herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

TV PUPPETS

children's characters are often off the wall, writes pat stacey, especially those made of cloth

I went to the cinema with two of my daughters to see The Muppets the other day. It's a delightful treat: funny, charming and packed with colourful production numbers that are as deliberately cornball as Fozzie Bear's jokes and every bit as endearing.

There's even a tear-jerking moment during its more wistful scenes, although none of the tedious, post-modern smartassedness that blights so many family films.

The best news of all is that the film's box-office success means a new Muppets TV series, the first in 14 years, is already in the pipeline. All of which got us to thinking about some other fuzz-fur-and-felt television creations.



HARTLEY HARE

A hideously tatty-looking creature with creepy eyes, crooked teeth and a camp, rather intimidating rasp of a voice (think Kenneth Williams with a throat infection). Hartley was one of the puppet stars of ITV's Pipkins-- and the stuff of nightmares. The YouTube clip in which he tells young viewers "you can be naughty with a glove puppet" bears closer inspection.



BARNEY

I don't know about you, but if my kids hung out in the playground with a seven-foot purple dinosaur they'd summoned up from their imaginations, I'd have the shrink on speed-dial. "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family . . ." What family's that, Barney? The Manson family?



ZIPPY, GEORGE AND BUNGLE

There was always something unusual about the relationship between ITV children's show Rainbow's three characters: Zippy, the gabby one with the rugby-ball head and a zip on his mouth; George, the camp, pink hippo, and Bungle the bear (a man in a hairy suit), who walked around naked but wore pyjamas to bed and wrapped a towel around his waist after taking a shower.

The performers seemed to think so too, judging by the innuendo-laden sketch they made for the 1978 Thames Television Christmas tape. Intended to be seen only by staff, it's become a YouTube legend.



BILL and BEN



Black-and-white children's programmes from the 1950s always look eerie and none more so than the lanky string-puppets Bill and Ben, who dangled across screens in repeats for 20 years, like the inhabitants of an opium dream. The 2002 stop-motion remake, which rebooted them as hyperactive tearaways in need of a few doses of Ritalin, lacked the original's unsettling quality. No wonder I hate gardening.



ANDY PANDY

From the people who brought us Bill and Ben came Andy Pandy, which was even further off the weird-o-meter. Andy, possibly television's first metrosexual, was a marionette who wore stripy pyjamas, a girlish bonnet and lipstick. He lived in a picnic basket with a girl-doll called Looby Loo and a teddy called, er, Teddy. Though Andy was supposed to be cute, his lopsided grin and curled upper lip made him look like a cousin of Chucky the killer doll from the Child's Play movies.



JUDGE

We couldn't finish without mention of Wanderly Wagon's Judge the dog, who beguiled generations of Irish children. Sadly, Judge's puppeteer, Eugene Lambert, is no longer with us but Wanderly Wagon is still popular on DVD, despite ending 30 years ago. With production of Irish children's programmes on a roll, a Wanderly Wagon remake would be ideal. But puppets, please, not CGI.

>clan wars Following the kind of excited anticipation one usually associates with the imminent arrival of the electricity bill, TV3's version of Family Fortunes, hosted by the all-purpose Alan Hughes, starts tonight. And what glittering celebrity line-up awaits viewers for the first edition? None other than reticent wallflower Amanda Brunker and family, who'll be doing battle with clerical singers The Priests. As the Family Fortunes computer says when someone gives a dud answer: "UH-UUHN!"

>long-distance laughs The 'You Say' section of the Sunday Times's Culture magazine is an endless source of amusement. Last Sunday, Barry Smith wrote in praise of Mrs Brown's Boys: "Brendan O'Carroll is somewhere between Eric Morecambe and Robin Williams."

Morecambe's ashes are scattered in Harpenden, England. Williams lives in Napa, California. So, that puts O'Carroll approximately 4,500 kilometres away from either of them. Sounds about right.

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