|Born||Rodney Stephen Hull
August 13, 1935
Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England
|Died||March 17, 1999 (aged 63)
Winchelsea, East Sussex, England
Rodney Stephen Hull (13 August 1935 – 17 March 1999), better known as Rod Hull, was a popular entertainer on British television in the 1970s and 1980s. He rarely appeared without Emu, a mute, highly aggressive arm-length puppet of such a bird. However, Hull was careful to tailor its conduct according to his audience, and always ensured that it displayed a friendly demeanour when in the company of children.
Hull was born in the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England in 1935. He attended Delemark Road School and the County Technical School, Sheerness. When he left school, he trained as an electrician but moved to Australia in the early 1960s.
His first job in television was as a lighting technician with TCN Channel Nine in Sydney. He then began appearing on-air, notably as Constable Clot in Channel Nine's Kaper Kops with Reg Gorman and Desmond Tester, a regular segment in its children's afternoon programming. Clot proved very popular and soon gained his own segment, Clot in the Clouds, which depicted Constable Clot daydreaming about having other professions, such as a world famous brain surgeon, 'Blood Clot'.
Later he worked with Marilyn Mayo as co-host of a children's breakfast TV programme, The Super Flying Fun Show, playing a wacky character named 'Caretaker Clot', an extension of his Kaper Kops role. Hull first used Emu as a puppet in this show. There are conflicting reports as to how this came about: Hull stated, "Sure I found him in a cupboard but I had put him there in the first place. I concocted him, nobody else." However, a Channel Nine producer, Jim Badger, recalled that he had requested a reluctant Hull to use Emu. The bird subsequently became a regular part of Hull's set on cabarets back in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Hull returned to Britain in 1971 and signed with International Artists (after Emu tore up the office). Soon after, his Australian success translated to his native country with Hull appearing on several children's and adult light entertainment shows.
Hull's puppet represented a side of his personality that enabled the entertainer to create a kind of gleeful havoc, while seemingly being not to blame for it. This was aided by the simple yet effective conceit of a false arm attached to Hull's jacket, which cradled the emu, therefore making it appear that the neck and head moved of its own volition. This seemingly independent movement gave the illusion that the bird had its own personality, which entailed sudden, unprovoked and aggressive attacks on anyone and anything that came too close. During these, Hull would make half-hearted attempts to pull the badly-behaved bird away from its victim but would often become embroiled in the fracas, rolling around on the floor to create a scene of mayhem.
When Hull left The Super Flying Fun Show and Australia, a duplicate of Emu was made so the character could continue on the show, much to Hull's annoyance, Comedian Marty Morton took over Hull's co-hosting position in Australia.
It was during the 1970s that Hull and the uncontrollable Emu made their most famous appearances. The bird repeatedly attacked Michael Parkinson during a 1976 edition of his eponymous chat show, eventually causing the interviewer to fall off his chair. Fellow guest Billy Connolly threatened, "If that bird comes anywhere near me, I'll break its neck and your bloody arm!". Perhaps mindful of his professional future, Hull swiftly got his "pet" back on best behaviour. In later years, Parkinson always lamented the fact that despite all the star guests he had interviewed during his career, he would always be remembered for "that bloody bird".
There were apparently no boundaries for Emu's outrageous behaviour. In 1972, it destroyed The Queen Mother's bouquet of flowers during the after-show line-up at the aforementioned Royal Variety Performance. During an appearance on The Tonight Show, he even attacked Richard Pryor in one of the comedian's first public appearances after undergoing major emergency reconstructive surgery on his face. Hull and Emu were regulars on the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, which aired for one season as a Saturday morning kids' show on CBS in 1974.
During the 1980s Hull was a multi-millionaire, thanks to his anarchic puppet, and enjoyed huge success with Emu's World and Emu's All Live Pink Windmill Show. The record viewership for his main show, Emu's Broadcasting Company (1975–1980), was 11 million. However, he later suffered financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt in 1994.
In the late 1980s Hull bought Restoration House in Rochester for £387,000, but went bankrupt renovating it and the house was repossessed. Hull's wife Cher, who was instrumental in his success, moved the family to her home country of Australia. The whole family moved but after some time Hull returned, preferring to live in England, and moved to a shepherd's cottage in East Sussex.
Hull was in the public eye less frequently during the 1990s, appearing in pantomime and television commercials, and winning the 1993 "Pipe Smoker of the Year" award. Nonetheless, his name remained well-known, and comedians Richard Herring and Stewart Lee included a "false Rod Hull" character in their 1996 television sketch show, Fist of Fun, played by the actor Kevin Eldon. This character was performed as a grotesque imitation, a character who was finally unmasked by the real Rod Hull, who appeared (minus Emu) in the last episode of the series. It was to be Hull's penultimate television appearance.
A 2003 Channel 4 documentary, Rod Hull: A Bird in the Hand, revealed that Hull nursed an increasing resentment towards his puppet, believing that the success of the bird prevented him from pursuing other avenues in showbusiness. He saw himself, according to the programme-makers, as a talented performer who could have developed a more varied career in the entertainment industry had he not been forced to repeatedly play the 'and Emu' role. Hull once 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."
Hull died on 17 March 1999, at the age of 63. While attempting to adjust his television aerial, he fell from the roof of his home in Winchelsea, near Rye, and through an adjoining greenhouse. He suffered a massive skull fracture and chest injuries. Following an inquest, the East Sussex Coroner, Alan Craze, recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Prior to Hull's demise, Lee and Herring had planned to revive their "false Rod Hull" character for their contemporary series, This Morning with Richard Not Judy, but despite filming several sketches — in which the character would die after performing a pointless stunt — the footage was never used.
Upon Hull's death, Michael Parkinson reminisced that he had found him to be "a very charming, intelligent and sensitive man — quite unlike the Emu." He observed that the puppet "was the dark side of Rod's personality, and very funny, provided it was not on top of you."
His son Toby brought Emu out of retirement for the first time since his father's death during the 2003 pantomime season, appearing in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Toby Hull and Emu now appear in their own series on CITV.
Half Man Half Biscuit's 1988 song "Rod Hull Is Alive - Why?" asked for some justification of his existence. The band has rarely performed the song since Hull's demise. Hull is mentioned in the song "Self Suicide" by Goldie Lookin Chain in which it's suggested that an accidental death is undesirable since it doesn't generate the same boost for a celebrity's public image as a suicide.
In 1974 Hull recorded "Bristol Rovers all the way" with the squad of the time. Near the end of the song he can be heard telling Emu to "get off the pitch".