‘I think this is going to go bananas’: the story behind Bluey

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Richard Jeffery is an award-winning director and animator with decades of experience in the industry, who is currently directing the smash-hit home-grown global phenomenon that is Bluey. He is one of the key creatives who can be heard on the new podcast Behind Bluey.

Everyone knew Bluey was a huge success, but now it’s spawned an official podcast, is that a marker of its elevation to a new level of eliteness?

Bingo, Bluey, Bandit and Chilli from the ABC’s Bluey.Credit: ABC

It would seem like that, wouldn’t it? If you’ve made it to a podcast, you’re doing all right.

What will we learn from Behind Bluey?

It was really fun to do, we talked about the nine upcoming episodes, and we mainly focused on a lot of the “how” of the show. We touched a little bit on the intent behind the stories, but a lot of it is about how we did it, which I think will be interesting for – well it’ll be interesting for everyone, but especially interesting for animation students coming through into the industry. It’ll hopefully be interesting for people who are already in the industry. But it’ll also be good, I think, for people who don’t know about animation. It’ll give an insight into the trials and tribulations of making a huge show like that. I think in one of them we talk about some of my favourite moments. It’s going to be a really interesting insight into how we did each one of those episodes.

Jeffery says Bluey portrays “a more honest portrayal of modern parenting”.

You’ve been with Bluey pretty much from the beginning, haven’t you?

Yeah, right from the beginning. Joe (Brumm, series creator) and I go back years, we worked together in the UK on a children’s show called Charlie and Lola.

Oh! I didn’t know that, I love Charlie and Lola!

Yeah, that was where we met, in 2004. We hit it off straight away – well, the three of us did, Mark Paterson (Bluey animator) as well. We were the only Kiwis and Aussies in the studio, it was quite fun. So we worked together for years and years, and in between London and Bluey I went to Africa to direct a project, and Joe came back to Aussie and started his own little studio, where he slowly developed Bluey. Then when I was back in New Zealand he gave me a call, said, “Rich, this thing’s happening, I’d love you to be on it and help make the show”. I didn’t take much convincing.

Did you think, right from the start, “Wow, this is going to be huge”?

It’s a really good question, we get asked that a lot. I never like to be presumptuous, because you just don’t know how it’s going to go. But I know that Joe put a lot of time into learning how to write good scripts, and from there, making the show, we always set a high standard. We just wanted to make a high quality show. By the end of it, near the end of season one, before it started airing … yeah, I would say I had a feeling that this could be really good. I never want to say that I was sort of, “Yeah, we’ve definitely got a big show” – you don’t (know for sure) – but I remember Chris, one of our animators, saying to me, “Richard, I think this is going to go bananas, this is going to be a huge hit, it’s going to go out of control.” I was like, “Yeah, well, I hope it does too, I think you’re right.” Then when it did, it was beyond our wildest dreams, really. It’s reached a scale now where it’s amazing. It’s amazing to work on a show that’s reached so far.

Jeffery also worked on the BBC series, Charlie and Lola.

I think anyone who’s watched Bluey would say that it has something that sets it apart from most children’s programming. Is there a secret ingredient, or is it just everyone working on it doing great work?

I think we did take a fresh approach. I know that Joe had an idea of the kind of show he wanted to make, and it was different from anything we’d made before. Part of that was just a more honest portrayal of modern parenting, how parents can be, you know. Most cartoons, the dad’s always a buffoon, mum’s stay at home. It doesn’t have to be like that. I think with Dad particularly, we wanted to portray a very competent – well, both the parents are very competent parents. I think it makes it more relatable, rather than going for the old trope of, “Oh yeah, stupid dad”. We kind of broke away from that a little bit. And I think there’s just some genuine writing that appeals to the parents as well: relatable moments. It’s gained this co-viewership thing, which I think is one of the key factors to its success. I think there’s many factors to its success, but I’d say that’s one. All of a sudden parents feel really good about their kids watching the show, and they’ll even watch it with them.

It’s obviously a huge thing, to have a kids’ show that parents aren’t driven mad by. It’s probably no coincidence that one of the few shows in the past that fell into that category for me was Charlie and Lola.

Well, Charlie and Lola had a lot of heart too. I was just animating on that show, I wasn’t in a directing role, but it was my foray into kids’ pre-school animation. I loved the medium, I loved the kind of stories you could tell at pre-school level. Moments of genuine heart, moments of relatable humour.

The Behind Bluey podcast is on the ABC listen app. Bluey is on the ABC iview.

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