About the Series
Johnson & Friends was an Australian television series produced by Film Australia, four series were produced, in 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1995. The creation of Ron Saunders, Ian Munro and John Patterson, the series revolved around the adventures of Johnson, a stuffed toy elephant who lived in a young boy named Michael's bedroom. Along the way, he meets McDuff, a curious concertina, Diesel, a rambunctious truck, Alfred, a cantankerous hot water bottle, and Squeaky, a baby robot. All become great friends and are later joined by Victoria, the wise dinosaur, who lived down the hallway in Michael's sister Melissa's room.
The series was extremely popular in Australia and sold into over fifty countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Norway, Germany, France, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Korea and many more. Johnson was broadcast on the ABC in Australia, Fox Kids (as part of The Fox Cubhouse) in the USA, BBC2 (CBBC) and Sky Living (Tiny Living) in the UK and Fuji Television in Japan.
The series also generated a great amount of merchandise, which is considered to be quite collectible these days.
In 1994, a deal was made with the Fox Children's Network to brirng the series to the United States. Due to the fact that it was thought that American children's wouldn't understand or be able to relate to Australian accents, it was decided to dub the Johnson screen library with American accents. All fifty two episodes were sent over and packaged into The Fox Cubhouse, a preschool block specifically created to bring Johnson to the US, as American timeslot guidelines wouldn't allow a ten minute program, two Johnson episodes were screened during every Tuesday and Thursday episode of the Cubhouse. The Fox Cubhouse was produced by Fox in associated with WQED Pittsburgh, who also helped to bring Johnson to the US. The Cubhouse also hosted "Jim Henson's Animal Show with Stinky and Jake" and "Rimba's Island". "Britt Allcroft's Magic Adventures of Mumfie" and "Budgie the Little Helicopter" later joined the block. Shortly after this, Fox and WQED commissioned a further series of 26 episodes of Johnson, bringing the total episode count to seventy-eight.
Series three and four were shot in New Zealand, in contrast to the first two being shot in Sydney, Australia. As a result, many New Zealand actors were brought in to wear and operate the full body puppets, only Peter Browne retained his costume role (as Alfred), and became the only performer to play the character in all English speaking versions of the program, including the American dub. Ian Munro was frequently required back in Australia, so David Ogilvy, who was new to the business at the time, but is now an established Australian screenwriter and producer, was brought in to direct a number of episodes.