There was only one super spy that children of the 1980s needed, and he didn’t drink Martinis. DangerMouse (voiced by David Jason) - who wore an eye patch and a figure-hugging outfit in exactly the same shade of white as his fur - was definitely the cartoon undercover agent of choice. He was fearless, suave and sophisticated; speaking 34 different languages (some of which he would only have the need to speak on other planets) and being skilled in the martial art of Kung Moggy.
Hopefully Danger Mouse didn’t listen to his own theme tune that often, or he might have been unbearably big headed. ‘He’s the greatest, he’s fantastic, wherever there is danger he’ll be there. He’s the ace, he’s amazing, he’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best…’ It continues ‘He’s terrific, he’s magnific, he’s the greatest secret agent in the world.’ To be fair to him he was pretty good at the spying lark, saving the day on numerous occasions and was, for all his ‘fantastic, ace, best’ introductory hype a pretty humble mouse. He would often say of his life/friend/Earth saving work ‘it’s just a job really,’ although the people that he helped wouldn’t have put it like that, and often showered him in mainly animal-based presents to show their gratitude.
The athletic white rodent might have had his name on the show, but it was the clumsy and cute hamster Penfold (voiced by Terry Scott of Terry and June and the Carry On films fame) that had the cartoon’s heart. ‘Hamster?’ I hear you say; well yes. Despite the fact that hamsters have fluffy fur all over their bodies and Penfold has what looks to be a round hairless head, Brian Cosgrove (of Cosgrove Hall, who made the show) has confirmed that he was intended to be a hamster. Everybody always thought he was a mole, but they were equally deluded as there was even less resemblance to a mole than there was a hamster. Still, whatever he was meant to be, Penfold was adorable, albeit with the creased suit and manner of a harassed civil servant; you were always expecting to catch him on the phone in the corner of the room, sweating visibly and saying things like ‘I CAN’T finalise the Strategic Plan until the Board has agreed on the Sustainability Appraisal – I need more TIME.’ Not really suited to being a sidekick, Penfold was terrified of danger and would try and avoid the missions that he and Danger Mouse were sent on. He spent a lot of his time saying things like ‘Crumbs!’ or ‘Oooh-eck!’ when the going got rough, which is pretty mild-mannered considering how often he would find himself facing a perilous situation. Being small and scared led to Penfold encountering many moments of confusion during their escapades, and his ludicrous remarks at tense times were often met by a ‘Shush!’ from Danger Mouse.
Danger Mouse answered directly to Colonel K (the actor and voice artist Edward Kelsey, who is most famous for another unseen voice role: Joe Grundy in The Archers), a large, heavily-moustached chinchilla (yes, he doesn’t look like a chinchilla any more than Penfold looks like a hamster; the animators at Cosgrove Hall really should have consulted a wildlife encyclopaedia from time to time) who heads up the Secret Service and relies on Danger Mouse’s courage to rid the world of its evil enemies. These were varied over the course of the 10 series, but with alarming regularity the team would find themselves up against their nemesis – Baron Silas Greenback.
Greenback (also Kelsey) was a megalomaniac toad (his face looked more like a terrapin but let’s leave it now shall we?) who liked to wear natty suits and wingtip shoes, and finish all his foiled plots with the phrase ‘I will rule the world!’ No despot should be without his henchman, and Greenback’s heavy was Stiletto Mafiosa, an Italian crow voiced by Brian Trueman. And in keeping with all good power-crazed tyrants, Greenback had a companion; Nero was a white caterpillar with antennae that made him look like he was wearing deely boppers (which, despite what anybody else might tell you were a good thing, and should still be worn) and a habit of muttering and sniggering to himself unintelligibly. Interesting fact alert: Nero’s utterings were actually David Jason’s voice sped up. As Greenback was the only one who could understand him there was a rumour that Nero was in fact the brains of the whole ‘rule the world’ operation.
Overseeing the action, and keeping the viewer up-to-date with developments was Isambard Sinclair (the narrator, voiced by Jason). Never seen but heard in every episode, he spoke directly to the characters from time to time, and injected a fair amount of cynicism and sarcasm into proceedings.
There were countless other characters who appeared over the episodes, but the most recognisable is the one and only Count Duckula. A vampire duck who desperately wanted his own television show, in reality he had so little talent that what he could do was of more use as a torture method against his enemies rather than anything approaching entertaining. He did however eventually get his wish, with a slightly different version of himself picking up a spin-off cartoon show on ITV in 1988.
With the mighty talents of Cosgrove Hall behind the programme, there was no question that Danger Mouse would be a hit, but how much of one it became probably surprised everybody involved. Shown from September 1981 to March 1992 on ITV, it captured a peak audience of 21.59 million people in 1983 before becoming the first British cartoon to break through into the US market, broadcasting on children’s network Nickelodeon from 1984.
Coming third in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Kid’s TV Shows poll (only being beaten by the mighty Muppet Show and The Simpsons) the 161 episodes have gone on to be syndicated in over 70 countries around the world, with both children and adults appreciating its slapstick humour combined with witty and clever scripts. Adults in particular enjoyed spotting the popular culture references and parodies; as well as the obvious nods in James Bond’s direction (Danger Mouse’s high-tech gadgets and car, an enemy who sits in a chair with a white pet on his lap, a metal enemy with huge strength called P.A.W.S. etc.) there was a direct similarity to Patrick McGoohan’s 1960’s series Danger Man, and viewers who paid enough attention would find the jokes pointing towards institutions such as Raiders of The Lost Ark, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Who.