What with his own Miss Moneypenny, crane Lofty and hell-raising scarecrow Spud there's never a dull moment in Bob the Builder's yard. But is it enough to save the image of construction?
At a diminutive 215 mm, with a figure verging on the rotund and a penchant for lurid checked shirts, Bob the Builder is not everyone’s idea of a television hero. But if Handy Andy can do it, anyone can.

The small-town contractor may be relatively unknown at the moment, but as the star of Children’s BBC’s latest docusoap Bob the Builder, you can bet it will not be long before he is a household name and his catchphrase “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” becomes the rallying cry to take the construction industry into the next millennium.

Bob has already won himself a considerable following among the select group of under-fives who have seen previews of his show and love his cheery manner and colourful friends. Meanwhile, the trade is calling him “the television ambassador the building industry has been waiting for” and “what Postman Pat is to the Royal Mail”.

Egan, sex and fear of the dark

Made for the BBC by HIT Entertainment, the series follows the day-to-day business at Bob’s Building Yard. Over the next 13 weeks, the camera will shadow Bob and his team – Dizzy the Mixer, Scoop the Digger, Muck the Bulldozer, Lofty the Crane, Rolley the Steamroller and Spud the Scarecrow – as they go about their business laying pipes, repairing Farmer Pickles’ barn, and fixing Mrs Potts’ fence. It also lifts the lid on what goes on back at the office, where Bob’s doting and highly efficient assistant, Wendy, keeps the business running smoothly.

Bob, as he is known in the industry, is certainly a refreshing change from the current crop of construction cowboys appearing in programmes such as Builders or Dig and Dug. Always well-presented in his checked shirt and blue dungarees (no bum cleavage here), and courteous to a fault, he is a popular and much-respected figure in the local community. And despite a laid-back approach to life and a reputation for forgetfulness, he is never less than 100% professional.

“At Bob’s Building Yard we pride ourselves on getting the job done and we’re willing to tackle anything,” he says. “I don’t like to turn clients away. As I always say to my team – can we fix it? Yes we can!” Each member of the team has his or her own role to play, depending on their area of expertise. “I always try to encourage my own machines, even when they are scared of the dark, like Muck, or don’t like heights, like Lofty,” says Bob. And, by capitalising on his staff’s specialist skills, Bob can do the job quickly – although what he gains in speed he loses in efficiency, with a couple of members of the team left behind at the yard on any one day to get in the way of Wendy.

“Of course we get the chance to have fun sometimes on jobs, too,” he laughs. “I think that sort of thing is good for staff morale. Take the time when Travis [Farmer Pickles’ tractor] challenged Scoop to a race. The way the whole team cheered Scoop on was great. Or when they all pretended they’d forgotten my birthday only to spring a surprise party on me. It was fantastic.” Softly spoken and self-effacing, Bob is a reluctant star, saying he is just a regular builder who enjoys his work. You are less likely to find him in London’s trendy Met Bar than at home watching television with his cat Pilchard. In his spare time he enjoys line-dancing (he and Wendy are the local champions) and keeping tropical fish.

Nor is he vying to be the next Sir John Egan. Although he follows the latest issues in the industry press, he is more interested in implementing them at grass-roots level.

Dizzy is an indispensable member of our team, although I ‘d prefer it if she spent less time listening to her personal stereo and more paying attention to what I’m saying

Bob on equal opportunities in the industry

“I think site safety is particularly important,” he says. “I always wear my hard hat and steel-toed boots. I have also asked Woolworth and WH Smith to give away miniature hard hats to anyone purchasing my books or videos.” And what about skills shortages? “At the moment, I’ve got all the staff I can handle and my yard can get quite packed at times when everyone is there, but if I get really busy in the future, I might consider taking on an apprentice.

“I also like to think of myself as open-minded, and I don’t believe it matters whether you are a man or a woman – it’s how well you do the job. Dizzy, for example, is an indispensable member of our team, although I would prefer it if she spent less time listening to her personal stereo and more time paying attention to what I’m saying.” Clearly a man married to his job (he lives alone, although the industry is rife with speculation that he may one day make Wendy Mrs The Builder), Bob says that what he loves most about his job is the opportunity to work outdoors and be his own boss.

He is happy to keep the company a manageable size as it means he can deal with clients on a more personal level. However, he has recently been subject to a series of setbacks caused by a mischievous scarecrow called Spud, with the dubious slogan “Spud’s on the job”, whose antics usually lead to chaos.

Despite a recent attempt to learn the trumpet after making his own from copper piping left over from a plumbing job, Bob has no plans to follow in the footsteps of Driving School’s Maureen, or rival animated icon Flat Eric, from the Levi’s television advertising campaign, in bringing out a record.

Change of career?

But Building suspects it won’t be long before the major record labels are waving their chequebooks in his direction. The catchy synth guitar of his theme tune Bob the Builder displays the same terrace chant simplicity that took World Cup anthem Vindaloo to the top 10 last summer, and we hear it is already on the playlist at the hipper toddlers’ groups.

However, Bob does disclose that he has already signed a lucrative publishing deal with BBC books for a range of story, sticker and dot-to-dot activity books, as well as merchandising contracts with several toy, food and clothing manufacturers. He is even to be honoured with his own amusement ride.

Personal effects

What has been your favourite job to date? Saving the hedgehogs. Where do you stand on environment-friendly buildings? They’re the way forward. How do you relax after work? Feeding the fish, listening to music, filling in VAT returns, or watching television with Pilchard my cat. What is your favourite television programme? I quite like Men Behaving Badly – everyone says I sound like Neil Morrissey. What items are you never without? My mobile phone, my tool belt and my hard hat. What will you be doing for National Construction Week? I’ll be travelling the country making a few public appearances at special children’s events. What is your ambition for the future? To retain my title as village line-dancing champion.