Rainbow (TV series): Wikis


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Genre Children's television series
Created by Pamela Lonsdale
Starring Roy Skelton
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of seasons 15
No. of episodes 1071
Location(s) Teddington Studios
Running time Typically about 15 minutes
(occasionally longer)
Production company(s) Thames Television
Original channel ITV
Picture format 4:3
Original run October 16, 1972 – March 6, 1992
(repeats then shown to December 18, 1992)

Rainbow is a British children's television series, created by Pamela Lonsdale, which ran twice weekly at 12:10 on Tuesdays and Fridays on the ITV network, from 16 October 1972 to 6 March 1992. It was intended to develop language and number skills for pre-school children, and went on to win the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme in 1975.

The programme was originally conceived as a British equivalent of long-running American educational puppet series Sesame Street.[citation needed] The British series would be developed in house by Thames Television, and had no input from the Sesame Workshop.

After more than 1000 episodes, the series came to an abrupt end when Thames Television lost its ITV franchise at the end of 1992. Since then, it has gained cult status and continues to get frequent mentions on radio and television. On 28 February 2006, BBC News reported that digital children's channel Nick Jr. would be showing repeats of Rainbow (dating from 1982) on Mondays.



Each episode of Rainbow revolved around a particular activity or situation that would arise in the Rainbow House, where the main characters lived. Usually it would involve some kind of squabble or dispute between the puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle, and Geoffrey's attempts to calm them down and keep the peace. The main story would be interspersed with songs (usually from Rod, Jane and Freddy, although guest singers would occasionally take their place), animations, and stories read from the Rainbow storybook, usually by Geoffrey. Some episodes would focus on a particular theme, such as sounds or opposites, and would consist mainly of short sketches or exchanges between the main characters, rather than a consistent storyline.


Rainbow featured the following characters, each with their own character style:

  • The presenter - first David Cook, then the best known presenter Geoffrey Hayes, who brought them to order or gave them something to do.
  • Bungle - a brown furry bear with a squashed face, who is inquisitive but also clumsy. (a costume; played by John Leeson, Stanley Bates, Malcolm Lord and Paul Cullinan). The question regarding why Bungle always wrapped a towel around his waist to protect his modesty after a shower, in spite of the fact that he walked around nude for the rest of time, has never been addressed. (He also donned pyjamas at bed time.)
  • Zippy - loud and domineering, who was actually a rugby ball (though with a body attached). (puppet; originally voiced and operated by Peter Hawkins, then voiced by Roy Skelton - both well known for voicing Daleks and Cybermen in Doctor Who) - and operated by Ronnie Le Drew. Zippy's mouth was a zip, and when he became too bossy or irritating this would be zipped shut to prevent him from continuing: on at least one occasion he unzipped himself, though he appeared unable to do so on other occasions.
  • George - a shy, pink and slightly camp hippo. (puppet; voiced by Roy Skelton and operated by Malcolm Lord, Tony Holtham and later Craig Crane)
  • Sunshine and Moony - optimistic Sunshine (yellow with a red hat) and her more gloomy friend Moony (brown with a tuft of yellow hair) were the original 'stars' of the programme, but soon became little more than foils to the more popular Zippy; they were phased out by 1973, in favour of greater roles for Bungle and (especially) George.
  • Rod, Jane and Freddy - a group of musicians who regularly featured on the programme. Originally known as Rod, Jane and Matt when they debuted on the show in 1974. Matt's position being held by Matthew Corbett (of The Sooty Show fame) and from 1977 by Roger Walker, before Freddy Marks took over in 1981.
  • Telltale - a six-piece group who provided the music in the early days of the show being replaced by Charlie Dore and Julian Littman and then Rod, Matt and Jane.
  • Zippo - Zippy's cousin, identical in appearance to Zippy but slightly darker in colour, who would make the occasional guest appearance. Originally portrayed as an eloquent Frenchman, but a later episode depicted him as an American-accented rapper with loud, flashy clothing.
  • Georgina (a.k.a Georgie), a cousin of George. Georgina was physically identical to George, except for her long eyelashes and floppy hat.
  • Dawn - the next-door neighbour, played by Dawn Bowden, who was introduced in the show's later years, first appearing in 1990.
  • Aunty - played by numerous actresses, was the aunt of one of the characters, probably Geoffrey.

A few episodes also include some sort of a Geoffrey-type figure for Zippo called Vince. He seemed to be some sort of a brother to Geoffrey.

Generally speaking, George and Zippy represented two 'types' of child, George being the quiet and shy type, while Zippy represented the hyperactive and destructive type. George was usually vindicated, but Zippy got his comeuppance. While they were apparently young 'children', Bungle was an older 'child', and differed from them in being a costume, rather than a hand puppet. Geoffrey's relationship to them was unclear, other than being a kind of father figure (although he is referred to as 'Uncle' Geoffrey in at least one episode) . Apart from Jane and (in the early days) Sunshine, females rarely appeared on the programme, despite some ambiguity concerning the often effeminate (and permanently pink) George.

In 1989, Rod, Jane and Freddy left the show to concentrate on touring, pantomime appearances and their own separate TV show (which had run parallel with Rainbow since 1981). This meant that Dawn Bowden was introduced as a regular female character in place of Jane, while the songs were generally provided by guest singers, notably Christopher Lillicrap. The show would also often include guest stars, to make a change from Geoffrey telling all the lessons - this way, the characters would be told stories and lessons by a fresh face.

Theme Song

The theme song for the show was actually a small part of the full version, also called 'Rainbow' and written by Hugh Portnow, Hugh Fraser and Tim Thomas of the band Telltale, who regularly appeared in the first series of the show. This was released by Music For Pleasure in 1973 with the B-side "Windy Day".

At least three dance versions of the theme tune have been released as singles. The dance act Solo had a minor hit in 1991 with a sample-free instrumental version of the Rainbow theme, while Eurobop released a dance version in 1993 featuring samples taken directly from the original theme as well as voice samples of the main characters, who appeared on several music TV shows to promote the single. A third dance version, titled "It's A Rainbow" and featuring the vocals of Zippy and George, reached the UK top 20 in 2002.

The revival

Although the original Rainbow ended with the loss of Thames' broadcasting licence in 1992, Tetra Films (an independent production company spawned by Thames' children's department) revived it for ITV in 1994 and 1995 (two series, 33 episodes in total). The new version of the show departed from the original format, centred on the slightly redesigned puppet characters - without a presenter - running a toy shop. A new character was introduced, a Scouse-sounding blue rabbit named Cleo (voiced by Gillian Robic). Geoffrey Hayes claims to have heard the news of his 'sacking' from the tabloids, rather than from Tetra: "I was shocked really, and for a couple of days I thought it was just me who had been dropped. But then Rod, Jane and Freddy had already left and of course Roy had now been dropped too, the guy playing Bungle - he was history, as was the puppeteer doing George - only the Zippy puppeteer was left. I don't think the controllers realised quite what they were doing; Bungle looked different and even though Zippy and George looked much the same, it wasn't Roy and so it wasn't them. They battled on for a bit, but it just faded away."[1]

A second revival, in 1996, saw a return to something like the original format in a series of short 10-minute shows entitled Rainbow Days, presented by Dale Superville, which ran to only one series of 12 episodes. However, neither of the two revivals was as well received as the shows fronted by Geoffrey Hayes. There was no mention of Thames in either of the new series, as both were produced in association with HTV. A comic based on the latter series, also titled Rainbow Days, ran for a handful of issues in 1997.

Episodes of the original Rainbow, dating from the early 1980s, have been shown sporadically on the UK satellite TV channel Nick Jr (and/or its sister channel, Nick Jr 2) since 2006, as part of its Nick Jr. Classics re-runs. A previous repeat run took place on UK Gold (now G.O.L.D.) from its launch in November 1992 to 1994; these were mostly from the last three years of the programme (without Rod, Jane and Freddy).

The "adult" version

In 1979, the cast and crew of Rainbow made a special exclusive sketch for the Thames TV staff Christmas tape, sometimes referred to as the "Twangers" episode. This show featured plenty of deliberate sexual innuendo (beginning with Zippy peeling a banana, saying "One skin, two skin, three skin, four..." before being interrupted), and never shown at the time (as it was never intended to be screened to the general public.) It also included Geoffrey convincing the viewers to play with their balls, but if they didn't have any balls, they could ask a friend and play with his. Jane also claimed that she was banging with Rod and Roger. Soon, Zippy asked them to stop suggesting whether to play with a blowing tube and maraccas, so they could start singing the 'Plucking Song'.

The clip became famous after being aired on Victor Lewis-Smith's Channel 4 programme TV Offal (1997) and was jokingly referred to as "the pilot episode", which it clearly wasn't as Geoffrey Hayes was a presenter at the time. The clip has become widely-spread, first in emails as an attachment and later via online video websites such as YouTube. This has led to many erroneous claims that the episode was publicly broadcast as a regular episode.

TV Offal also broadcast some very risqué material featuring members of the cast as guests on a variety show hosted by comedian Jim Davidson in the 1980s; the sketch in question, which featured former children's TV presenter Tommy Boyd, asking a question about Adam and Eve. Boyd and Davidson used some profanities in the sketch, along with some innuendo from George (presumably again not intended for broadcast like the above), but the most shocking moment was when Zippy exclaimed to Geoffrey: "The fucking Garden of Eden!" This sketch would in all likelihood have been filmed during rehearsals.

Comedian Bobby Davro also parodied Rainbow as a comedy sketch in his own TV series in the early-1990s, playing the part of Geoffrey alongside exaggerated versions of Bungle and the puppets, which contained some mild sexual innuendo. Davro had appeared in a regular edition of the show, in which he performed impressions of the characters in front of them.

While never explicitly adult, most interviews featuring Zippy and George since the show's demise commonly portray them as somewhat more edgy in terms of personality. For example, in an episode of SMTV Live they call Bungle an "Idiotic, blundering creature."

Further reading

Mike Anderiesz, Climbing High: Life Under the Rainbow Exposed (Boxtree, 2002).

Simon Sheridan, The A to Z of Classic Children's Television (Reynolds & Hearn books, 2004, reprinted 2007) ISBN 1-903111-27-7. Features a chapter on the series and interviews with Jane Tucker and Pamela Lonsdale.

Rainbow Unzipped - The Autobiography by Tim Randall Published on 1 October 2009 by Headline Publishing Group (ISBN 13: 9780755319763).


  1. ^ Anderiesz, Mike (2002). Climbing High: Life Under the Rainbow Exposed. Boxtree. pp. 122-123. 

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