Kiwi grandmother creates children’s media hit
Gill Pittar looks set to be the creator of the next hit children’s brand, just like Bob The Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine. The well-spoken grandmother from Gisborne has already seen her series of Milly, Molly books sell over 3.5 million copies in 109 countries. The Milly, Molly animated TV series she has helped to write, an adaptation of her books, has been shown in 9 regions – across Europe,
South America, Scandinavia, Canada, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and NZ and with a second series out next
year, Milly, Molly looks set to become a major brand in children’s entertainment.
“It’s a real thrill to see the characters come to life on the screen,” Gill says, after writing 80 books and designing
the Milly, Molly dolls. “This whole ride has been absolutely fascinating. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but ultimately very
satisfying and rewarding. The greatest thing is knowing you’re making a difference.”
Gill says she recognised a void in children’s media concerning values and believes that’s what accounts for the series’
success. “I grew up in the country and I guess things were quite different back then. Like every New Zealand country
child I built huts, dammed up creeks, helped in the woolshed, docked lambs, built trolleys and went down hills far too
fast, got chased by bulls and had wonderful adventures.”
“How we all survived those days, I don’t know,” Gill jokes. Yet the values Milly, Molly imparts is serious business and it is for that reason that the series is striking a chord worldwide.
“Perhaps I’m old school, but it was quite different then. We were brought up with the sort of values Milly Molly stands for,” she says. “The teaching of values has slipped these days. Children growing up in front of computers often
don’t get the chance to learn about diversity and develop their self-esteem. Having values about how you treat others
leads to a healthy self esteem – and that’s the nub of it, self esteem is what a child needs to flourish.” Gill believes
the series has succeeded worldwide, because others recognise the lack that she does.
As with any woman who has achieved success at an international level, Gill has had to overcome adversity. In the early
1980s she left farming in Blenheim when the bottom fell out of the market, to set up a New Zealand Made Shop in Remuera,
Auckland. That’s where she learnt a great deal about sales and merchandising, and with the success of her business was
soon offered a larger premises. “Eventually though I found myself working for the landlord,” Gill explains, “and by that
stage I had become more excited about the Topsy-Turvy dolls I had been making for the shop.”
The dolls were called Milly and Milly, the Reconciliation Doll for World Peace and Harmony. Milly was dark and Molly
fair, and together they carried the message, ‘We may look different but we feel the same.’ With the characters developed
through the dolls, Gill began writing the books and this led to the creation of the Milly, Molly brand. “It’s reached a momentum now,” Gill says, “as we’ve got investors and television behind us. But what I guess
people are realising is that our world has become a little rough around the edges, and the values taught in Milly, Molly can make a difference.”
Some of Gill’s moves from country to city and back to country again have been driven by two heartbreaking tragedies in
her life. Gill and husband John, lost a daughter in a school bus accident, and their only son suffered a brain injury in
a car accident at the age of 19.
However Gill maintains these events did not lead her to writing. “It was something I’d always wanted to do, and
something I did because I saw a gap. The world’s got a lot smaller now and there’s a real need for values education. We
all need to pull together a bit more for the good of mankind and the planet.”
Although Gill has received international acclaim for her books, it is the little things that please her most. She was
delighted when the New Zealand Police picked up the titles to help educate children on keeping themselves safe. And as
we were speaking she was just overseeing large dispatches of books going out to South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia.
While the success of Milly, Molly means that Gill may not be your typical Kiwi grandmother, it is by drawing on the values of the New Zealand many of us
grew up in, that is helping her to contribute to the world stage.
BY SIMON ANGELO