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Rainbow (1972-95)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Rainbow (1972-95)
Thames Television for ITV
15 Series
Devised byPamela Lonsdale
 John Kershaw
ProducersPamela Lonsdale
 Charles Warren
 Joe Boyer
Animations produced by Brian Cosgrove
 Mark Hall

Presenters: David Cook; Geoffrey Hayes; Stanley Bates (Bungle); Malcolm Lord (Bungle); Paul Cullinan (Bungle); Peter Hawkins (voice of Zippy); Roy Skelton (voices of Zippy/George); Ronnie Le Drew (voice of Zippy); Craig Crane (voice of George); Gillian Robic (Cleo)

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Pre-school series introducing children to the world via storytelling, animation, song, documentary film and the adventures of all manner of strange characters sharing a house together.

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Rainbow, a programme aimed at the 'rising fives' poised on the verge of school, came out of ITV extending its daytime service to lunchtimes. Pamela Lonsdale's first rough format, based around Rainbow the Bear, made an unscreened, improvised pilot. The first episode, aired 16 October 1972, centred around human presenter David Cook, Bungle Bear and strange puppet creature Zippy, with interjections from glove puppets Sunshine and Moony and folk group Telltale. Later revisions saw Bungle and Zippy joined by pink hippo George and looked after by presenter Geoffrey Hayes. Telltale were replaced with singing trio Charmian, Karl and Julian and then the more familiar Rod, Jane and Freddy.

Rainbow aimed to develop language and number concepts at a level to help children prepare for school. Lewis Rudd, Thames' controller of children's programmes, said he hoped the strong educational content would not be too intrusive, aiming for 'a fun context'.

Themed programmes featured animations, tales from the Rainbow storybook, songs or documentary films on children's lives. Special programmes showcased extended documentaries on topics like going to hospital or starting school. These items punctuated the character stories - noisy Zippy, shy George and inquisitive Bungle were surrogate children to Geoffrey's active parent. The hugely successful mix won the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme 1975.

By the mid-1980s, most episodes were written by the performers, who tended to indulge the character elements despite the remaining presence of educational adviser Stephanie Connell. The original Rainbow died with the non-renewal of Thames' franchise in 1992 - a revival series had Bungle and friends (now including Cleo, a blue rabbit) running a toy shop without Geoffrey's help (1994-5). New presenter Dale joined the puppets for ten-minute adventures in the later Rainbow Days (1996-97).

Imaginative, if now lazily recalled by some as "one of those shows that must have been made on drugs", an innuendo-laden 'adult' sketch specially made by the team for ITV staff in 1978 has since passed into urban myth. Rumours persist of a naughty late-night revival, aimed at those who (almost) grew up with the series.

References and Further Reading
Barrett, Andrew and Carolyn Barrett. Rainbow fan website. (URL current at 1/3/04)
Down, Richard, Richard Marson and Chris Perry. The British Children's Television Research Guide Volume 1, Kaleidoscope Publishing, 1999 (revised edition).
Home, Anna. Into the Box of Delights: a history of children's television, BBC, 1993.

Alastair McGown

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Video Clips
Complete episode: 'Fairies' (15:13)
Thames Television
Children's TV in the 1970s
Pre-school Television