Zippy and George’s Puppet Legends

Saturday, September 17, 2005 by

For some reason you just don’t seem to get a decent quality of puppet on the television these days. The kind of fuzzy-felt stars in this rundown simply cannot be matched by the lacklustre ones that appear on the television all too rarely now. In fact, are there actually any puppets on TV? It appears that the day of the hand-operated critter is all but over. Never again are we likely to see singing pigs or superstar vermin dominating broadcasting – and more’s the pity.

Thankfully though, nostalgia remains a high priority for Channel 4 and two of the greatest telly puppets have been brought back to the small screen to bring us a run-down of their top 10 puppet legends. Zippy and George are the two presenters of this Saturday night cloth-fest. Zippy is still as cheeky as ever, and George still as fey (although somewhat pinker and fluffier than he ever was on Rainbow). Apparently living in the luxury environs of their own country mansion being waited on by a busty serving girl, the pair are still “assisted” by their Rainbow colleagues Roy Skelton and Ronnie le Drew.

As welcome as this programme is, it is crippled by the fact that is only around 55 minutes long, which is nowhere near enough to do the subject justice. The puppet legends it features are covered only scantily, with just a couple of minutes or so dedicated to each character. Interviews with key players involved with the creations are as brief as they possibly can be, with some only contributing a line or two. Gordon the Gopher and Sooty are the only ones in the list to have a little bit of their backgrounds explored, with Phillip Schofield revealing his furry companion was a present to him from a relative, and Matthew Corbett telling the tale of how his father found the little orange bear on a stall in Blackpool way back in the late 1940s. As well as informing us of how Gordon came to be, Schofield also gives us an insight into his life now. Apparently the years have not been kind to the gopher and he is said to be an out of work alcoholic. Perhaps it is the traumatic memory of being sexually molested by that dog on Going Live! that set Gordon off along the road to self-destruction …

Other characters included in the top 10 are Orville the Duck, Pinky and Perky, Mrs Thatcher from Spitting Image, Roland Rat (the saviour of TV-am, whose presence put 1.7 million onto the ailing show’s viewing figures), Emu, Kermit the Frog and, bizarrely, Thunderbird 2. Quite how Thunderbird 2 qualifies as any kind of puppet is open to interpretation. Brains yes, Lady Penelope most certainly, but Thunderbird 2? No. Saying that Thunderbird 2 is a puppet is like saying Parker could be a contender in a run-down of the top 10 telly spaceships. Gerry Anderson tells the programme he is in discussions to remake Thunderbirds for a modern audience, which probably means it will no longer feature puppets and, like the new series of Captain Scarlet, will be purely CGI.

Zippy and George also manage to make the hit list, but only at number three. We see them briefly reunited with their Rainbow friends Bungle the Bear and Geoffrey, who sensationally reveals that since retiring from the programme he has become the benign dictator of a small West African state. Hooray for Geoffrey!

The section of the programme about Spitting Image is one of the most interesting, with one of the creators, Roger Law, interviewed along with impressionists Chris Barrie and Mrs Thatcher-a-like Steve Nallon. Former Labour Party Deputy Leader Roy Hattersley also turns up to voice his approval of his slobbering latex likeness, saying that it may have actually benefited his career (unlike the David Steel puppet …)

Zippy and George get the opportunity to ask the questions at intermittent points, with them quizzing puppet colleagues Sooty, Sweep and Sue, Orville (whose television show we are informed ran for an amazing eight years), and a seemingly buffed-up version of the moth-eaten creature that is Hartley Hare. But like the interviews with the human participants, these bits are again all-too-brief snippets. An extra half-an-hour would have benefited the programme enormously and would have given the interviewees a better opportunity to discuss their careers pulling the strings of some of Britain’s favourite characters.

Surprisingly perhaps, in the number two slot is Rod Hull’s hideous antipodean sidekick Emu. Surprising because, as a puppet, Emu was pretty rubbish really. He never used to do very much at all, he couldn’t talk, was unable to move without the assistance of Rod and had absolutely no physical appeal. All that he did, in fact, was viciously attack people and peck them in unspeakable places. So the segment featuring the blue bird consists almost entirely of Emu making an array of assaults. We see him tackle darts legend Bobby George, wrestling breakfast telly presenters John Stapleton and Nick Owen, and of course, most famously, getting to grips with Parky.

At the top of the stack is Kermit the Frog, “the most iconic puppet legend”. Kermit is probably one of the most well-known puppets in the world and certainly the most internationally-renowned of the selection in here (despite the revelation that porcine pop stars Pinky and Perky were once year-long bill toppers in Las Vegas). A montage of Muppet moments and short interviews with Brian Henson and scribe Chris Langham are used to try to explain the popularity of the compère frog.

The best bits in the programme though are, not the segments that showcase the featured creatures, but rather the linking material with Zippy and George. Zippy was arguably the most popular of the pair, but both of the Rainbow stars are great here. Zippy is the coarse naughty child, whereas George is like a friendly old auntie. Both behave quite differently here than they ever did back in their days as kids’ dinnertime entertainers, revealing hitherto unknown aspects of their personalities.

But, despite all of the information that was imparted during the show, one question that has vexed for years remained unanswered: just exactly what is Zippy supposed to be?


Comments are closed.