Friday, 27 September 2013

Happy Birthday

I can distinctly remember, many years ago, constantly being intrigued by the title of a short (usually around five minute) show which regularly appeared in the afternoon schedule of the regional ITV company Westward. Westward bordered our own ITV region and, as a rule, its schedule pretty much matched our own. yet every weekday there was this anomaly...a peculiar programme which I was never able to view entitled Gus Honeybun's Magic Birthdays.

Not being able to watch meant that I had no idea who this Gus Honeybun was. In fact I had remained blissfully ignorant until recently, when approached by a friend in my local and the subject of Gus Honeybun came up. For Gus made a record - sort of.

A badly stuffed toy rabbit, Gus Honeybun was the station mascot for Westward Television, (which later became Television South West and, later still, Westcountry) from 1961 to 1992. In terms of longevity, he is reputed to have had a career in television second only to that of Sooty, the little yellow bear glove puppet and his cronies Sweep and Soo. Like many puppets, Gus's appearance changed over the years - there were at least four different toys used during his three-decade career.

Devised to fill time during unsold advertising slots, Augustus Jeremiah Honeybun (to give him his full name) was supposedly found under a gorse bush on Dartmoor. Appearing with presenters including Fern Britton and Judi Spiers, Gus wasn't the only puppet to be employed by an ITV regional franchise: ATV famously had Tingha and Tucker (the two little bears) and the device was stolen wholesale by BBC who launched Gordon the Gopher, Edd the Duck and others to national fame.

During Gus's shows his human friend would read out birthday wishes to viewers (who were supposed to be aged 12 and under), and the fat, mute rabbit would bounce up and down (often with the arm of his operator clearly in view) and occasionally headbutt a cardboard lever which would 'magically' transform the backdrop. The wonders of technology.

So great was Gus's following locally that a 45 was issued - in both black vinyl and picture disc versions - of a brace of songs inspired by Gus and written by composer Ed Welch. Probably best known for his work with the legendary Spike Milligan, Welch wrote the theme tunes to many TV favourites including Blockbusters, Catchphrase, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and even the National Lottery programme. He also wrote and performed both sides of this stinker The Gus Honeybun Song and Happy Birthday Gus Honeybun.

Unfortunately, Gus's career could not last forever: after several changes in franchise ownership he was deemed to be passé by the powers that be and in 1992 he was reunited with his massive rabbit family on Dartmoor.

Still, thanks Andy for reminding me about Gus and here for you - and for everyone else, of course - are both sides of his one and only 45.



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