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Basil Brush Show, The (1968-80)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Basil Brush Show, The (1968-80)
152 episodes in 15 seasons (colour from season 3)
ProducerJohnny Downes
 Robin Nash
 Brian Penders
 Paul Ciani

Co-hosts: Rodney Bewes; Derek Fowlds; Roy North; Howard Williams; Billy Boyle

Show full cast and credits

The cheeky glove puppet fox hosts a variety and sketch show format - a procession of comic stooges play straight man and second fiddle to his antics.

Show full synopsis

The upper-class fox with a voice like Terry-Thomas was devised by illustrator Peter Firmin for The Three Scampis (1962-65), broadcast in ITV's Small Time slot for the very young, as one of two glove-puppet companions to down-on-his-luck circus impresario Bill Scampi. Voice artist Ivan Owen brought Basil Brush to life.

After appearing with magician David Nixon in his variety shows Now For Nixon (BBC, 1967) and The Nixon Line (1967-68), Basil got his own show, forming comic double acts with a succession of 'straight men'. The Basil Brush Show used a standard BBC variety and sketch format - incorporating bad jokes and puns, guest performers (magicians, acrobats, plate-spinners, club musicians), a pantomime-like vignette, and a final adventure serial story 'ruined' by Basil's comic misunderstandings. Basil's disrespect for authority appealed to kids, while innuendo and topical gags at the expense of British Rail, Margaret Thatcher and 'Mrs Lighthouse' (Mary Whitehouse) kept parents amused.

Early series moved around the schedules before securing a Saturday slot - after the football results - from Autumn 1975, joining programmes like Doctor Who, The Generation Game, The Two Ronnies, Match of the Day and Parkinson in the BBC's most successful Saturday night line-ups and achieving regular ratings of over 13 million.

But when, by the decade's end, ratings had fallen to 6 million, the show was axed. Basil reappeared in schools programme Let's Read... With Basil Brush (ITV, 1982-83) and Crackerjack (BBC), with his last TV engagement Basil's Joke Machine (ITV, 1986).

A stroke in the late 1980s left Owen listless and depressed, meaning retirement for Basil. Owen died in 2000 - having never once been photographed with his puppet friend, so preserving Basil's 'reality'.

In 2002, a new BBC series, with a slick children's sitcom format, a new voice artist and a fatter, furrier new puppet, lost the spontaneity that had made a flea-ridden puppet seem so alive. Guest appearances on Blue Peter in early 2003 were more in keeping with the Basil of old.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Complete episode (29:46)
Children's Puppets and Animation
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin