‘This is 29 Acacia Road, and this is Eric, a schoolboy who leads an amazing double life. For when Eric eats a banana an amazing transformation occurs. Eric is Bananaman, ever alert for the call to action.’
Never the most stylish of superheroes (he wore boots made to look like banana skins for heaven’s sake) Bananaman was probably the only one who encouraged children to eat more fruit. Just like Mary Poppins inspired a generation of girls to stand outside with their umbrellas, trying to fly (oh, that was just me then was it?) there must have been hundreds of kids who regularly ate bananas, hoping each time that this would be the one that would turn them into the fearless fruit fanatic.
Starting off life as a character in the comic Nutty (which merged with The Dandy in 1985) schoolboy Eric lived at 29 Acacia Road in Nuttytown (Dandytown after the merger). Everything about his life was normal, except (and it’s quite a big ‘except’) that every time he ate a banana he transformed into not only a superhero, but a grown-up superhero complete with skin tight blue suit and yellow cape, the aforementioned bananaboots and a natty mask/hat combo which included tiny banana horns. He also wore yellow gloves, which gave him the look of somebody not only always ready to fight crime, but also permanently on the look-out for any washing up that might have needed doing.
Bananaman could fly, although again, it was not the slick whooshing through the air that many other superheroes enjoyed – it was more a sort of laconic doggy paddle, and was always undertaken with a cheesy grin on his huge-chinned face. He was blessed with the strength of 20 men, but if he ever needed an extra boost, eating further bananas would offer him a quick increase (not to mention more regular trips to the bathroom one would imagine). A mouldy banana had the same sort of effect on him that kryptonite had on Superman. The one thing Bananaman didn’t have however, was brains, but he did have Crow (yep – he was one) who hung around with him and helped him out whenever he needed a bit of thinking power. Bananaman’s enemies usually found it fairly easy to outwit him if Crow wasn’t there to offer advice.
Oh yes, enemies. It’s hard to envisage who exactly could have a beef with a man who dressed the way he did, but there were villains aplenty in Bananaman. Actually though, now that I’ve written that it’s actually really easy to see why the bad guys wanted to hurt him…In the comic strip his enemies were mostly parodies of other comic book supervillains; Toymaster, Witchy Woman, Clayman and the Foul Five to name a few. In the later television cartoon he faced fewer foes but on a more regular basis; General Blight, Dr Gloom, the Heavy Mob, the Weatherman, the Snowman, King Zorg and Auntie all took on Bananaman’s comical punches (interspersed with his naff puns) as they tried to get one over on him.
In homage to Batman’s relationship with Commissioner Gordon, Bananaman had a close connection to Chief O’Reilly – who spent the same amount of time rebuilding his police station (which was the same shape as a police helmet) as Bananaman did destroying it accidentally. Chief O’Reilly had no idea that Eric was Bananaman (nor did anybody else for that matter, which shows at least that Bananaman, as opposed to say, Superman, actually had a disguise that completely masked his real identity), and he contacted Eric whenever he needed help from the yellow-skinned one. He obviously believed that superheroes liked to hire schoolboys as their PAs.
Bananaman made his TV debut on the BBC in October 1983. Voiced by The Goodies the popular children’s cartoon broadcast for 40 episodes, split into three series. Tim Brooke-Taylor narrated the programme, as well as giving his voice to Eric and a few other characters, whilst Graeme Garden was Bananaman, as well as his enemy General Blight. Bill Oddie was Bananaman’s sidekick Crow, plus Chief O’Reilly and a few other of the banana-brained one’s adversaries.
General Blight was top of the Banana crime list; a Hitler-a-like who spent a lot of time aiming for world domination, the hugeness of his ambition to create trouble was only beaten by the hugeness of his nose. He was often accompanied towards his goal by another not-so-masterly criminal Dr Gloom. Gloom was an old school friend of Blight’s (their career advisor can’t have been up to much) and was an inventor of machines that were built with a dastardly purpose but not much ability to achieve anything. The Heavy Mob were led by Eddie the Gent (talked like a gentleman, behaved like a crook) and included members Fingers, Maurice the Muscle and Rembrandt. After being in prison, the Heavy Mob escaped with help of The Mole, a legendary crime figure whose Mole Machine can tunnel underground.
The Weatherman (no, not Ian McCaskill) wore a natty flying cap and controlled the weather (well, what did you think he did?) in the hope of thus controlling the world. He was helped out by The Snowman, a psychotic Welsh robot. King Zorg, a big green lump of an alien, pretended to be an ally of Blight’s but was always ready to wrestle control from him, should Blight actually get any himself. Zorg did have a fleet of Nerk starships complete with an army of Nerks (more green alien lumps) at his command, which automatically made him the coolest of all Bananaman’s enemies, if not the most attractive.
General Blight also had his own personal hit man. Well, all right then, hit lady. Auntie was a grey-haired, pink-clad lethal assassin who communicated with him via a walkie-talkie and CB code. Blight didn’t understand what she was talking about most of the time.
When he wasn’t attempting to defeat the likes of Blight, Bananaman also found a romantic interest in the form of Fiona; a newsreader modelled on the BBC’s Selina Scott and nicknamed the ‘sweetheart of the airwaves’. Voiced by Jill Schilling, the flame-haired television personality often needed rescuing by her ‘Mr Wonderful’ and Bananaman was only too happy to help. If you’re trying to win over a woman I would have thought it was generally considered less than impressive to turn up wearing slippers – particularly novelty banana ones – but Fiona seemed to find that attractive. It takes all sorts…
The television programme finished its original run in April 1986, but Bananaman still appears in The Dandy, transferring to the online version of the comic when the paper one came to an end in December 2012. He has also been a regular of The Beano since January 2012.
So, what did we learn from Bananaman? Well, mostly that you don’t have to have intelligence to fight crime, so long as your criminals don’t have many more brain cells than you and you have a cocky bird for company. You can also wear a completely ridiculous costume modelled on discarded fruit peel and somebody will still find you attractive. So what are you waiting for?