"Up above the streets and houses, rainbow flying high. Everyone can see it falling over the sky. Paint the whole world with a rainbow…." Maybe not word perfect, but it's enough to bring those happy memories of lunchtime Rainbow viewing flooding back, I hope.
Commissioned in 1972 as a rival to America's hit kids' show, Sesame Street, this flash of inspiration by John Kershaw was shown on Thames Television. Rainbow's key characters George, Bungle and Zippy are legends in the world of children's entertainment. An unlikely trio of childhood icons for sure, but one that seemed to work. There was the rather camp, eyelash-fluttering, pink hippopotamus George, the highly temperamental, man-sized bear Bungle, and who could forget the outspoken (yet not all that articulately and only until someone zipped up his mouth, hence the name) Zippy? What animal Zippy was has always eluded me. Yes, this was the most unconventional of households - bringing the idea that maybe a "rainbow" family of all kinds of set-ups could really work - so long as there was a fancy-dress box to hand!
Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. The trio fought in every episode of the TV show ever! Often this stemmed from Zippy not being able to zip it, and causing all kind of offence with his thoughtless words - until someone punished him by literally zipping his massive mouth up (although he'd keep on talking and you'd have to put up with muffled protests from the yellow one). Bungle, despite his size, was bit of a wet fish/bear and a tattle-tale. Reminiscent of spoilt six-year-olds everywhere, Bungle would too often put hands to hips and utter the immortal line: "It's just not fair!". Meanwhile, George was usually the one caught in the middle of his two friends . But luckily, there was someone sensible around to bring an end to all the quarrels…
Let me reintroduce you to Geoffrey Hayes, the long-suffering guardian of Rainbow and all that sailed in her. With his soothing story-time voice, Geoffrey helped steer the show and bring out a few life lessons here and there - something us kids watching at home were all grateful for no doubt. Of course, his soothing storytelling each episode would be interspersed by questions and quarrelling from the other characters.
Adding to the fun, next door to Geoffrey, Zippy, George and Bungle lived another colourful trio who'd visit occasionally. Rod, Jane and Freddy were hippy-like, hairy humans with more than a few songs under each of their fringed 70s-style belts. Well, you can't have a hit kids' programme without some singing, can you? Freddy was replaced a few times along the way, for a while by Matthew Corbett of Sooty fame and for another spell by Roger Walker who's starred in a heap of shows since.
Now, I'm afraid we can't talk about Rainbow without bringing to your attention the level of double-entendre that went on. Yes, it wasn't the only one (Captain Pugwash wasn't as clean as you'd first think), but watch a few YouTube clips of Rainbow and you'll soon see what we mean. From explaining rude words to the ever-inquisitive Zippy to cross-dressing a plenty, there's something to entertain all the family! It even picked up a few awards along the way, including the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme in 1975, having made an instant impact on audiences and the industry alike.
All good things must eventually come to an end, though. And after 23 years of antics, in 1995 Geoffrey finally cracked under the pressure of Zippy's barrage of questions, called it a day, booked himself into The Priory and sent his three unruly children off to boarding school. Or so we like to think that's what happened…