom three percent academically in America. I never thought I’d be able to write books, let alone to have them made into a TV show. Outside of having my children, the Hank Zipzer series makes me incredibly proud.
Can you tell us about your character Mr Rock?
Mr Rock was the one teacher who really supported me and saw that I had potential. I still remember the day he took me aside and said: 'Winkler, when you leave here you're going to be okay'. And he was right. I still hold that close to my heart now. He was a real inspiration to me and it's wonderful to be able to play him in the series. Mr Rock is a real friend to Hank, as well as being his teacher, and I think viewers will enjoy their often mischievous relationship.
How did you get on with the other actors in the show?
Oh my goodness, they were all incredible! I never dreamed that a group of people could work so well together. Nick who plays Hank is such a talented young actor. When I'm acting I often improvise and take things off in a different direction, which sometimes throws off other actors around me – even the ones that have been doing the job for years. But not Nick. Nick was wonderful. He would just come with me and we'd create these amazing moments between Hank and Mr Rock. Unbelievable. Felicity Montagu plays Miss Adolf, who was actually a teacher in my school too. She was nothing like Mr Rock. She was mean, and had this horrible grey skin… grey personality… grey breath. Felicity brings her to life in such an incredible way. She's the yin to Mr Rock's yang and it was such fun to work with her.
Did you enjoy filming in England?
Yes! I loved it. I always enjoy coming to the UK. We filmed up in Halifax and I got to meet some wonderful people and spend time in the stunning countryside up there – I even went fly-fishing!
Parents of CBBC viewers will probably remember you best for your role as The Fonz in Happy Days – do you mind that?
Absolutely not, it's lovely for me to see how different people remember different things I've done. The kids who watch the show will probably only know me as an author – and now hopefully as Mr Rock!
What attracted you to get involved in Hank Zipzer?
The scripts and Henry Winkler, 'The Fonz'. And then, when I met Matt Bloom and Siobhan Bachman - the director and producer respectively - in the audition, the way they talked about the project made me want to do it even more. It just sounded exciting!
What can viewers expect from the series?
A funny but sometimes serious show set in a school about a boy called Hank who is the World’s Greatest Underachiever. He struggles at school against all odds because he has severe dyslexia but his tenacity, topped up by the most wicked creative sense of humour, allows him to reign supreme every time. Parents and children will hopefully be able to enjoy and experience this together.
Can you describe your character for us?
Miss Adolf is an ardent, old-fashioned educationalist who lives in a humourless void of punishments, tight regimes and even more punishments for all her beleaguered pupils.
Was it fun to play Miss Adolf?
It was enormous fun to play Miss Adolf. How often do you get to have a sword to discipline children? The dialogue and set ups for her character are so delicious that the whole process has been really stimulating.
Lots of people see you as Lynn from the Alan Partridge series and film – how different was Miss Adolf to play?
Miss Adolf is a lonely, disappointed yet empowered woman. Lynn is a lonely, disappointed, disempowered woman. Their differences are off the Richter scale. One woman is all sharp edges and the other is like a marshmallow.
Do you remember having any teachers like Miss Adolf when you were at school?
Yes, I do. One in particular was a stern, dour science teacher, who – incidentally - terrified the life out of my poor mother at parents' evening for my bad behaviour and lack of aptitude. She just brought out the absolute worst in me.
How was it working with Henry Winkler?
Well, when you work with a man like Henry, he comes with this enormous prestigious reputation that has endured for 40 years. So, at first, there is a big build up and then you have to get the nerves under control. Of course, he dispersed all that rubbish by the mere fact that he is so creative and it becomes all about the work. So to answer the question - quite sublime, unique, special!
Is it different acting in a children's series than for an adult audience?
Normally, I would say yes, it is very different. But on this show, although you're working with children, the acting and scripts are very sophisticated so it's not that different to a normal job. And the kids in this are not only beautifully behaved but the cream of the crop.
Any behind the scenes secrets you can share?
In the series, Miss Adolf finds Stan, Rosa and Papa Pete absolutely ghastly - I think she secretly thinks they are hippies - and wouldn't spend more than two seconds in their company if she didn't have to, but off set we have formed a very close little club and Nick Mohammed who plays Mr Love makes sure that we will all get together for a lunch. Perfection!
Which children's programmes do you remember watching as a child? Do you think you would have enjoyed Hank Zipzer when you were young?
The truth? Kids are way more sophisticated nowadays. I think I was watching Crackerjack at the equivalent age or Doctor Who behind the sofa. But I definitely think I would have loved this show. Firstly, because it is very funny and entertaining; and secondly, it would have opened a window of possibilities for me. As a child watching it, it would have given me hope that I could do something with my life and not always fail.
What’s it like playing Hank?
Playing Hank has been absolutely amazing. I’ve been able to do a multitude of things I’ve never done before and this has been my biggest part to date, so it has been exciting and scary all at once.
I have got to meet so many interesting and lovely people in the three months I’ve been away acting.
Can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect to see?
You can expect to see Hank getting covered in cream, water and even tomatoes! Generally, Hank gets into a heap of trouble but usually finds a way out in the end. The story is based in a school and tells the story of all the things that Hank gets up to - and the sticky situations he gets into.
Are you anything like Hank in real life?
I can be very clumsy at times like Hank and I guess I’m a bit cheeky like him too, with a naughty sense of humour. I have a loving family like Hank and instead of an annoying sister I have a really irritating brother so not all that different I suppose! Luckily for me though, I don’t find work at school as challenging as Hank does so I suppose I’m lucky.
Was it hard work filming the series?
It has been very hard work. I’m in nearly all the scenes and then I’ve had to try and keep up with all my school work as well – my mum is really strict about this which is super annoying. It’s not been easy but it’s been a lot of fun.
Did you enjoy filming in Halifax?
I have loved filming in Halifax and meeting all the cast and crew has been awesome, especially Henry Winkler who filmed in Halifax with us for two weeks. It’s been really different for me living away from home from Monday to Friday – a bit like boarding school I guess!
What do your friends think about you being involved in the show?
I’m not sure actually! I haven’t been able to discuss it with them much as it’s been pretty confidential. I think my school friends don’t really understand what I’ve been doing – I think they just think I’m a bit weird and wonder why my hair has changed colour!
Can you let us in on any behind the scenes secrets?
No of course I can’t, otherwise it won’t be a secret any more! Well, maybe I can say that the view out of our apartment window is actually just a printed plastic sheet!
What’s your favourite CBBC programme? Apart from Hank Zipzer of course…
I love ‘The Slammer!’, it’s epic! I love watching all the acts and deciding who’s the best. You never know, maybe I’ll be on that show one day.