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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Combat Kids – note from producer/director Paul Wilmshurst

(L-R) Jed (Charlie Hiscock), Xan (Kieran Wallbanks), Zara (Eden Nathenson) and Christie (Anna Jobarteh).

Combat Kids mixes whimsical fantasy – meeting an alien in the woods – with the unusual reality of growing up on an army base. It links the two, implying that imagination can become an effective escape from anxiety.

The kids believe Xan's story and join him in his escapades, partly for the thrill of it, partly to forget about their fears. As the story progresses, they realise how much they need each other, how special this time in their lives should be and how easy it is to lose your way.

Writer Robin Mukherjee has put a great deal of research, and his heart, into the story. With a script of this quality we were able to attract a first-rate cast, an exciting mixture of new and experienced talent.

Our central gang of kids – played by Charlie, Kieran, Eden and Anna – were all keen, focused and well-prepared. They made the process of filming look fun, even when we were up against the odds and the weather.

Our adult cast showed endless patience, energy, commitment and talent. We were lucky to have such a strong, delightful company, combined with a hard-working, resourceful and highly-skilled crew. All we needed was a friendly and helpful army base nearby that we could use as a location and we were off.

Combat Kids has everything from children, guinea pigs, alsatians, bicycles and, of course, a home-made spaceship built from a rusty old tank – or, to be more accurate, armoured personnel carrier. Production designer Julian Perkins faced the challenge of bringing the Starburst (series two) to life, conjuring dustbin lids and boat hulls, driftwood, motherboards and bric-a-brac to produce a design that is convincingly home-made but meets all our wishes for a proper spaceship.

When we filmed with it on the final day, we were more than a little jealous of the kids, who got to rocket around on the beach at high speed in billowing smoke and golden light. Their excitement didn't need to be faked.

No other broadcaster in the world would have dared commission a show like this about a subject like this. It's both brave and proper that CBBC should. combat Kids goes out as part of a season on children and war and we are proud to be part of such a useful and important piece of children's broadcasting.

Damian Kavanagh (who commissioned it) and Sue Nott (our executive producer at CBBC) deserve huge thanks for their support and guidance. But Combat Kids would not have existed without the vision and drive of executive producer Tony Wood, who has been an inspiration to work with. The experience of making Combat Kids was special for all of us. We hope it reaches and touches a wide audience.

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