THREADBARE SLAPSTICK puppet pageantry from former Gerry Anderson string pullers John Turner and Mary Read, who tired of Sir Gerald’s increasing obsession with realism and formed a splinter group dedicated to rough-hewn marionette mayhem in which the main characters’ feet maintained only the most fleeting of contact with the ground. RUPERT THE BEAR came first, then came, er, HERE COMES MUMFIE, with this medieval roustabout bringing up the rear. (We’ll take THE MUNCH BUNCH as read if you don’t mind.)
In some unspecified middle age, two races, the clubby, castle-dwelling Byegones and hairy, warlike Hasbeenes are constantly in battle over rights to an anachronistic ‘nodding donkey’ oil well, situated incongruously between the two castles. Tortuously punning character names like King Woebegone and Jest-A-Minit the court jester prevail. Machiavellian scientist Cue-Ee-Dee knocks up assorted ingenious gadgets from catapults to robot horses. And, of course, every day a three o’clock, they all sit down to tea.
All fine ITV lunchtime fare, though two points of order would arise. The oddball aesthetics of the thing, for one. While the duo’s puppet carving had never been noted for its pleasingly streamlined elegance (witness the nightmarish Raggety in RUPERT), here the ramshackle look reached perverse levels, with no two puppets seeming to belong in the same series. Color, size and proportion were all over the place, making the cast of PIPKINS look like Captain Scarlet and co by comparison.
Then there was the endless speculation over the supposed bitingly satirical nature of the series, as the nation’s further education seekers began in earnest to speculate whimsically on the hidden meaning of childish ephemera at the taxpayer’s expense. Ooh, it’s about the oil crisis! No, it’s about Northern Ireland! No, it’s about the imminent rise of the dreaded silicon chip! Or, just maybe, it might be about some silly knights lobbing polystyrene boulders at each other. All voices came courtesy of husband and wife team Charles ‘Brian Aldridge’ Collingwood and Judy ‘Shula Archer’ Bennett. As with the other two Turner-Read outings, the whole shebang was topped off with an uncommonly groovy theme song, in this instance written by Patrick Campbell-Lyons, of the original Nirvana.