1 9 5 5 – 1 9 6 6 (UK)
The children’s series Small Time was designed as Rediffusion’s 15-minute slot for the under-fives and greeted a new arrival in Pussy Cat Willum, a glove puppet devised and animated by Janet Nicholls.
Accompanied by Wally Whyton (pictured below right) and Muriel Young (pictured at left), Willum (who was a proper little know-all) built up quite a following, receiving some 400 letters a week.
He reigned supreme for six years before being ruthlessly axed – a cruel deed that warranted a half-page story in the Daily Express. A television company spokesman said coldly: “We just thought it was time for a change”.
The show also featured puppets Ollie Beak (a portly owl operated by Whtyon) and Fred Barker (a cockney dishmop-headed dog operated by Ivan Owen), magician Larry Parker with Theodore the rabbit, and Gerry Anderson’s first two creations, Torchy The Battery Boy and The Adventures of Twizzle.
Torchy was a dim battery-operated puppet boy, while Twizzle was a Pinocchio-like puppet boy who was able to twist himself to great heights watched by his fat feline companion Footso.
Other segments which were aired as part of Small Time included Booty Mole, Snoozy the Sea Lion, Gorki the Straw Goat, The Three Scampis – featuring Bert Scampi (Howard Williams) and his animal pals, hedgehog Spike McPike and aristocratic fox, Basil Brush, The Musical Box, Ivor The Engine, and Sara and Hoppity.
In those days, Wally and Muriel had to ad-lib in the continuity suite between programmes if there weren’t sufficient commercials to air. This could be for anything up to eight minutes.
Whyton remembered one such occasion, a New Years Day: “My character, Ollie Beak, came in with a balloon and announced, “I’ve been to the Chelsea Owls’ Ball”. To which Muriel replied innocently “I didn’t know owls had balls”. I don’t know how we carried on without cracking up completely”.
As the sixties ran on, Small Time’s big talents slowly dispersed to the four corners of television: Gerry Anderson and company to forge a puppet dynasty, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin (who first worked together creating Alexander The Mouse – performed with magnetic animation – for Small Time) to carve a homely niche in animation, Basil Brush to Saturday night ubiquity, and Muriel Young to produce acres of glam rock television.
The show’s last significant signing was Pippy the Tellyphant, a pantomime elephant operated by husband-and-wife team Jimmy and June Kidd.
Wally Whyton died from lung cancer in January 1997. Muriel Young passed away on 24 March 2001.