Fireman Sam is a British animated comedy children's series about a fireman called Sam, his fellow firefighters, and other residents in the fictional Welsh rural village of Pontypandy (a portmanteau of two real towns, Pontypridd and Tonypandy, which are situated approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) apart in the South Wales Valleys). The original idea for the show came from two ex-firemen from London, England, who took their idea to artist and writer Rob Lee who developed the concept, and the show was commissioned.
Fireman Sam first appeared as Sam Tan (literally "Sam Fire" in Welsh) on S4C in 1987, and later that year on BBC One. The original series finished in 1994, and a new series that expanded the character cast commenced in 2005. The series was also shown in Gaelic in Scotland. The series was sold to over 40 countries and has been used across the UK to promote fire safety.
The original idea came about from two ex-firemen from London, England – Dave Gingell and David Jones after purchasing the cartoon drawn by artist Anthony Miller. They approached Mike Young, creator of SuperTed, in Barry, Wales, and asked them to further develop their concept. The idea was then brought to S4C's Director of Animation, Chris Grace, who saw potential in the idea and commissioned the series. Grace had previously commissioned SuperTed, which had achieved success across the United Kingdom and worldwide. The characters and storylines were created by Rob Lee, an illustrator from Cardiff, and the program was produced using stop-motion. It could take up to 4 days to produce 1 minute of this form of puppet animation. Fireman Sam has to this day been translated into over 25 different languages including Mandarin.
In the original series, all the character voices were performed by John Alderton. The later series used several actors' voices.
The original theme tune was sung by Mal Pope and more recently by Cameron Stewart, singer and guitarist from the award-winning Welsh function band Session.
The original series comprised 32 ten-minute episodes and a 20-minute Christmas special. The narration and all the character voices were done by John Alderton. Sam is the main character in the show, and interacts with both colleagues at the fire station and fellow villagers. He is seen as somewhat of a hero in the village. Despite being so small, and with so little activity, the village sees its fair share of fires, which Sam and his team can easily handle. The vehicles at the fire station include a four-wheeled Bedford TK fire engine called Jupiter, a six-wheeled 1982 Range Rover Rescue Tender named Venus, and Trevor's bus, a 1985 Ford Transit Dormobile. Fireman Sam's colleagues are Elvis Cridlington, Station Officer Basil Steele (renamed Norris Steele in the new CGI series) and later Penny Morris (who hailed from Newtown with the firetender). The villagers are bus driver/auxiliary firefighter Trevor Evans, Italian café owner Bella Lasagne, Norman Price, Norman's mother Dilys Price, and the twins Sarah and James Jones. The objects include Bentley the Robot, M.O.P., and Mechanical Master Chef.
The original series aired on BBC One, CBBC and CBeebies since it was launched in 1987, most commonly airing on CBeebies on a daily basis with repeats showing until 28 December 2007. In the original series produced by Bumper Films from 1987 to 1994, the firefighters had yellow and black uniforms, whereas in 2005 series produced by S4C and the BBC and the CGI series produced by HIT Entertainment and Hibbert Ralph, the firefighters now have yellow and blue uniforms.
In 1988, the original series was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Short Animated Film. The potential recipients were Ian Frampton and John Walker.
In 2005, a new Fireman Sam series was produced by Hot Animation, comprising twenty-six episodes, each ten minutes in length. These episodes used more modern techniques of stop-motion animation including mouths that move with the dialogue. This series featured all the original characters, but also introduced some new faces, such as Tom Thomas, the Australian pilot of the rescue helicopter Wallaby One and the Mountain Rescue 4×4 Jeep, an unnamed photographer/news reporter, and the Flood family; consisting of Mike the plumber, his wife Helen the nurse, and their daughter Mandy. The updated Jupiter has six wheels, loosely based on a Bedford 6×4, and Venus is loosely based on a heavily modified 4x4 Mini Cooper. The characters in this series were voiced by John Sparkes, Joanna Ruiz and Sarah Hadland. The series also premiered on CBeebies in 2005 and repeats were shown until 2007.
The show's production companies were Hit Entertainment and Hot Animation, and its distributors were S4C and BBC.
The series was revamped in 2008 which saw the show convert to CGI. Pontypandy is now a seaside fishing village instead of a village set deep in the hills as in the early series, though most of the locations have retained their appearances. Another change in this series is that the twins' parents appear for the first time; their new-age mother Bronwen, and fisherman father Charlie, Sam's brother, who run a café/fish-and-chip shop called 'Whole Fish Café'. The series is produced by Hibbert Ralph Animation in association with HIT Entertainment.
Jupiter was updated again, now loosely based on a Volvo FL6. A yellow stripe as well as a grille were added to the front of the fire engine. Minor changes were made to Venus which included a water nozzle added to the top of its roof. Trevor's bus was updated to a more modern look with angled headlights. New vehicles introduced included Mike Flood's Van in the sixth season onwards, as well as Mercury, Saturn, Pontypandy Flyer, and Bessie which were introduced from the eighth season onwards.
The outfits were updated throughout the series (except for Norman Price). This included an update to the firefighter's outfits which added reflective stripes and extra badges to their tunics. Dilys Price received a large makeover which saw her getting makeup, glasses, black hair, a necklace and an updated outfit. The rest of the characters also received minor updates to their clothing.
Many characters also had aspects of their personalities made more apparent. Norman Price is far more mischievous and inconsiderate than in the 2005 series where his pranks were often planned out and his accidents were due to badly planned ideas rather than outrageous schemes. For example, in the episode "Pontypandy Extreme", Norman gets trapped down a wishing well after attempting to climb down in order to retrieve the coins from the bottom. Other examples are Station Officer Steele's strictness and maturity and Elvis's decrease in general competence. For example, in one episode where a first aid training exercise is taking place, Elvis is told off by Steele for dancing with the dummy that is being used. At the same time, Steele is not afraid to unleash the child within him, showing an interest in kite flying and paper planes. He also occasionally causes emergencies himself, and often gasps when an emergency comes in. Also Station Officer Steele's name has changed to Station Officer Norris Steele.
Other changes include the removal of Bella, although her café can still be seen opposite Dilys' shop, now a 7-Eleven-esque convenience store called the "Cut Price Supermarket". It seems the Whole Fish Café and Bronwyn and Charlie have replaced them. Bella made her first appearance in CGI in the tenth season, where the reason behind her absence was revealed as her moving to Newtown. Penny also now has another string to her bow, as she is a trained lifeguard and the helmsman of Neptune (the village's lifeboat). Also Rosa and Dusty have been replaced by Lion, Nipper, and Radar.
Since 2012, additional characters were introduced: a firefighter named Chief Fire Officer Boyce, one animal called Norris the Guinea Pig, five new villagers named Derek Price, Moose Roberts, Gareth Griffiths, Lily, and Mrs Chen, and two new objects were the ukulele named Marjorie, AKA Marjorie Stays With Me, and a thermal heating tracking device named Saturn.
In 2014, other characters were introduced: a lifeguard named Ben Hooper, a mechanic named Joe Sparkes with his wife Lizzie Sparkes, and their daughter Hannah Sparkes. Also, new vehicles were introduced: a jet ski named Juno and a fire boat named Titan. Also in "Ultimate Heroes" or "Heroes of the Storm" There is Ellie Phillips and Arnold McKinley, new firefighter members. There is Hydrus (later Catfish or Wildcat) the 6-wheeled vehicle boat, and an unnamed Mobile Command Unit too.
The characters in this series are voiced by Steven Kynman, Tegwen Tucker, David Carling, and Su Douglas. Also in 2012, John Hasler, Ifan Huw Dafydd and Nigel Whitmey joined the cast. Alex Lowe (actor) and Jo Wyatt joined the cast in 2014.
CBeebies last aired Fireman Sam on 28 December 2007, before Turner Broadcasting and Channel 5 started airing it from 11 February 2008.
In 1996, a stage production was turned into a feature, Fireman Sam In Action, and released on BBC Video.
In 2009, Fireman Sam appeared with other animated children's TV characters in a Children In Need single. The single was put together by Peter Kay.
The show saw its first feature-length movie, The Great Fire of Pontypandy, released to DVD and iTunes in 2010, and was shown in select cinemas.
Fireman Sam was adapted into a live musical theatre show, which began touring the UK in June 2011.
In 2014, Amazon Prime released Fireman Sam using American voices instead of British voices for children in the US. However, Tom Thomas, Moose Roberts and Bella Lasagna have their regular Australian, Canadian and Italian voices instead of dubbing them with a US voice actor due to their accents.
In 2015, the show's second feature-length movie "Heroes of the Storm" (also known as "Ultimate Heroes" in the USA) was due to be released September 2015; however, it was released for US audiences in November 2014.
Common Sense Media recommended the 2004 series for ages 3 and up, praising it for showing how to "stay calm in a crisis" and rely on a team to solve problems. The American website found that the "distinctly Welsh characters, community, accents, and expressions may pose some minor comprehension problems for kids on this side of the pond", but considered it a useful example of life in another part of the world.
In July 2016, it emerged that a Series 9, Episode 7 shows Elvis slipping on a piece of paper and falling into a pile of papers causing them to fly everywhere. One of the flying pages that briefly came into view was later identified as a page from the Quran "Surah Mulk (67), verses 13–26". The production company Mattel apologised for this accident, removed the episode from broadcast, and ceased work with Xing Xing, the animation company responsible for the error. Mattel stated "Someone from the production company thought they were just putting in random text. We have no reason to believe it was done maliciously." The BBC received more than 1,000 complaints and forwarded them to Channel 5 as the BBC has not aired Fireman Sam since 2008. In the aftermath it was revealed many newspapers misrepresented the facts by stating that Elvis trod on the Quran when in fact on closer inspection the paper he stepped on was blank.
In October 2017, the London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton highlighted Fireman Sam in a campaign fighting sexism and promoting the gender neutral term firefighter. She proposed that Fireman Sam should be renamed Firefighter Sam. Cotton said that research showed that women are put off a career in the fire service because it is seen as a job for men, and that as Fireman Sam is seen by children from an early age he reinforces this stereotype.