Monday November 1, 1982 marked a significant first in the history of Welsh media as S4C began broadcasting – and the world’s very first, and still only, Welsh language TV channel’s breakout star proved to be a toy bear. 

Homes across Wales were glued to their television sets at 6pm as Wales became the first country in the UK to gain a fourth television channel. 

The first programme shown on S4C was a specially commissioned cartoon series which the channel had beaten off competition from Hollywood giants Warner Brothers to secure. That meant S4C - launching a day earlier than Channel 4 which broadcast in the rest of the UK - opened with none other than SuperTed. 

The “ordinary teddy bear” had been discarded and “thrown away like a piece of rubbish” after a fault was discovered on the production line and consigned to a “dark store room”. 

That’s when a spaceman from a rocket ship brought him to life with cosmic dust, took him to a magic cloud where Mother Nature bestowed super powers on him by whispering a secret word, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

In 1983, having become a star in Wales, SuperTed was revoiced in English and broadcast across the UK via BBC children’s television. 

The success of a character, who had started out as a bed time story creator Mike Young would tell his young stepson at their home on the outskirts of Cardiff, led to some real-life transformations. 

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The rejected animated bear transformed into a recognisable symbol of the fledgling S4C and an actual bear as SuperTed merchandise began flying off the shelves. 

Mike had been a salesman who sold food mixers but stepson Richard’s nursery teacher had encouraged him to pitch the idea as a cartoon as the tales had so engrossed the youngster. 

The National Wales: The Welsh language Superted was voiced by the legendary rock musician and poet Geraint JarmanThe Welsh language Superted was voiced by the legendary rock musician and poet Geraint Jarman

A series of children’s books had already been created, which had attracted the attention of Warner Brothers, but Mike’s determination to create a Welsh language superhero saw him agree a tie up with S4C and allowed him to set up his own company Siriol Animation. 

The new channel’s demand for new Welsh language content, which had previously only been produced for a limited number of hours a week at off-peak times on BBC Wales and the ITV network’s HTV station, supported the firm as it animated other Welsh language children’s characters such as Wil Cwac Cwac. 

The National Wales: Ebbw Vale actor Victor Spinetti - pictured here with John Lennon - voiced baddie Texas Pete in the English language version. Ebbw Vale actor Victor Spinetti - pictured here with John Lennon - voiced baddie Texas Pete in the English language version.

In less than two years Siriol, based in Cardiff’s Docklands, became one of Europe’s largest animation studios, with a turnover of more than £1 million and the production process supported other TV and film start ups.  

Each episode of SuperTed cost an estimated £60,000 to produce and 36 were made from 1982 to 1986 with the series, which was notable for the quality of its animation, also sold to TV stations from America to Australia including such far flung destinations as Nigeria and Singapore as well as being voiced for stations in Sweden, Norway and France and for Ireland’s RTE into Irish. 

The National Wales: BBC Play School presenter, Derek Griffiths, was the voice of Superted in the English languageBBC Play School presenter, Derek Griffiths, was the voice of Superted in the English language

Another feature was the care and thought given to the voices. SuperTed’s first language was voiced by the Welsh language singer Geraint Jarman and when he transitioned to the English language, the Play School presenter Derek Griffiths loaned his voice to the crafty bear. 

Creator Mike was also able to call in his cousin, Ebbw Vale actor Victor Spinetti, to add further star quality, and not only as the voice of baddie Texas Pete. 

The showbiz veteran, who had starred in all of the Beatles films, used his contacts book to assemble a cast which saw It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’s Melvyn Hayes voice the cowardly Skeleton, Spinetti’s Help co-star Roy Kinner play dimwitted Bulk and Worzel Gummidge star Jon Pertwee as SuperTed’s sidekick Spotty. 

The National Wales: Third Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee, provided the voice for Spotty, Superted's bumbling companion and best friendThird Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee, provided the voice for Spotty, Superted's bumbling companion and best friend

On the back of international hit, with a stellar cast, Mike was able to take his talents to Hollywood as his Mike Young Productions firm became one of the largest independent animation studios in North America. 

Mike and wife Liz still live in Los Angeles today, as does Richard, and they head up new firm Splash Entertainment which works on a variety of animation projects, including a partnership with Universal Studios to produce Mariah Carey’s first animated motion picture, All I Want for Christmas is You. 

There was even a Superted road safety public information film made for the Welsh Office. It featured animated scenes of Cardiff including the then National Stadium and Cardiff Arms Park, as well as the Animal Wall on Castle Street. 

Earlier this year it was also reported that Mike is bringing back SuperTed with the once unwanted bear set to return to TV screens in 2023. 

Whatever the next adventures of SuperTed bring, it’s worth remembering the much-loved character is part of a Welsh success story that many had been willing to write off from the start. 

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