I write this special #BlastfromthePast blog about possibly one of my favourite TV shows as a kid on two notes this week. Firstly, on the note of sadness, due to the news that it’s much loved central host passed away at the age of 76 this week. But also on a note of trepidation, largely as there is a better blogger than I who writes so eloquently (yet irreverently) about this show (Hi Jenny!). With that established, let’s begin.
A staple of British children’s TV for 20 years from 1971 to 1992, clocking up over a thousand episodes, Rainbow was as much Britain’s answer to Sesame Street as it was a educational, at times zany, yet humorous and well rounded look at British life for a generation of young kids (yes, really).
The show made stars of the brash and loud mouthed Zippy (no one was sure what he was. Zip thing with a rugby ball? Dead on), the shy but sweet natured hippo George, and the clumsy, perma-tutting, perma-nude (except at bedtime) bear, Bungle.
Keeping the peace amongst them as their (sort of) dad/guardian, but also a wise beacon of advice and game for many a silly dress up, Geoffrey Hayes quickly became an icon for many young British kids growing up in the 70s, 80s and (for the first three years of) the 90s. And with Rod, Jane and Freddy providing surprisingly catchy and melodic songs about everything, from counting to being bottles of milk on a doorstep, it was little wonder that millions were tuning in to ITV every weekday lunchtime.
So in tribute to the passing of one of it’s main stars – but also to Roy Skelton, the voice of both Zippy and George who passed away seven years ago in 2011 – I present to you my five favourite episodes of the show that, up above the streets and houses, climbs high as a TV classic. Altogether now: ‘Paint the whole world with a rainbow!’
- ‘THE HIGHWAYMAN’
If you thought Adam Ant was the only one hollering ‘Stand and Deliver’ in the 80s, then think again. This episode saw the gang act out the story of ‘Dick Turnip, the naughty highwayman’. Geoffrey plays said role rather well, Bungle less so playing Lady Jane’s father, ‘Baron Bungle Warren’, who gives her a ‘beautiful necklace’ to wear that is a key point of the story, but the illusion of which is ruined by the fact it’s made from milk bottle tops and some string. Let it never be said the show didn’t wear it’s 1p budget with pride.
Best bit? The ‘court’ scene, where George, playing an elderly judge, taps a hammer repeatedly whilst asking for ‘schilence in court’ and wondering where the banging noise is coming from, until Bungle helpfully points out that it’s George making the noise.
- ‘KEEPING TIDY’
The fact this episode came out in 1990 – ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ year, lest we forget – should be a key indicator of its subject. After Geoffrey kicks off at Zippy and Bungle for making a mess, and George informs them that it’s not fair that he should be expected to clear it up, our zip mouthed friend has a weird dream sequence where he’s the ‘Lord of the Litter’ (or rather, he resembles Ziggy Stardust on a budget of 1p. Did I mention the show’s lack of a budget already? Nevermind) keeping ‘Princess Georgina’ captive to pick up rubbish in his castle. Bungle plays the world’s least convincing dragon, ‘Scrap Dragon’, whilst Geoffrey plays the brave but bumbling knight Sir Geoffrey. There is a message here, yes.
Best bit? The running gag everytime ‘Sir Geoffrey’ introduces himself as ‘The Litter Not’ and the others go ‘Do What Not?’
- ‘OUTER SPACE’
In which the gang, for one episode only, convince us they have gone through NASA training to take a trip to the moon (or at least, that’s what the myriad of ping pong balls acting as ‘rocks’ is supposed to imply). A tricky one for Zippy and George to appear in though, this episode, being as they only ever exist behind a table, so they stay put on the spaceship to look at stuff on the screen (whilst Zippy wears some rather fetching shades).
Best bit? Rod, Jane and Freddy’s ‘Starman’ aping title song from this episode. If you’re after the perfect example of how they captured the mood and sensibility of each episode’s topic so brilliantly through music, then this is it.
- ‘A DAY IN THE COUNTRY’
One of the few episodes (that I’m aware of) to have been filmed on location, the gang go for a day out in the countryside. Along the way, the usual hilarity happens – Bungle sitting on an ant’s nest, for one. Zippy climbing up a tree and no one being able to find him, until he announces where he is. Oh and Rod also playing a freaking banjo for a jaunty song from him, Jane and Freddy about having a picnic.
Best bit? George being frightened by a particularly evil looking claw that turns out to just be a branch. Oh and Bungle and the ant’s nest. Even now, what was funny to two year old me remains so.
- ‘NOAH’S ARK’
Another ‘method acting’ one this episode. After falling asleep playing with a wooden Noah’s ark, Bungle dreams about the famous Bible story, with him as Noah, Geoffrey simultaneously playing God and a dog, George playing Noah’s wife (of course), and possibly the catchiest original song you will hear about the animals going in two by two.
Best bit: Tough call, but the show’s imagining of two zip rugby ball things going into the ark – namely, Zippy and his occasionally seen cousin Zippo wearing tea towels on their heads – was inspired.
What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast or leave your comments below!