On CBeebies at 7:40am on Thursday, 7 December 2017, a phenomenon was born.
As thousands of toddlers were settling down to their breakfasts, the BBC’s dedicated preschoolers’ channel aired the 31st episode of the second series of the animated show Hey Duggee. The episode was the inauspiciously titled ‘The Stick Badge’.
Little did those watching know they were about to witness CBeebies history, all because of a rave song about a stick.
Hey Duggee is about a giant dog who runs a Scouts-like group called the Squirrel Club. The Squirrels are a mixture of animals (Betty the octopus, Happy the crocodile, Roly the hippo, Tag the rhino, and Norrie a mouse), and in each episode they go on adventure to earn a new Squirrel Club badge – the Scarecrow badge, the Hiccup badge, the Spider badge et cetera.
‘The Stick Badge’ episode begins relatively normally. Duggee tasks the Squirrels with collecting sticks for a camp fire, but at around the halfway point into the 7-minute-long episode things take a turn for the weird when Roly finds a stick with eyes.
The stick, it transpires, can talk: his only word is “stick”.
Duggee (with help from narrator Alexander Armstrong) explains that it’s not a stick, but a stick insect, and this is when the show explodes into ‘The Stick Song’.
It’s a 60-seconds of rave-inspired lunacy, with the talking stick repeatedly barking “stick” in its high-pitched voice over woozy visuals and a thumping techno beat: It’s like Monty Python covering 2 Unlimited while hepped up on popping candy.
The song became an instant hit with toddlers and their parents who were able to endlessly rewatch it on iPlayer. Shaun Keaveny and Steve Lamacq have played it on 6 Music, Evan Davis ended Newsnight with it, the singalong version has been viewed on YouTube over a million times, and there was even an unsuccessful campaign to make it Christmas number one.
It’s a bona fide viral sensation, there are even now parodies popping up online, so we wanted to go to the source to learn how ‘The Stick Song’ came to be.
Here’s what we learned about CBeebies’ cult smash from Sander Jones at Studio AKA, the writer and animation director of Hey Duggee – ‘The Stick Badge’.
Yahoo: How would you describe Hey Duggee to someone who’s never seen it before?
Sander Jones: Duggee is a big friendly dog who runs the Squirrel Club, where a group of young kids go to play, have adventures and earn activity badges. It’s big bright and fun!
Who is the brainchild of Hey Duggee?
Grant Orchard. It’s all his fault. Grant had been directing commercials and short films (Love Sport, A Morning Stroll) at Studio AKA for a number of years. The studio asked him to pitch an idea for a children’s series and out popped Duggee.
How long has Hey Duggee been going, and how long have you worked on it for?
It’s been going for 4 or 5 years now, we’re just coming to the end of making the second series and ramping up for the third. I’ve been on the show from the start when Grant initially pitched the idea to Studio AKA. I worked on the pilot with him.
What is your specific role on the show?
I’m the animation director and I write some of the scripts. I also run a side line in “Woofs” [Duggee only talks in “woofs”].
When did you start working on the latest season? How do you decide on the badge/theme for each episode?
We started the second series around 2 years ago. We break a series up into quarters to make it a little more manageable, so we have little mini-series of 13. We have a long long list of badge ideas. Some already have a brief outline while others might just be one word. Those ones are always fun because you don’t know where it’s going to go yet. You wouldn’t have thought ‘The Whistling Badge’ would end up being about a hyperactive run away egg.
We sometimes wonder if we’ll run out of badge ideas but then you look out the window and think, nah there’s lots of stuff out there. From the start Grant wanted the episodes to ‘jump the shark’ as it were. Which comes from a later episode of Happy Days where the writers were clearly starting to run out of ideas. The characters all go to the beach and The Fonz jumps over a shark in water skis, (Fonzy is wearing the skis not the shark). Anyway it’s so ridiculous and out of keeping to the rest of the series that it really stands out that the writers were running out of things to do. However if you jump over a shark on waterskis in the first episode you can pretty much do whatever you want for the rest of the series. It opens it right up and you can go anywhere.
What are the origins of the Stick Badge episode?
It was actually my partner Diggy’s [Diggy Hicks-Little, co-writer of ‘The Stick Badge’] idea and we wrote it together which was a lot of fun.
We have two young kids who are obsessed with the show, (like they have a choice), so Diggy ends up watching Hey Duggee a lot, I think she knows more about the Squirrel Club than I do.
Our oldest boy, who’s two, does this thing where he picks up a random object and demands you make it talk. Dinners are usually started with a ‘talking green bean mummy, talking green bean’. Anyhow, one day he picked up a stick. Unfortunately there wasn’t a rave to follow but that was the original seed of the idea.
Hey Duggee seems to have a struck a chord with kids AND parents in a way that few children’s shows do – is that a deliberate effort on your part?
Well, it is a young children’s show so they are obviously primarily who we are making it for, but we are also aware that parents often end up watching these shows with their kids so you have to make it bearable for them to watch as well. So rather than just making it bearable why not make it fun for parents.
I think the references are more of a natural inevitably than a planned decision, to start with anyway. I mean if you have a squadron of bees flying around like planes how could you not put in a Top Gun or Die Hard 2 nod. Some are more obvious than others but it’s a good way of keeping it interesting for the older fans without detracting from the story for the kids. I think there’s more to it than just putting in the odd reference though, we try to make it funny without patronising the kids, because that’s annoying to watch for anyone, young and old.
Whose idea was the song? Was it inspired by anything in particular?
The idea for the song came from Diggy again. I don’t think it’s inspired by any one specific thing, just rave nostalgia. She was probably reminiscing her pre-motherhood days.
It’s also just plain funny having this monosyllabic character belting out a song.
When, where, and how was the song recorded?
Funnily enough Grant [Orchard, the show’s creator] did the voice of Stick. It was an energetic recording session. I never knew you could say stick so many different ways.
What was the first reaction to the episode when it was finished?
When we were working on the episode it always made us laugh during reviews. It’s just nuts. But once it was finally finished I think the general reaction was relief. Relief that we didn’t have to listen to that song again…
Did you anticipate it being a big hit?
No not all. I wasn’t even sure people would really ‘get it’. I mean the episode is just the squirrels collecting sticks and then they start raving for half an episode. There’s not exactly a story arc to draw the viewer in, but that’s possibly why it’s been well received, it’s just silly fun and unexpected. It’s great seeing all the videos people post of their kids dancing around and going nuts. It’s kind of the whole idea behind the show, to get kids up and actively doing things.
How did you first know it was becoming a viral hit?
Lots of people were tweeting about it straight after it was aired, more than usual. Shaun Keaveny played it on his radio show, then Steve Lamacq did as well. It was around Christmas so I think people were just in the mood for something happy and silly.
That, and it’s a bangin’ tune!
It appeared on Newsnight, did you know that was going to happen? What was your reaction?
We didn’t know it was going to be on. I was watching that night and was just about to go to bed when Evan Davis started talking about children’s TV rave culture and Margaret Thatcher. I thought surely not. It was surreal to say the least.
RT if you've been raving to it like @EvanHD and the team!
— CBeebies Grown-Ups (@CBeebiesHQ) January 3, 2018
‘The Space Badge’ episode also has really distinctive music, will the show become more musical in the future?
I love that episode. Whenever we watched it in reviews everyone would just get really into it. The music really draws you in. I think the series has always been musical though, right from the start. We spend a lot of time getting the music right. We work with a great musical duo, Tin Sounds who do a lot of the original music for us. We released a whole album a little while back of music from the first series – Hey Duggee and the Greatest Hits Badge – Volume Woof.
So yeah I’d say it’s always been a very musical show.
Is there a chance we’ll get a sequel to the Stick Song? Could it return?
Who can say, but for the sake of parental sanity possibly not. The parents, won’t somebody think of the parents…
Hey Duggee airs everyday on CBeebies. Watch ‘The Stick Badge’ here.