Today it is my stop on the blog tour for Zippy And Me by Ronnie Le Drew, Duncan Barrett, and Nuala Calvi. I’m sure that most people around my age remember Zippy from the incredibly popular children’s tv programme, Rainbow. So I was excited about the book and I’m delighted to share an extract from the book. Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for having me as part of the tour.
To whet your appetite for this fabulous book I have an extract for you. Enjoy!
July 1961. Stockwell Gardens council estate, South London.
Crouched behind a cardboard box, I wait impatiently
for the audience to settle. I sneak a glance round the side
of my brand-new Pollock’s toy theatre. Rows of little girls
in knee-high socks sit cross-legged on the floor as their
brothers jostle for space at the back.
I have summoned them to a performance on the landing
of our block of flats, instructing them very clearly not to
cross the crack in the concrete that delineates the stage.
I clear my throat importantly, and the rabble quietens
down a little. ‘The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince
of Denmark, by William Shakespeare,’ I announce in
the lowest possible tones my thirteen-year-old voice box
can muster, prodding Bonnie, my twin sister, to start
the wind-up gramophone. I wince as the strains of ‘I’m
a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch’ begin, to the
accompaniment of sniggers. Hardly the grand orchestral
music I would have wished, but since it’s the only record
we own, it will have to do.
I take a last, lingering glance at the shiny photograph
of Laurence Olivier, resplendent as the Dane in the 1959
film of Hamlet, in the book that Benjamin Pollock’s toy
shop has helpfully provided as part of its Regency Theatre
kit. It has taken me eight weeks to save the money to buy it
from the Pollock’s shop on Monmouth Street, and it is my
pride and joy. The wooden stage is exquisitely made, with
a little round pit containing a painted orchestra, a battery-
operated spotlight, and cardboard scenery and characters
lovingly cut out and coloured in by Bonnie and me.
With a nod from me, she now lifts the little wooden
curtain and the lights come up; down goes the ghost of
Hamlet’s father on a piece of cotton thread, uttering the
immortal line: ‘O horrible! O horrible! Most horrible!’
I’m soon well into my stride, moving Hamlet and Horatio
around the ramparts and concentrating hard to make
sure I get every word right. The audience is completely
silent, apparently transfixed by the drama onstage.
After a couple of scenes it’s too much – the desire for
applause overwhelms me and I pull the curtain down with
a flourish, announcing, ‘You may clap now!’
As dead silence greets us, Bonnie and I stand up and
look over the top of the theatre.
There is no one there. Each and every child has quietly
crept away and we have been performing to ourselves.
It is the best lesson I will ever learn as a puppeteer.
Over the course of almost half a century, puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew has worked with the greats – from David Bowie in Labyrinth to Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol. But the role that defined his career was Rainbow’s Zippy, who he operated for more than twenty years.
Zippy and Me is the first time a Rainbow insider has told the true story of what went on under the counter and inside the suits: the petty squabbles between performers, wrangling with TV executives, and scandals such as the ‘love triangle’ between musicians Rod, Jane and Freddy. Not to mention the now infamous X-rated episode shot for an ITV Christmas party, which subsequently found its way to the Sun.
Interweaved with the dirt on what really went on behind the scenes is the story of Rainbow’s heyday in the 1970s and 80s, when its stars found themselves catapulted into an exciting showbiz world – scooping a BAFTA award and even performing for the queen – and the story of a young lad from a south London council estate who defied his parents’ protests to became one of the most respected puppeteers of all time.
About the Author:
Ronnie Le Drew is one of the UK’s most respected puppeteers, and recipient of the prestigious Harlequin Award.
He has operated many of the most iconic children’s puppets of the twentieth century – Zippy, Sweep, Muffin the
Mule, Bill and Ben, Brains from Thunderbirds – as well as working on classic puppet films such as Labyrinth,
Little Shop of Horrors and The Muppet Christmas Carol. He continues to work regularly as a puppeteer in TV,
theatre and advertising and also teaches at the London School of Puppetry, which he founded in 1987.