Behind the Scenes On Hey Duggee: “Laughter, Education and Incredible Songs”

Jungle Studios sound designer Dominic Dew on the joy and silliness of working on number one kids TV show, Hey Duggee

This year marked CBeebies 20th anniversary, with The Guardian placing its hit TV show, Hey Duggee in the number one spot in its top 20 list within the last 20 years. 

Hey Duggee is a British animated, educational television series for preschool kids, featuring a dog called Duggee, the main character and leader of The Squirrel Club who undertake a series of activities together in order to inspire young kids to play and learn.

The show has gathered huge success since its launch in December 2014, and is a six-time BAFTA and three-time International Emmy award winner. 

In this interview with LBB’s Sunna Coleman, sound designer Dominic Dew from Jungle Studios, reveals what it’s been like working on this masterpiece of kids TV, the comedy moments when voicing with kids, and his favourite songs that adults and kids alike instantly love.

LBB> You tell us you’ve been involved on the Hey Duggee kids TV series since the beginning. How long has it been altogether and what does your role on the project encompass?

Dominic Dew> I’ve been working on Hey Duggee since January 2015. I record the voices of all the characters and the narrator, Alexander Armstrong. My job is to provide a consistent audio recording for each voice, and provide the guys at Studio AKA with all the recordings in a way that they can navigate as quickly and easily as possible.

LBB> This year marked CBeebies 20th anniversary and The Guardian placed Hey Duggee in the number one spot in its top 20 list within the last 20 years. The show is also a six-time BAFTA and three-times International Emmy award winner. What do you think makes it so successful?

Dom> The way that Hey Duggee is written means that everyone can enjoy watching it. Even with over 150 episodes made so far, the ideas are still fresh and amusing. There are loads of references to classic films/80s musical references and so on that only an adult would know about, but it’s done in a way that is still amusing for the kids. This means that adults actually enjoy watching Hey Duggee, so they’re happy to watch it with their kids.

It’s also educational but not in a way that makes it feel educational, which again means that parents are more happy for the kids to be watching it. And the animation and colouring is so vivid and vibrant, that it’s a joy to watch. 

LBB> You work with Adam Longworth on the voiceover for a number of characters and Alexander Armstrong on narration. What have been some of your favourite moments from working with them over the years?

Dom> Working with Adam is always amusing and a rollercoaster ride. He voices a large number of the incidental characters in Duggee, most of whom return in different episodes. Adam always has so many ideas as to what kind of voice/accent a character should have. And he never fails to deliver. These recording sessions are a lot of fun!

Xander is also amazing to work with. His comic timing is excellent and he adds little nuances to his delivery that really do bring the humour to kids and adults, again adding to that inclusive nature of Hey Duggee. He’s a real pro, so that makes my life a little easier!

LBB> And what about voicing with kids, what are some of the challenges that come with that? 

Dom> Voicing with kids does definitely come with challenges. Especially when they’re new to the process. The thing about Duggee is that the kids need to sound young and cute. The last thing we want is for them to have perfect elocution, as that would spoil the nature of the show. So all the main characters (squirrels as they are known) are voiced by very young kids between four and 10 generally. 

When they are really young, it can be very hard. Kids that young find it very hard to stay still for much more than 30 seconds, so that’s challenge number one. They also take things really literally, so if, for example, they’re asked to say a line louder, you very often get the line SCREAMED at you. Which can be painful. Especially if you’re wearing headphones! Also, the take will be unusable. So that’s challenge number two.

Generally speaking, when the actors get a bit older, and the recording side of things have become a bit easier, they are becoming almost too good and their diction too polished so they tend to be replaced. So then you’re back to square one. Challenge number three.

LBB> How do you encourage the best voice acting from the kids you work with?

Dom> It’s really important to be positive with kids so they don’t feel like they’re doing a bad job. At the end of the day, they’re not professionals, so you can’t expect too much from them. So you really need to encourage them in a way that they relate to.

Give them examples of situations that they will be familiar with. Like… “Imagine you’re calling over to a friend who’s the other side of the playground” for when you want projection. Or… “Imagine your sister has just done something really annoying” if you want a little bit of frustration in their read.

And more than anything else, you just need to be patient.

LBB> You also collaborate with Tin Sounds on the songs for the series. What’s that process like and what was your favourite song to record to date?

Dom> Adam Longworth features on a lot of these songs as he voices so many characters on the show, along with Morgana Robinson and Lucy Montgomery (who are both amazing singers).

The process generally involves Tim and Toby from Tin Sounds directing over Zoom, as most of the record sessions have happened during the pandemic. I’ll be supplied the instrumental and the vocal guides, and we just have a great time learning the song and nailing the vocals. 

These sessions are great fun, and the job that Toby and Tim do with the songs is incredible. I don’t think there is a genre of music that we haven’t covered. I’m sure they will disagree…

It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I think Step by Step which features so many of my favourite characters is up there, along with Hey! Diddle Diddle.

LBB> What have been some of your highlights from working on this TV series?

Dom> I’m really glad you asked me that… On a few occasions, Grant (series creator and director) and Sander (animation director and director) have asked me to voice an incidental character. So I’ve been lucky enough to feature in three episodes now, one of which is yet to be released. I honestly feel like this is my greatest achievement in life yet! But seriously, I do feel honoured to be part of the Hey Duggee history.

LBB> What lessons have you applied to other projects or areas of your work?

Dom> Other than Duggee, I will never work with kids again! (Jokes)