David Farrier delves into the 30-year-old mystery of Richard A Kontos, a man with a dream of a better world. A man obsessed with talking peas and the tiny town of Peasville.
It all started with an email.
“A man named Richard A Kontos from Daisy Hill, Queensland, has for the past 30 odd years been trying to bring his idea of a children friendly picture book to life about anthropomorphic peas in a town called Peasville.”
It was a lot to take in, but Daniel, a local man in Brisbane, Australia, thought I should know about it.
And I’m glad he brought it to my attention.
“I’m here to tell you a story that might just change your life,” says an actor sitting in a giant leather chair.
I’m watching an early promotional video from the early 1990s for a line of children’s books, and videos and CDs focussing around a place called Peasville.
“If this is your first introduction to the world of Peasville, then you’re in for a treat,” says the man, who speaks in a grandfatherly tone. A fire roars behind him.
“Tonight, you will not only be given the chance to positively affect your children’s future,” he continues, “But also to join one of the fastest growing, multi-level marketing systems in the world!”
It becomes evident that Peasville was in fact some kind of multi-level marketing scheme founded in the early 90s. These products weren’t found in any stores – you had to buy them from a registered Peasville distributor.
The children’s series starred Mr Authorpeadick, a role that seemed to be assumed by creator Richard Kontos. You meet Kontos later in the video:
The video goes on to show various Peasville products being created – from 3D animations on old 90s PC’s, to a printing press spitting out Peasville books.
Peasville appeared to be a thriving international brand, all based in Australia. Which is exactly what the video went to on to say. “The concept is now a thriving international phenomenon, creating and marketing products that promote the Peasville philosophy throughout the world.”
But somewhere, the Peasville universe went wrong. The 1994 promotional video was uploaded onto YouTube on September 8, 2017, on an account called “Inspector Peabobby and Friends”. The description of the video ominously stated:
THE 1994 PROMOTION VIDEO WHEN PEASVILLE WAS FIRING. WHEN IT WAS A GREAT SUCCESS THE WRONG PEOPLE GOT INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT AND I NEARLY LOST IT. I THEN CLOSED IT DOWN
I wanted to know what went wrong in Peasville, and also find out what Peasville had been, exactly.
They were all down.
But those earlier words were echoing in my brain: THE WRONG PEOPLE GOT INVOLVED.
In my experience, the wrong people getting involved often leads to legal drama, so I thought it was worth diving into Queensland’s court records, in case Peasville had ever ended up in front of a judge. Turned out, it had:
In 1997, Kontos was convicted of 13 counts of “obtaining credit without disclosing his bankruptcy”. Kontos had previously been made bankrupt back in 1991, but had gone on to get around $290,000 from a variety of investors.
In among lots of arguing over exact numbers, the judge appeared confused over the concept of Peasville, saying “As best I can understand, […] the appellant had developed a concept based upon either the letter P, or the vegetable pea, or perhaps both.”
Kontos had set up three businesses, Peasville Trading Ltd, Peasville Holdings Ltd, and Peasville Network Systems Ltd.
Because he was bankrupt at the time, he couldn’t serve as director, so presumably arranged for his wife and a colleague to do so instead. “There is little doubt, however, that they effectively acted at his direction, at least until late 1994,” said Judge Dowsett.
The judgement is a long one, and it becomes apparent Kontos had a falling out with his now ex-wife during the proceedings. “[Kontos] had said that his former wife was ‘trying to take my Peasville off me!’” said the judge.
The Court of Appeal decision didn’t go in Kontos’ favour, and he was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
That should have been the end of Peasville. But it wasn’t.
In 2013 – sixteen years after his court case – Kontos appeared yet again, created an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for Peasville e-books. The dream wasn’t over.
The campaign offered further insight into what Peasville actually was.
“Peasville started in 1990 when author Richard Kontos found a dried up pea on top of a pizza in a Brisbane, Australia, Pizza Hut restaurant. He and his dining companions tossed the pea from side to side and rolled it round giving it quaint names like Inspector Peabobby, Sweetpea, Snowpea and other names all referring to peas,” the campaign stated.
“Richard felt the desire to write down a story he had in his mind about this pea and asked the waitress for a piece of paper and a pencil. She gave him a serviette and a typical sawn-off pencil, and the first story was written there and then. After that Richard still had inspirations of stories about peas, and during the rest of that year six more stories were written and the Tiny Town of Peasville was born.”
The campaign went into great detail, telling the story of the time Kontos read one of his Pea-related stories in front of his church in Australia, where it was a giant hit.
In the following year – 1992 – he wrote 25 more stories about Peasville. In 1993, Kontos “shut out everything in his life” to concentrate on Peasville.
“Richard has written over 300 stories, along with an opera, pantomimes, video and movie scripts, all with a non-violent theme, for young children.”
There was no talk of 1997’s court case or prison sentence, but Kontos did hint at other trouble.
“I have had a few marketeers offer me world distribution contracts. As we hear all the time, some of these people are unscrupulous..The ones I met wanted to own Peasville and change it to what they wanted, with violence added. I didn’t want that,” said Kontos.
“I wanted it to be without that overpowering adult connotation and dark humour and blatant satanic and black magic production that our children just don’t need.”
But black magic or not, things went off the rails. It was like the 90s all over again.
The IndieGoGo campaign closed with only two backers contributing a total of $125.
He’d needed $5000.
I reached out to a number of people who had worked on Peasville over the years – but information wasn’t easy to come by. I got the feeling people simply didn’t want to trample on Kontos’ life-long dream.
“Many people have tried to produce it, but he’s just too hard to work with. He’s holding onto it for dear life,” one person told me. “I can only imagine if Richard was on Shark Tank, they would eat him for breakfast. But they would say, It was a great idea… but licence it and get a royalty!’ Richard should have done that 25 years ago.”
Kontos’ digital footprint isn’t huge. Neither is Peasville, despite being a supposed multimillion-dollar industry at one point. The only product I could find was in eBay, with one lonely listing under “Peasville”:
What does offer more insight into the mind of Kontos is his YouTube page I’d found earlier, Inspector Peabobby and Friends. While mainly packed full of Peaville 3D animations, a few videos offer a view into the fascinating man behind them.
He’s also been uploading videos for his friend Mark Gaudet, who seems to be selling his books on Christianity. Gaudet’s website states that, “Thirty five years have passed and Mark has come from an illiterate background of drugs and alcohol to thirty five years teaching God’s word.”
Gaudet’s friendship with Kontos seems to make sense, the two Christians sharing similar views about the evils of this world, and the need to write books.
Kontos’ channel also features videos that show Peasville was – at some point – a live show, complete with lifesize anthropomorphic peas:
But aside from eBay and YouTube, Peasville information was scarce.
The only recent reference I could find about Peasville was a piece called Peace in Peasville, written by an eager journalism student:
I read on. I checked the date. It was written in 2018. This very year. Peasville wasn’t dead. Daniel – the man who had emailed me about this – was right: Peasville was still going strong, 30 years later.
The piece appeared to have been motivated by Kontos’ return to IndieGoGo in February this year:
This time, he wasn’t raising $5000 for books, he was seeking $88,000 for a children’s TV show. It was unclear who would air the show, but Kontos seemed very keen to make it. He needed to hire animators and set up his studio. It wouldn’t be cheap.
The sell sounded familiar, but the figures were more impressive. Kontos has been busy.
“In the Peasville Theme, I have written 429 books about all the things that happen around and in the Tiny Town of Peasville. We have 18 main stars in this series with over 100 co-stars and as many walk-ins, as we need out of the 1300 Characters that we have developed to create crowd scenes”.
A cast of 1,300 characters is staggering, outdoing shows like South Park and The Simpsons. All that variety out of a simple pea. Doctors, nurses, engineers – Kontos has the lot. There are even specific character in wheelchairs, which he calls “Wheeliepeas”.
But as usual, drama. The second IndieGoGo campaign closed in worse shape than the first, with zero dollars and zero backers.
There was also drama afoot online, with allegations of a stolen hard-drive containing all the original Peasville designs, Kontos referring to it as “The Peasville Bible”.
“One of the external drives is our backup drives” Kontos posted on Facebook. “All the original drawings of my work over the last 27 years.”
Kontos’ allegations against those at Peasville Studios didn’t stop there, and on June 11, their Artistic Director resigned:
McCullough had appeared earlier in Peasville videos, enthusiastically talking about the project. The artistic director added a certain level of star power to the Peasville team, making headlines when he moved to Queensland in 2013:
Recalling the video back in 1994, I wondered: Why was Kontos refusing to let go of Peasville? It had cost him not only jail time, but 30 years of his life.
I had to talk to Kontos.
Doing some basic maths, I figured he was 40 when he started this endeavour. He would now be 70. I reached out to him on Facebook, and he replied with a thumbs up. He was still breathing. And still keen to talk Peasville.
My talks with Kontos online were not always straightforward. He would sometimes respond with specific answers to my questions, and sometimes appear to copy and paste from what must have at some point been a Q&A section.
Some answers were vague, and others more specific – like when I asked him to tell me a little about himself:
“Born Richard Anthony Stephen Kontos, on the 8th of February 1949, to parents George (Parents from Kastelorizo) and Mavis (nie Smalley from Irish stock, county Klare) Kontos (shortened from Kontuzoglus) at the Royal Brisbane Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The fifth great-grandson, of explorers Mary and James Ready from North Queensland, Australia.”
I wanted to know about the drama about in the early 90s, when the Peasville business was getting started.
“Yes, a group of 17 people tried to get rid of me and take over Peasville,” Kontos replied. “They failed, but with great pain to me and my family”.
“One group offered millions for me to assign all my copyrights over to him, but I could not, as I just wanted someone to work with me… not get rid of me and my crew. I have had four groups of vulture funders over the years all wanting my work… sorry stealing my work,” he concluded.
It was difficult to get specifics from Kontos, but then we were talking about drama from 30 years ago. He was better on details about his current production, which lives on despite the failed IndieGoGo campaign:
He told me: “79 [staff] come and go and a few that stay 24/7 – mainly animators – and we now have the two main live on stage presenters and costumes ready but for a few details then we can do the live show.”
I find myself hoping Peasville one days gets the attention it deserves. Kontos has put so much work into this. It’s his passion, his driving force. Perhaps there’s still time for a wealthy investor to come along and give Peasville a final chance to shine.
“I just love what I am doing, and even if I don’t get Peasville out to the world, I will have left a legacy for my children,” he said.
He lives a quiet life, working on Peasville, posting on Facebook, and spending time with his wife.
“My main hobby is model railroading and making videos for my friends,” he told me. “I did have a job, but now I am 70, so just pension.”
He ended my writing in the visionary language I’ve become so used to during my short stay in Peasville. As he types, I notice Kontos has slipped back into the role of Mr Authorpeadick – something he tends to do when talking fondly of his 30-year-long dream.
“Mr Authorpeadick’s Peasville Studios Pty Ltd’s office and studio complex spans a two acre prime location site, and with refurbishment underway, will include state-of-the-art film, television, and animation studios, as well as a huge auditorium for live stage shows, and there are plans for an exciting theme park.”
He paused, then typed: “Not all the above went to plan”.