Rainbow (TV series)

Rainbow (TV series)

Infobox Television
bgcolour = violet
show_name = Rainbow

genre = Children's television series
runtime = Typically about 30 minutes (occasionally longer or shorter)
creator = Pamela Lonsdale
starring =Roy Skelton
country = UK
network = ITV
first_aired = 1972
last_aired = 1992
num_seasons = ?
num_episodes = more than 1000 episodes
list_episodes = List of Rainbow's episodes
imdb_id = 0275148
tv_com_id = 20555

"Rainbow" was a British children's television series, created by Pamela Lonsdale, which ran twice weekly at 12:10 on Tuesdays and Fridays on the ITV network, from 1972 to 1992. It was intended to develop language and number skills for pre-school children, and went on to win the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme in 1975.

The programme was originally conceived as a British equivalent of long-running American educational puppet series "Sesame Street". The British series would be developed in house by Thames Television, and had no input from the Sesame Workshop.

After more than 1000 episodes, the series came to an abrupt end when Thames Television lost its ITV franchise in 1992. Since then, it has gained cult status and continues to get frequent mentions on radio and television. On 28 February 2006, BBC News reported that digital children's channel Nick Jr. would be showing repeats of "Rainbow" (dating from 1982) on Mondays.


Each episode of "Rainbow" revolved around a particular activity or situation that would arise in the Rainbow House, where the main characters lived. Usually it would involve some kind of squabble or dispute between the puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle, and Geoffrey's attempts to calm them down and keep the peace. The main story would be interspersed with songs (usually from Rod, Jane and Freddy, although guest singers would occasionally take their place), animations, and stories read from the "Rainbow" storybook, usually by Geoffrey. Some episodes would focus on a particular theme, such as sounds or opposites, and would consist mainly of short sketches or exchanges between the main characters, rather than a consistent storyline.


"Rainbow" featured the following characters, each with their own character style:
*The presenter - a real person (first David Cook, then the best known presenter Geoffrey Hayes), who brought them to order or gave them something to do.
*Bungle - a brown furry bear, with a squashed face that is inquisitive but also clumsy. (a costume; played by John Leeson, Stanley Bates, Malcolm Lord, Paul Cullinan). The question regarding why Bungle always wrapped a towel around his waist to protect his modesty after a shower, in spite of the fact that he walked around nude for the rest of time, has never been addressed. (He also donned pyjamas at bed time.)
*Zippy - loud and domineering, who was actually a rugby ball (though with a body attached). (puppet; originally voiced and operated by Peter Hawkins, then voiced by Roy Skelton - best known for being the voice of the Daleks in Doctor Who) - and operated by Ronnie Le Drew.
*George - a shy, pink, slightly camp hippo. (puppet; voiced by Roy Skelton and operated by Malcolm Lord, Tony Holtham and later Craig Crane)
*Sunshine and Moony - optimistic Sunshine (yellow with a red hat) and her more gloomy friend Moony (brown with a tuft of yellow hair) were the original 'stars' of the programme, but soon became little more than foils to the more popular Zippy; they were phased out by 1973, in favour of greater roles for Bungle and (especially) George.
*Rod, Jane and Freddy, a group of musicians who regularly featured on the programme. Originally known as Rod, Matt and Jane when they debuted on the show in 1974, Matt's position being held by Matthew Corbett (of "The Sooty Show" fame), and Roger Walker from 1977-80 before Freddy Marks took over in 1980.
*Telltale, a six-piece group who provided the music in the early days of the show before Rod, Jane and Freddy took over.
*Zippo, Zippy's cousin, identical in appearance to Zippy, who would make the occasional guest appearance. Originally portrayed as an eloquent Frenchman, but a later episode depicted him as an American-accented rapper with loud, flashy clothing.
*Dawn, the next-door neighbour, played by Dawn Bowden, who was introduced in the show's later years, first appearing in 1986.
*Aunty, played by numerous actresses, was the aunt of one of the characters, probably Geoffrey. She came along roughly once a year and always let herself in. She was mainly a tool for teaching stories or morals, as she was a very boring woman.

A few episodes also include some sort of a Geoffrey-type figure for Zippo. He seemed to be some sort of a brother to Geoffrey.

Generally speaking, George and Zippy represented two 'types' of child, George being the quiet and shy type, while Zippy represented the hyperactive and destructive type (hence his name). George was usually vindicated, but Zippy got his comeuppance. While they were apparently young 'children', Bungle was an older 'child', and differed from them in being a costume, rather than a hand puppet. Geoffrey's relationship to them was unclear, other than being a kind of father figure. Apart from Jane and (in the early days) Sunshine, females rarely appeared on the programme, despite some ambiguity concerning the often effeminate (and permanently pink) George.

In 1989, Rod, Jane and Freddy left the show for a year to concentrate on touring, pantomime appearances and their own separate TV show. They returned for regular appearances until 1991 when they gave up their position as rainbow's musicians. This meant that Dawn Bowden was introduced as a regular female character in place of Jane, while the songs were generally provided by guest singers, notably Christopher Lillicrap. The show would also often include guest stars, to make a change from Geoffrey telling all the lessons - this way, the characters would be told stories and lessons by a fresh face.

Theme Song

The theme song for the show was actually a small part of the full version, also called 'Rainbow' and written by Hugh Portnow, Hugh Fraser and Tim Thomas. This was released by Music For Pleasure in 1973.

The revival

Although the original "Rainbow" ended with the loss of Thames' broadcasting licence in 1992, Tetra Films (an independent production company spawned by Thames' children's department) revived it for ITV in 1993. The new version of the show departed from the original format, centred on the slightly redesigned puppet characters - without a presenter - running a toy shop. A new character was introduced, a Scouse-sounding blue rabbit named Cleo (voiced by Gillian Robic). A second revival in 1995 and 1997 reverted closer towards the original format, although it returned as a series of short 10-minute shows entitled "Rainbow Days", presented by Dale Superville. However, neither of the two revivals were as well received as the shows fronted by Geoffrey Hayes. There was also no mention of Thames in either of the new series, as both were produced in association with HTV.

The original Rainbow shows are currently being shown on the UK satellite TV channel Nick Jr as part of the Nick Jr Classics re-runs.

The "adult" version

In 1979, the cast and crew of "Rainbow" made a special exclusive sketch for the Thames TV staff Christmas tape, sometimes referred to as the "Twangers" episode. This show featured plenty of deliberate sexual innuendo (beginning with Zippy peeling a banana, saying "One skin, two skin, three skin, four..." before being interrupted), and never shown at the time (as it was never intended to be screened to the general public.)The show even had Roger saying the word "fuck", when he greeted everyone upon entering the set. This can be heard clearly from his sentence "Hello, everybody, hello! "Fuck"." Jane also claimed she was blowing with Roger the night before. It also included Geoffrey convincing the viewers to play with their balls, but if they didn't have any balls, they could ask a friend and play with his. Jane also claimed that she was banging with Rod and Roger. Soon, Zippy asked them to stop suggesting whether to play with a blowing tube and maraccas, so they could start singing the 'Plucking Song'.

The clip became famous after being aired on Victor Lewis-Smith's Channel 4 programme "TV Offal" (1997) and was jokingly referred to as "the pilot episode", which it clearly wasn't as Geoffrey Hayes was presenter at the time. The clip has become widely-spread, first in emails as an attachment and later via online video websites such as YouTube. This has led to many erroneous claims that the episode was publicly broadcast as a regular episode.

"TV Offal" also broadcast some very risqué material featuring members of the cast as guests on a variety show hosted by comedian Jim Davidson in the 1980s; the sketch in question, which featured former children's TV presenter Tommy Boyd, asking a question about "Adam and Eve". Boyd and Davidson used some profanities in the sketch, along with some innuendo from George (presumably again not intended for broadcast like the above), but the most shocking moment was when Zippy exclaimed to Geoffrey: "The fucking Garden of Eden!" This sketch would in all likelihood have been filmed during rehearsals.

Comedian Bobby Davro also parodied "Rainbow" as a comedy sketch in his own TV series in the early-1990s, playing the part of Geoffrey alongside exaggerated versions of Bungle and the puppets, which contained some mild sexual innuendo. Davro had appeared in a regular edition of the show, in which he performed impressions of the characters in front of them.

While never explicitly adult, most interviews featuring Zippy and George since the show's demise commonly portray them as somewhat more edgy in terms of personality. For example, in an episode of SMTV live they call Bungle an, "Idiotic, blundering creature."

Further reading

Simon Sheridan "The A to Z of Classic Children's Television" (Reynolds & Hearn books, 2004, reprinted 2007) ISBN 1-903111-27-7. Features a chapter on the series and interviews with Jane Tucker and Pamela Lonsdale.

External references

* [http://web.archive.org/web/20040811035407/http://rainbow.arch.scriptmania.com/rainbow_tv_episode.html Transcript of the adult version]
* [http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/780259/index.html British Film Institute Screen Online]
* [http://www.rainbow-forever.co.uk/ Fan website]
* [http://www.jingleman.net/podcast Spoof podcast from Zippy & George auditioning for a new Bungle]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4759320.stm BBC News, 28th Feb 2006]

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