HIT man built huge stable of kids shows


Kids entertainment veteran Peter Orton, the colorful founder and chairman of HIT Entertainment, has died after a long struggle with cancer, it was disclosed Thursday. He was 64.

HIT, the company that created "Bob the Builder" and became the U.K.'s leading preschool program producer, originally was the distribution arm of the Jim Henson Co.

Orton, one of the most enthusiastic media entrepreneurs in the U.K., was behind the launch of a range of global preschool TV franchises, including "Pingu," "Angelina Ballerina" and "Kipper."

"He managed to be one of those very rare executives who could be creative- and business-minded," said British Sky Broadcasting deputy managing director Sophie Turner Laing, one of HIT's original co-founders, who began her career working with Orton at Henson.

Originally launching HIT on the basis of distribution rights to 60 episodes of "Alvin and the Chipmunks," Orton built a programming stable of preschool TV brands as well as a hugely successful licensing and merchandising business that eventually became the growth engine for the business.

HIT was sold to private-equity firm Apax Partners for £489 million in 2005, after which Orton began pursuing a range of charitable activities. He was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago.

"Peter was incredibly dynamic; he could be very scary or very energizing," Turner Laing said. "The group of us who worked together (launching HIT) remained incredibly close."