It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights...
TV Puppets on TV fall into a number of categories:
- String puppets, such as Andy Pandy
- Hand puppets, such as the Muppets or Sooty
- Finger puppets, such as... well, Fingermouse
- Ventriloquist's puppets, such as Archie Andrews or Orville the Duck
- Whole body puppets, such as the Teletubbies
From Muffin the Mule in 1946, to the Muppets (whose latest film, Muppets From Space, opens this year), puppets have formed an integral part of Children's TV. This page, therefore, is dedicated to the TV shows we all knew and loved - especially those from the heyday of Watch with Mother.
- Andy Pandy
- Bill and Ben
- Button Moon
- Captain Scarlet
- Joe 90
- The Muppets
- Pussy Cat Willum
- Roland Rat
- The Woodentops
- Zig and Zag
Throughout this entry, the dates shown signify when the series were first produced, although obviously many of these series have been repeated since.
Andy Pandy, 1950 - 1970
Andy Pandy was the first star of Watch With Mother. He was a toddler who lived in a picnic basket. His co-stars were a scruffy Teddy bear and a rag doll called Looby Loo.
Twenty-six original black and white episodes were made, and in 1970, 13 new episodes were made in colour.
Bill and Ben, 1952 - 1954
Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men, made their television debut on Watch with Mother in 1952. They were humanoid figures made from flowerpots. Their manner of speech, liberally sprinkled with 'flibadobs' and 'flobadobs', bordered the far limits of intelligibility and pre-dates Tellytubby dialect by nearly 50 years.
Bill and Ben spent most of their time hiding in two very big flower pots on either side of their friend Little Weed, whose conversation was pretty much limited to variations of the word 'We-e-ee-ed!'. They could only come out in safety when they knew that the Gardener was at dinner. Lord knows what the Gardener would have done if he had ever caught them! It was never really explained; but everyone knew it would be horrible!
When 'the man who worked in the garden' went for his dinner, the fun began. Little Weed announced the all-clear: 'We-ee-e-eed'; and Bill and Ben would cautiously peer over the tops of their big flowerpots saying , 'flibadob'...'flobadob'... and we were off on another 15 minute adventure.
The stories usually involved Bill and Ben discovering some new and unimagined artefact left behind by the gardener. The climax was most often near the end of the programme, when Bill or Ben would get stuck in whatever they had found; or, at least, discover that they were unable to put what they had been playing with back exactly as they had found it; which was vital, if they were to remain undiscovered. As Bill and Ben wrestled with their dilemma, Little Weed would begin screeching warnings of the return of the-man-who-works-in-the-garden, 'Wee-ee-ee-e-ed... Wee-eee-ed!!!'.
Fortunately, in every case, they managed to put things right in the nick of time. Back in their flowerpots, they would hide until their next chance to sneak out, while the gardener was away.
Button Moon, 1980(?)
We're off to Button Moon
to visit Mr Spoon
Ah! What memorable words! And so difficult to learn! This programme was about the Spoon family. Mr Spoon had a spaceship into which the Spoon family and their friends Daddy Egbert, Vanilla and Egbert, would travel to Button Moon in every episode. There Mr Spoon would spy on everyone using his telescope.
Mrs Spoon wore a green stripey outfit and had yellow mop hair and a big red nose. Once, and only once, did Mr Spoon let her fly the spaceship, so this can hardly be described as an enlightened show!
Button Moon had a bottle army, and the main characters in this were Captain Large and Small Bottle. Their job was to keep order on Button Moon, and they lived in drainpipe castle. Small Bottle was quite a cheeky character, especially as far as Captain Large was concerned.
There was also a band on Button Moon called the Singing Hotspots. Their greatest hit was 'Letting off Steam' and they had great names like Steaming Steve, Bubbling Brian, Boiling George and Hot Rod. The single was actually released, but mercifully it never got into the charts.
Captain Scarlet, 1960s
Captain Scarlet is another Andersonfest marionette extravaganza, with strings so fine you could hardly see them. The premise is that Earth is under attack by the Mysterons (from Mars). The first line of defence is Spectrum, a military organisation which exists, for no adequately explained reason, on a sort of flying aircraft carrier.
The Mysterons' secret weapon is their ability to destroy something, or someone, then resurrect it, indestructible and under their control. This has happened to two Spectrum agents: Captain Black and Captain Scarlet. But - and here's the twist - Captain Scarlet was not fully Mysteronised, and got back onto the side of the good guys.
There is some obvious symbolism in the characters' names: bad Captain Black, good Colonel White, aircraft flown by Harmony Angel, Destiny Angel, and so on. Each weekly episode starts with the Mysterons telling Spectrum exactly what they are going to do:
'This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know you can hear us, Earthmen...
...Which, when you consider that Spectrum always promptly thwarts their evil plans, is a bit puzzling really.
The best by-product of the series was the toy vehicles. Especially the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, complete with Captain Scarlet figure on a rather elaborate sliding chair thing which you could use to get him in and out.
Yoffi lifts a finger
And a mouse is there,
Puts his hands together
And a seagull takes the air;
Yoffi lifts a finger
And a scampi darts about;
Yoffi bends another
And a tortoise head peeps out;
These hands were made for making,
And making they must do!
Fingerbobs was a series from the early 1970s, and the most notable character was Fingermouse, who popped up in his own series in 1985 with the Music Man. In the original shows, accompanied by a bearded storyteller, Yoffi, there were a host of characters - a seagull, a scampi, a tortoise - named Flash, and the crow that was clever enough to get a drink of water out of a half empty jug by dropping pebbles into it, until the water-level had risen enough to reach with his beak. Each character was simply a cardboard and glove puppet on the end of Yoffi's finger.
The never stop to think-a-mouse,
the always on the brink-a-mouse,
Fingermouse, that's me.
I am the mouse called Fingermouse,
the mouse with guts and verve;
I get past cats so easily with my famouse body swerve;
I'm a sort of wonder-mouse;
a hit, a miss, a blunder-mouse,
Fingermouse, that's me.
Joe 90, 1967 - 1968
Gerry Anderson strikes again. Less successful than Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet,Joe 90 featured bespectacled Joe MacLaine, his father and - the best bit - a sort of car which flew. Also, it had great theme music, which makes a great Windows startup sound.
Father 'Mac' MacLaine invented a machine for imprinting recorded brainwaves into another mind, and tried it out on his son Joe. Nowadays this would earn you a visit from Social Services; but this was the '70s, so the Secret Service came along instead. They and Mac sent young Joe on a series of dangerous missions, in which he was able to save democracy by using the skills of scientists, engineers and bank robbers, all imparted to him by his father's machine, whilst being dismissed by the bad guys as just a kid. The machine, which imprinted the brain waves, was a huge spherical cage called B.I.G. R.A.T.
For some time, it looked as if brainy kids with glasses would become heroes in schools everywhere... But then the other kids reverted to type, and dismissed Joe 90 as a swotty four-eyes instead.
The Muppet Show 1976-19801
Though only originally aired for five seasons, the fact that each series was 24 episodes long meant that the Muppets seemed to be on TV forever. Whereas Gerry Anderson could be counted on for drama and intrigue, Kermit and Co had personality, they had charisma.
The most memorable characters are Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who had a torturous love-hate relationship, which plainly showed just who wore the trousers in that couple. Not Kermit. And who could forget Gonzo the Great? The Manuel of the Muppets, much loved and yet often squashed. How about Fozzie Bear? Vaguely reminiscent of Tommy Cooper with his hapless jokes. Who was your favourite? Scooter the floor manager? Dr Bunsen Honeydew (the scientist with no eyes) and Beaker (his lab assistant)? Everyone remembers the two cantankerous old duffers sitting in their private box, but did you remember their names were Statler and Waldorf?
Pussy Cat Willum, 1959-1960s
Pussy Cat Willum was the star of Small Time, when it was first transmitted in 1959. He appeared with Wally Whyton. Willum achieved superstar status, receiving as many as 400 letters per week.
Other characters included:
- Sarah and Hoppity
- Snoozy the sea-lion with Dorothy Smith
- Theodore the rabbit with Larry Parker
- Ollie Beak and Fred Barker (created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin)
Roland Rat, 1983 - 1991
Roland Rat, a loud-mouthed, cockney egomaniac rodent who lived with his extended family in the sewers under Kings Cross Station, London, was created by David Claridge and first appeared in his Amazing Shedvision Show in 1983 on the flagging breakfast TV programme TVam. The station's viewing figures rocketed (the first case of a rat saving a sinking ship?).
Roland went on to star in:
- Rat On The Road, in which he toured Britain in his pink Ratmobile
- Roland's Winter Wonderland , in which he went skiing in Switzerland
- Roland Goes East , in which he visited Hong Kong
- Rat On The Road II , in which he toured Britain again
- Various studio-based shows
In 1985, he left TVam to work for the BBC, who used him for numerous series up to 1991: two series of Roland Rat - The Series, Tales of the Rodent Sherlock Homes, Ratman, Roland's Easter Extravaganza and, finally, two series of Roland's Rat Race.
Roland's various companions included:
- Kevin, a slightly effeminate gerbil from Leeds in West Yorkshire, UK
- Errol, a leek-eating, male-voice-choir-loving Welsh hamster
- Glenys, Roland's girlfriend, an extremely posh guinea pig
- Little Reggie, Roland's irritating younger brother
At the height of his fame, Roland managed to score two top 40 hit singles: 'Rat Rapping' at Christmas, 1983, and an intriguing version of Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender', the following Easter. Sadly, Kevin The Gerbil's rendition of 'Summer Holiday' was less successful.
Anne Wood, who commissioned the series, went on to create another set of vastly successful furry creatures...
Teletubbies, 1997 - 1998
Over the hills and far away,
Teletubbies come to play.
Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa, Po,
Teletubbies, teletubbies say 'Hello'.
Variously loved and hated by children and adults of all ages, Teletubbies is undoubtedly one of the most successful Children's TV series of all time. It is considered 'poor viewing' for kids from some rather stuffy adults, who must have forgotten they were brought up on Bill and Ben.
Teletubbies was filmed in Warwickshire, UK, near Stratford-upon-Avon, this pre-school TV show stars four loveable larger than life puppets:
|Dalmation effect hat
In the year 2020 alien spacecraft destroy NASA's Mars Expedition! The evil Zelda and her android minions set up base on Mars and begin plotting Earth's destruction. Who is left to stand in her way? Doctor 'Tiger' Ninestein and the Terrahawks, that's who!
Tiger Ninestein's elite force:
- Captain Mary Falconer
- Captain Kate Kestrel
- Lieutenant Hiro
- Lieutenant Hawkeye
- Sergeant Major Zero
- Space Sergeant 101
- The Zeroids
Together they form the Terrahawks, whose mission is to stop Zelda's invasion.
One of the many popular puppet series from the Gerry Anderson stable
Thunderbirds was made by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Century 21 Productions in England from 1964 - 1966. There were 32 episodes altogether.
The year is 2063. An intrepid astronaut called Jeff Tracy has formed a secret organisation called International Rescue. They monitor signals from space and, when needed, launch their THUNDERBIRD craft to help. They are all secretly based at Tracy Island, somewhere in the Pacific.
Piloted by Scott Tracy: a rocket, launched from underneath the swimming pool. It is always first on the scene, and is used to assess and co-ordinate the rescue.
Piloted by Virgil Tracy: this is the workhorse, rolled out and launched from a secret door in the cliff the family home is perched on. It can carry a variety of pods in its belly. Each pod contains useful equipment including vehicles used for rescues.
Piloted by Alan Tracy: a spaceship, launched through the center of the round house. It is used mainly for ferrying to and from Thunderbird 5, but also for any space mission.
Piloted by Gordon Tracy: a submarine, usually carried in one of Thunderbird 2's pods. It is used for underwater missions. It is equipped with an assortment of tools.
Usually manned by John Tracy, occasionally swapping with Alan, is a space station. This is used for monitoring literally everything.
The Thunderbirds meet many challenges, including those created by their arch-enemy The Hood, an evil criminal genius, and the Zombites, a lost race of people. They are helped by Brains, who is the boffin who thinks up all their rescue plans; Kerano, the servant, who often falls under his evil half-brother, The Hood's, control; Kerano's daughter, who helps Brains; and, of course, their London agent Lady Penelope, who has a pink Rolls Royce (registration FAB1*) driven by her chauffeur Parker, an ex-criminal with many useful skills.
The Woodentops, 1955
The Woodentops joined the Watch with Mother line-up in 1955. They were a big part of what made Fridays fun for people too young to crave the end of the work week. They were a very nice family of crude puppets, who resembled clothes pegs.
The Woodentops were endearing, mainly because they sounded like real people (Except Spotty dog, of course). They had simple rural adventures, that were appealing, because they were comprehensible. As a child, it was easy to imagine yourself helping Daddy Woodentop mend a fence; or help Mummy Woodentop and Mrs. Scrubbit bake bread; and who wouldn't love a giant talking Dalmation like Spotty Dog , who could wave bye-bye with his ears?
The soothing piano theme music was capable of making you forget whatever mayhem you were presently engaged in. Then a 'Perfect Mummy' voice introduced the Woodentops:
'This is the story about the Woodentops. There was Mummy Woodentop and the baby; and Daddy Woodentop; then there were Willy and Jenny, the twins; and Mrs Scrubbit, who comes to help Mummy Woodentop; and Sam, who helps Daddy Woodentop; and last of all... the very biggest Spotty Dog you ever did see! And they all lived together in a little house in the country...'
Zig and Zag, 1990s
Now these two characters may seem to be somewhat contemporary to those of you who don't have access to Ireland's national TV stations, where they made their original appearance. They started off as support on children's afternoon TV with their human sidekick Ian Dempsey. The show was called Dempsey's Den, but after Ian left it simply became 'the den' or 'den TV'.
Zig and Zag come from the planet Zog and both have Zogabongs on their heads. They have a pet puppy called Zuppy, and one of their friends was Dustin the turkey, a cross between a turkey and a vulture, though he only claimed to be a vulture around Christmas time!
Zig is a beigy-fawn-cream colour and Zag is mostly purple/red with green spots. Zig tends to be the more infantile of the pair. They were a tremendous hit with the kids, but especially with college students, who would regularly miss afternoon lectures just to watch them do their stuff. Actually the puppet masters were themselves students at the time.
Their popularity was such that they made appearances on other mainstream TV and radio programmes. Eventually, their success led to them being poached by Channel 4 for their breakfast TV, and they've also been hosts on MTV Europe. They've had No 1 hit records too. They are back with a show Too Phat on Irish TV again with another of their human sidekicks Ray Darcy.