Thursday, 20 September 2018

It's Tivvy Time!

This is one of the longest WWR posts I think I’ve ever written, but stick with it. Huge thanks to TV historian Tim Worthington for helping to fill in many of the gaps.

Today’s record is one of the most disturbing things I have heard in a long time, and it all comes courtesy of a little black duck/troll hybrid originally found in a Scandinavian toy shop. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Tivvy – or rather Tivvy and the Clubmates - with his/their creepy Christmas 1965 offering Tivvy’s Tune/My World Of Colour. If this doesn’t give you nightmares, then you’re probably already dead.

Tivvy was supposed to be a friendly cartoon character and the icon of the TV Times’ kids club but ‘he’ (the TV Times always referred to the hateful little sprite as male) comes across as the embodiment of a predatory paedophile and sounding like a scary, hoarse-throated old man in a dirty raincoat proffering sweets or offering a peek at his puppies. “Want to come along with me and ‘ave a bit of fun, eh?”, the raspy voice enjoins at the beginning of Tivvy’s Tune; he could have been created with Jimmy Savile or Stuart Hall in mind, had they not been plying their trade at the BBC at the time.

“He isn't very big. He gets into some awful scrapes at times. He'll be on your television screens very soon,” claimed the article introducing Tivvy to a less-than-enthusiastic world. The doll had been discovered by ad man Paul Usher while holidaying in Finland. His company, the Erwin Wasey Agency, had been commissioned to come up with a kid-friendly creation but all attempts so far had failed. Then he found Finland’s Fauni company. Fauni started life in 1952, with their own line of troll dolls; three years later they won the rights to create toys based on Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomins.

Usher was convinced that he had found exactly what he was looking for. This was a time when trolls, gonks and all sorts of weird-looking dolls were filling the shelves of toy shops and finding their way in to British homes: there was even a dreadful sci-fi comedy musical, Gonks Go Beat, featuring Lulu, two-thirds of Cream, Charlie from Casualty and Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served?

The Fauni troll – still available today – was (and still is) called Mr. Sumppi. For British consumption, and with stunning originality, he was rechristened Tivvy Times. Oh, the hilarity! Erwin Wasey would redeem themselves with a string of early 70s TV adverts for Coca-Cola, including the famous Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway-authored Sell A Million, originally performed by The New Seekers and later issued as a solo single by Lyn Paul.  

With his “real cool, Beatles-style haircut,” Usher claimed that the terrible troll was “loveable, yet aggressive in his own way. He’s ham-fisted and gets into a mess sometimes. But he’s always enthusiastic.” The voice of Tivvy was supplied by John Ebdon, an actor and voice-over artist who at the time was the senior lecturer at the London Planetarium. Can you imagine what attending one of his lectures must have been like, especially with the lights off? It must have been akin to being shut in a room with Dwight Frye. Ebdon was found after auditioning more than 200 people for the job: “TV personalities, comics, and film stars. But none could create quite the correct image.” The doll was given life by animator George Moreno, and he soon began popping up on ITV shows and in adverts for the TV Times. American-born animator Moreno had worked for Universal and Walter Lantz before joining the Fleischer Studio, and had also been one of the animators on the feature-length Gulliver's Travels (1939). He moved to London in the 1940s and continued working in the UK, as an illustrator and filmmaker, producing animated adverts for Pearl and Dean and many others. At the height of Tivvy’s fame, Moreno filmed a pilot starring Fauni trolls, but it failed to find a buyer.

Tivvy appeared with Ken Dodd and our old friend David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton, promoting kids’ pop show Doddy’s Music Box, with Dodd claiming that, because of their wild hair, “Everyone thinks Tivvy’s my dad!” A photograph appeared in the TV Times showing Tivvy on stage with The Beatles during a rehearsal for their second appearance on ABC-TV’s Blackpool Night Out in August 1965. You could buy (or collect coupons for free) Tivvy badges, Tivvy Jewellery, Tivvy dolls and you could even pick up a pattern to knit your own Tivvy. Suede’s Brett Anderson owned a Tivvy doll that, he claims, he used to try and stick up his nose. Not to be left out, over on the BBC Valerie Singleton showed Blue Peter’s audience how to make their own troll (pointedly not mentioning the name Tivvy) out of an old washing up liquid bottle. Moreno’s company produced a cartoon strip for the Tivvy Club page in TV Times.

Presided over by actor Jimmy Hanley (Jenny from Magpie’s dad), we’re led to believe that at the height of his fame, Tivvy had a fan club numbering 130,000 members. In September 1965, to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the TV Times had a complete revamp. One of the innovations in the new-look, all-colour mag included was a special section for kids, incorporating the Tivvy Club page and adding puzzles, games and an all-new, full colour cartoon strip starring the disgusting doll, again produced by Moreno’s company and drawn by cartoonist Bill Hooper.

Yet despite this, the pages of the TV Times were filled with letters from youngsters refusing to buy in to the lie. Desperate to breathe new life into their dead duck/troll hybrid, Tivvy’s owners ushered Ebdon in to a recording studio in late 1965 in the hope of grabbing the Christmas Number One. With a backing provided by The Clubmates, fifteen or so well-scrubbed but bored-sounding kids swept up from a primary school (in Hurst, near Twyford), and a bored - and very amateur - sounding organ player, Tivvy cut his first and, thankfully, only single. If you thought Tivvy’s Tune was bad, the flipside, My World of Colour, is a funeral dirge... hardly the kind of thing parents would be rushing to buy their kids in time for Christmas. Well, not unless those parents were particularly malevolent. If they really hated you they could also buy a Christmas Special magazine, full to the brim with cartoons of the ugly little gonk, puzzle pages and pictures to colour in. Such fun!

At least the A-side featured a guitar and some rudimentary percussion; the accompaniment on My World of Colour comes straight out of the Grace Pauline Chew playbook. For most of the song he (or she) only plays two notes, and they can’t even get that right! The way these desperate kids - hopped up on a diet of “green eggs (hard boiled), ham sandwiches, jam butties and pink lemonade” - reluctantly sing the single word ‘brown’ will should have alerted their responsible adult to get them the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

“It’s so catchy, I sing it all day long,” Tivvy said of the A-side. “The other one... is all about the rainbow-coloured world I live in. I’m hoping Tivvy’s Tune goes zooming up the record charts. I’d love to get into the Top Twenty and win a golden disc. Then all the girls would scream at me.” Oh, don’t worry Tivvy: the girls (and boys) were already screaming, but in fear, not out of excitement. Incidentally, if you if you thought that Tivvy was banging on about colour to promote the fact that ITV was no longer broadcasting in black and white, think again. Colour transmissions did not begin in the UK until 1967: the BBC began with Wimbledon in July, before launching full colour in December. ITV did not follow suit until 1969, although Lew Grade’s ITC had begun making programmes in colour, to sell to foreign markets, in 1966. Tivvy’s constant cackle over colour, or “cullah” as he pronounced it, was about the fact that the TV Times was now an all-colour magazine, whereas its’ rival, the Radio Times, was still predominantly black and white.

The disc was produced by independent company Cameo Sound, and the tracks written by advertising copywriter George Hanness (who, it has been suggested, may have provided the voice of Tivvy on the record rather than Ebdon) and one K. Harris. It’s doubtful that this was ventriloquist Keith Harris: he would have only been 18 at the time, although he had been performing since he was 14 and made his TV debut (in the BBC show Let’s Laugh) the same year that Tivvy’s Tune was recorded. Publishers Macmelodies was an American firm that had been operating since the dawn of the century; one of their staff writers was a Charles K. Harris. It’s possible that Hanness simply wrote new words to a couple of old tunes, but as Hanness died in 2002 and Keith Harris passed on to the big green duckpond in the sky in 2015, it’s impossible to know for sure.

The doll was a disaster, and the record was a flop, but Tivvy limped on through the first half of 1966, with parents being encouraged to buy Tivvy dolls rather than Easter eggs for their kids. You can imagine how well that went down. The Trustee Savings Bank (and its various affiliates) adopted him, and attempted to part kids from their lucre via a plastic Tivvy piggy bank. Then, there was a colour Christmas annual produced, to usher you in to 1967 in a Tivvy-tastic way. Thankfully none of these last-gasp efforts succeeded in reinvigorating Tivvy, and he was quietly put out of our misery, no more to haunt children’s dreams… until now, that is.

Anyway, see what you think. Here’s both sides of the Tivvy and the Clubmates single. A last aside, the 45 that Tivvy is holding on the picture sleeve of his single is, I believe, You Make It Move, the third Fontana single by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch which was released in November 1965.


Sleep tight!

Download Tune HERE


Download Colour HERE

1 comment:

  1. Its nauseating for sure and a little scary..lol

    ReplyDelete

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