Published: 15:07, 28 March 2002
THE ARMS of Art Attack television star Neil Buchanan is giving a helping hand to the local economy by earning overseas cash. The talented presenter of the popular children's television programme appears in hundreds of editions of the international version made in the Maidstone Studios - but viewers never see his face.
In a unique production approach, presenters from Germany, France, Portugal, Brazil and Spain stay in the county town for three-month stints to make versions of the programme for their own young viewers. But they only front the programme - the creative activity is all Neil's.
The camera focuses only on his hands and arms, clothed in a red sweatshirt, as he draws, folds paper and does the 1001 other things that Neil and the programme are famous for. The camera then cuts to the local presenter, also wearing a red sweatshirt. Careful editing and post-production ensure a seamless result.
Media Merchants, the award-winning company behind Art Attack, came up with this unusual technique after being commissioned by Disney to make programmes for its worldwide digital channels. Creative director Tim Edmunds said: "The skills that Neil has to create, draw and talk at the same time are unbelievably rare. In this country, we've had Tony Hart, Rolf Harris and Neil Buchanan - not many others. We realised that if we were going to make Art Attack in different languages, the likelihood of finding a Jose Buchanan, a Francois Buchanan or a Helmut Buchanan were going to be very rare."
No credit is given to Buchanan on the international edition but Mr Edmunds insists the company is not being deceitful. "We haven't said they are the presenter's hands, but similarly we haven't said they're not. We've left a grey area for kids to decide for themselves."
More than 650 editions of Art Attack international have been made, each in seven different languages - French, German, Spanish, Italian, South American Portuguese, South American Spanish, and Portuguese. They have won a devoted following of millions of viewers, earning considerable sums for the Maidstone firm and the local economy.
Mr Edmunds said: "To my knowledge, there's no another programme in the world that runs like this." Maidstone Studios, already home to a Polish satellite television station, has become highly cosmopolitan.
Pedro Penim, 26, has just arrived from Lisbon to present the Portuguese editions. He is already well known back home as an actor and host of Disney Club.
Media Merchants is now part of Gullane Entertainment, the new name for Britt Allcroft, owners of Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam, Sooty, and other children's brands.