CMC @LBF 2019: The Gruffalo 20th Anniversary – from Book to Global Brand

Posted on: Sunday 17 March 2019 2:02am by Simon Bor


Juliet Matthews (Harper Collins Children’s Books)


Nick Hall (Boxine)

Belinda Ioni Rasmussen (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Toby Mitchell (Tall Stories)

Michael Rose (Magic Light Pictures)

Daryl Shute (Magic Light Pictures)



Axel’s challenge was to create a monster that was frightening but not terrifying.

Michael Rose wanted to be true to the book and not change a single word.

They wanted a character that would last for fifty years.


Can it really be twenty years since we first met The Gruffalo? Juliet Mathews of Harper Collins Children’s Books asked the panel of some of those involved the Gruffalo’s continuing success: ‘How did this go from a thirty-two-page picture book to what it is today?’

Current publisher at Macmillan Children’s Books, Belinda Ioni Rasmussen said that it was her predecessor, Kate Wilson, who had found Julia Donaldson’s submission, after artist Axel Scheffler had told her it was a book he would like to illustrate. It had been languishing in an editor’s inbox at another publishing house for quite some time. Axel then took up the challenge of creating a monster that was frightening but not terrifying.

Toby Mitchell, Joint Artistic Director at Tall Stories acquired theatrical rights as soon as the book was published and the stage show debuted eighteen months later. It was adaptable for performances in large and small venues with all the sets and props being able to fit in a car.

The animated special debuted ten years later. Michael Rose, a former Aardman Producer and recovering chocoholic (according to Juliet), had read the book to his daughter and believed it had the potential to me made into something special. He acquired the rights for his new company, Magic Light Pictures, on the understanding that he would be true to the book and not change a single word. He took it to Jay Hunt, controller of BBC One, and as soon as he sat down she said; ‘Ah, The Gruffalo, my kids love it. When are we going to do it?’

Daryl Shute, Magic Light Picture’s Brand Director, told the audience how licensing had been handled, with the first product launched in Selfridges, the John Lewis. All high quality plush to begin with, using Axel’s artwork where possible. Now there are Forestry Commission trails, a ride at Chessington, promotions with Yorkshire Tea, but everything brings it back to the pictures. Nick Hall of Boxine demonstrated the Gruffalo Tonie Box that plays the audiobook narrated by Imelda Staunton when you place a plastic Gruffalo figure in a slot.

‘It started with passion’, said Michael, ‘I got involved with the Gruffalo sixteen years ago and it’s still going strong. We wanted it to be a character that would last for fifty years, taking a long-term view is very important for what we do.’

CMC @LBF 2019 #TCMC children's media CMC

Simon Bor

About the author

Simon Bor


Simon studied Animation at Farnham, and, more recently, was awarded an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University. He set up Honeycomb Animation with Sara Bor and has been involved in children’s television since the mid 1980s. As a writer, Simon has co-written and created several shows including Milkshake’s 'Funky Valley'. As a director and… Read more