Underground Ernie was a British computer-animated television series that aired on CBeebies in the United Kingdom. Created by John Deery and Sid Rainey, the series is set in International Underground, a fictional railway network based on the real-life London Underground. The series' aim is to teach children to remember locations based on place names, and the importance of teamwork to overcome challenges in real life.
Writer John Deery and musician Sid Rainey, formerly of the band Compulsion, formed a production company in 2000 by the name of Joella Productions. During a brainstorming session, Sid came up with the idea of a children's TV series based on the names of tube stations, which is how Underground Ernie was born.
The series focuses on the adventures of Ernie, the controller of International Underground. He works with his colleagues, computer expert Millie who loves all things international, and Mr Rails, the maintenance man who's been working at the railway for over 25 years. The trains have their own characters too. Bakerloo is the detective of the Underground, while Hammersmith and City are two fast and furious twins who love quizzes and banking. Victoria is the oldest and has seen it all. She acts as a grandmother figure to all the trains, offering a helping hand whenever they need guidance, and Circle is the hippy chick, who loves nature and animals, as well as helping her friends out. Jubilee is the youngest of the team, and he's gadget mad, as well as being very mischievous. Over the course of the series, they are joined by their friends from across the world, such as the snooty Paris, gentle giant Moscow and fun-loving Brooklyn. In each episode, Ernie comes across a problem that he needs a fix, needing the help of the trains or passengers, or both.
Main article: List of Underground Ernie characters
- Ernie - the supervisor of the railway network. (voiced by Gary Lineker)
- Millie - Ernie's travel-loving assistant and computer manager. (voiced by Emma Weaver)
- Mr Rails - the maintenance man who keeps the trains in working order. (voiced by Howard Ward)
Main article: Series 1
The show has one series, comprised of 26 episodes. The episodes last 12 minutes each and were first broadcast on June 5th 2006, before finishing on December 25th 2006. The show continued to be repeated until December 2009.
Channel 4 were originally slated to show the series, but after a lot of deliberation, the BBC brought the rights to the series in 2005. In its premier run, Underground Ernie would be broadcast at 9am on BBC 2, followed by a repeat on the CBeebies channel at 4:30pm that afternoon.
BBC 4 showed an episode as part of their themed "Tube Night" on 18th March 2007.
The visuals for the show were produced by 3D Films for the cost of £4 million($7 million) using Lightwave 3D software. The overall design is inspired by the real life London Underground, and Transport for London allowed the series the use of several design elements, including their distinctive Underground "roundel" logo.
The series was produced from October 2001 to December 2003. Rumour has it that the BBC was due to start broadcasting the show in 2005, but the BBC delayed it after the July 7th bombings of that year, which included an attack on the Underground, which would make the broadcast rather ill timed.
A second series has been on the cards since 2006. Co-creator John Deery has been seeking a £5.5 million investment in a bid to break the US market, with funds raised from that going towards making a second series. This hasn't happened yet, however.
According to creative director Adam Batham, the strained relationship between 3D Films and Joella Productions prevented another series from being made.
The show was a ratings hit for CBeebies, earning some of their highest viewing figures for the channel, even beating more popular shows like Bob the Builder. The first episode achieved a 31.8% share – a massive 15 share points up on the previous four weeks slot average.
In 2013, shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh commended Underground Ernie for having a positive main female character in the form of Victoria, saying that a strong female influence such as hers could help create more jobs for women in the transport industry.