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Hull, Rod (1935-1999)

Comedian, Presenter, Writer

Main image of Hull, Rod (1935-1999)

Rodney Stephen Hull was born on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent in 1935, the son of a bus conductor. Rod's sister Joan emigrated to Australia and advised him that the country's new television service was seeking talent. A trained electrician, he began working as a lighting technician at TCN Channel 9, Sydney in 1961.

There, Hull created comic policeman Constable Clot who featured in a series of silent-style, Hull-scripted comedy films, Kaper Cops (1962-65). Progressing to adult TV, he wrote and performed for daily chat show The Tonight Show with Don Lane (1965-68). Other Australian work included scripting cartoon series Arthur! and the Square Knights of the Round Table (1966), children's series Wonderbox (1968) and guest roles in Woobinda, Riptide and Skippy.

The Emu puppet was found in a props cupboard. Hull enigmatically recalled, "Sure I found him in a cupboard but I had put him there in the first place. I concocted him, nobody else." Channel 9 producer Jim Badger recalls that he foisted the puppet upon an initially reluctant Hull.

Returning to England in September 1971, Hull traipsed round London's writing agencies for three months before using the Emu as a 'sales gimmick'. Emu tore up the office at International Artists and Hull was signed - the act, of the seemingly friendly bird going out of control and attacking all in sight, would serve him well for the best part of twenty years. Hull said in 1975; "I think that's what people identify with. The audience sees itself as me and Emu is life, dressed up like a joke and ready to clobber them."

After a British TV debut on Saturday Variety (ITV, tx. 22/1/72) the pair became regular presenters on children's lunchtime storybook series Happy House (ITV, 1972-73) but when Emu wrestled Dickie Henderson, the host of The Royal Variety Performance (BBC, tx. 5/11/72), to the ground and then attacked the Queen Mother's posy in the aftershow line up, they became overnight sensations.

For two decades they were a fixture of TV and theatre variety . Emu's Broadcasting Company EBC1 (BBC, 1975-80) was the highpoint - set in a ramshackle TV station run by Rod and Emu, it allowed Hull to write a variety of sketches and quite often to work without Emu, to whom he was becoming inextricably linked. He complained; "I want to write but Emu doesn't leave me the time. I want to be a comedian in my own right, but again Emu won't let me do it."

The die was cast when, in one of TV's classic moments, Emu attacked chat show host Parkinson (BBC, tx. 27/11/76). Hull himself found this turn worn out - he had performed the same trick on a distinctly unamused Noel Edmonds on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop a few weeks previously (BBC, tx. 6/11/76) - and was apparently taking his frustration out on Parkinson. Parky would later make a guest cameo on EBC1 and appear in a snack commercial with the bird. Despite his frustration, Emu brought Hull fame and fortune - tie-ins included hand puppets, board games and comic strips.

The 1980s saw Hull working for Central Television. His pantomimic series (including Emu's World and Emu's Pink Windmill Show) featured Rod, Emu and a gang of kids living in a pink windmill threatened by green-faced witch Grotbags. The format chopped and changed - Emu's All-Live Pink Windmill Show introduced live phone-in and viewer postbag elements amid the storylines. Central ended the series in 1989 although a Grotbags series without Rod followed (ITV, 1991-93), as did cartoon series Rod'n'Emu (ITV, 1991).

This ruined Hull, facing huge tax demands and renovating a Kent mansion as the recession bit. Declared bankrupt in 1994 his wife left him and he moved to a tiny shepherd's cottage in Sussex, working in panto to pay the bills. He died in an accident on 17 March 1999, falling from his roof adjusting the TV aerial.

Alistair McGown

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Presenter, Writer, Producer