Bungle is massive!

Up above the streets and houses, rainbow flying high… Every Friday at 12.30, the nation’s toddlers would hurry to the television with characteristic amphetamine waddle, for Rainbow was on. A beige rugby-ball-head with a sexual fastening for a mouth and a pink hippo of a slightly camp persuasion could only sit behind a table and waggle their solitary hands whilst two men, in a spectrum of knitwear and a frankly unconvincing bear suit, enjoyed the benefits of greater mobility. This spectacle continued for more than 20 years, until the fateful day when Thames Television lost their franchise to the lowest-common-denominator usurpers of Carlton. Kosher Rainbow disappeared forever, leaving only a pale imposter, defiantly lacking humans and with new puppets; it fools no-one, least of all Geoffrey and Bungle.

Geoffrey Hayes, friend to puppets, is rather more haggard these days, but there remains a ghost of familiarity in the limp flop of his hair and the laconic eyes which rest above the bags. When he takes the fag from his mouth and speaks, however, his is the voice of a different age, a sound midway between Chris Tarrant and Rory Bremner’s Kenneth Clarke impression, which will forever be entangled with childhood. He explains how it was that he could always open the Rainbow book at the correct page, no matter which story he was looking for: “There was a piece of paper stuck inside the book.” Another childhood illusions fell in shards to the floor.

With Malcolm Lord there is no such feeling of instant familiarity, since he was perenially encased within the ursine vestiments of Bungle. Stripped of his fun-fur apparel, he is short, blond, aquiline of nose and twinkling of eye. Wondering if there was more to Bungle than simply his black belt in akimbo, I ask Lord how he had seen the character. “He’s one of life’s innocents,” he explains, “always trying to be like Geoffrey, to do the right thing, but never quite managing.”

The meticulous attention to nuances of character that enabled Lord to convey all this, even whilst wearing a furry costume and doing the actions to “I’m a Little Teapot”, ought to aid him now he is a jobbing actor. Certainly, finding work must be easier for him since he is not a household face. “My problem is that I worked with puppets,” avers Geoffrey, admitting that typecasting does prove a problem. The conversation turns to Derek Fowlds, once quite literally Basil Brush’s right-hand hand, now a respectable actor seen in Heartbeat and Yes, Prime Minister. With other stalwarts of the prepubescent scene such as Brian Cant and Derek Griffiths able to garner serious theatrical roles in works by Shakespeare and Beckett, the future may not be so bleak for Geoffrey and Bungle as it currently appears: indeed, there is a tailor-made part in The Winter’s Tale for the latter.

The purveyors of tabloid television at Carlton are, not surprisingly, something of a sore point with the duo. It transpires that the rights to Rainbow were sold to another production company – but, conspiracy fans, Hayes and Lord were not consulted, let alone given the option to renew their contracts. They regard the bastardised replacement, set for no apparent reason in a poorly defined toyshop, as a “travesty”. “it’s not proper Rainbow,” remarks Lord, whereas Hayes goes so far as to point out that it is “crap”.

Certainly, the addition of some blue rabbit puppet-thing is a poor substitute for the human interest provided by the ageing man in the garish pullover. Geoffrey vouchsafes that he is often stopped in the supermarket by mothers who clamour for his return, a Restoration to oust the pretenders to the Rainbow throne.

Maybe one day the media moguls at Carlton will see sense and reinstate these deposed icons – but then this is the channel which brought us Special Babies and Tots’ TV, so that seems unlikely. Gimmicky appearances in panto with Australian soap stars and similar novelty turns, then, would seem to be the unfortunate lot of Geoffrey Hayes and Malcolm Lord: how are the mighty fallen.

First published in Cherwell, Friday 13 October 1995.

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