1 9 6 8 – 1 9 8 0 (UK)
152 x 30 minute episodes
Basil Brush – a mischievous upper-class fox, created by Peter Firmin (of Smallfilms) and voiced by Ivan Owen (formerly the operator of Yoo-Hoo the Cuckoo in the 1950s’ Billy Bean and His Funny Machine and dog Fred Barker in Tuesday Rendezvous and Five O’Clock Club) – started off on the telly in a little-known puppet show called The Three Scampis as a sidekick to a Scottish hedgehog called Spike McPike (voiced by Wally Whyton) and a human called Howard Williams.
It was Ivan Owen’s idea to take Basil to the BBC after the glove puppet had been curled up in Peter Firmin’s bottom drawer for six months.
Dressed in a waistcoat, tartan cape and sporting a cravat, Basil shone head and shoulders above his co-stars and got his big break in 1967 when he was signed for a regular guest spot on magician David Nixon’s The Nixon Line, accompanied by Mr Rodney (Rodney Bewes from The Likely Lads) as his first straight man.
Basil soon got his own show now accompanied by Mr Derek (Derek Fowlds from Yes, Minister and Heartbeat) whose chunky sweaters and comparatively stern demeanour seemed to keep the Deerstalkered One in check to some degree.
Basil was also accompanied at different times by Mr Roy (North), Mr Billy (Boyle) and Mr Howard (his old sidekick from the Three Scampis days).
At the show’s peak when it pulled in millions of viewers a week, artists such as Herman’s Hermits, Cilla Black, The Kinks, Lulu and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich clamoured to appear on the show.
Derek managed to exert some control over Basil and on occasion even managed to read more than a page of the story, such as ‘Buccaneering Basil’ and ‘Blast off Basil’.
The song at the end of the story at the end of each show – with the same melody every time with different words – reunited Basil and the current Mr after the inevitable fallings out each week caused by:
- Basil rustling the bag of jelly babies and offering one during a particularly exciting moment of the tale
- Basil unwrapping a toffee noisily and then getting his jaws locked together by it
- Basil’s nose literally out of joint after getting it tweaked at the end of one more interruption
- Basil going “Yes, yes, yes” every ten seconds
- The inevitable appearance of his toy dog that could do backflips
Basil’s interruptions were probably the main reason for the short tenure of each of the successive Misters.
The Roy North pairing was a mismatch from the start – Basil was in complete control by now and Roy (looking like a soppy black-haired Peter Noone – pictured below) let him run riot. No guest was safe from insult during this period and we only ever got about two lines of the story per show.
Mr Billy was no better – despite his excellent showing as Danny Taurus on EastEnders – and the less said about Mr Howard the better.
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 Ivan Owen listless and depressed, meaning retirement for the cheeky fox. Owen died in 2000 at the age of 73 – having never once been photographed with his puppet friend, so preserving Basil’s ‘reality’. Boom Boom!
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.