Paul Casserly 's Opinion

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: The day I met Thingee

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Thingee was a TV puppet who appeared with Jason Gunn on after-school TV shows. Photo / Supplied
Thingee was a TV puppet who appeared with Jason Gunn on after-school TV shows. Photo / Supplied

I have very few amazing claims to charm or amaze people at dinner parties. I have not climbed Mount Everest, or gone swimming with sharks.

But I do have one ace up my sleeve. I've met Thingee. I've actually met, in the flesh, Jason Gunn's sidekick. Or was it the other way round?

While filming The Unauthorised History of New Zealand, we decided we needed some top-notch talking heads to add to the archive footage that we were pillaging.

So we called Thingee and his human right-hand man, Alan Henderson. They agreed to meet us at Avalon studios and it was there in a session between Bob Jones and Jane Clifton that Thingee sat down to deliberate on us, on New Zealand, all with that great distinctive nasal twang.

I'm not sure what he said but I'm sure it was on the choice end of the spectrum. It was probably the highlight of my TV-making career.

But it was while I was sharing the moment at work the other day that I was one-upped by a colleague who - get this - was one of the people who actually invented Thingee.

Then, and this is absolutely true, someone else piped up with one of those lines you never really expect outside of a conversation with a four-year-old or about half an hour after taking acid.

"I went out with Basil Brush's daughter," he offered.

The room was stunned and words like "off his meds" started to form in our minds, before he continued with, "Well the man who created him, it was his daughter, they kept Basil in the shed".

I did ask if Basil ever joined the pair in their romantic endeavours, whether there was ever a ménage, as they say in Akaroa, but I was given the usual blank, disapproving stare. Which I take to mean, "neither confirm nor deny".

I've also had the pleasure of meeting Playschool stars Humpty and Big Ted, as they were once in box that was kicking around TVNZ. I think Manu was in there too but not Gemima, who, as we now know was living in a caravan park in the Waikato and was struggling with a serious addiction before pulling herself up by her own shoelaces.

You may recall that she had some success in politics, making it on to the party list for Act at the last election and recently she nearly made it on to MasterChef.

Ironically she was beaten by the dad from the Dolmio commercial, who in turn was disqualified for being, of all things, Glaswegian.

There are other iconic inanimates that I have yet to have the pleasure of encountering. I never did meet Chic Littlewood's talking dog, Nowcy or that Scottish rat Willy McNab, both the creations of Alma Woods, NZ's answer to Jim Henson.

What about the short-lived, and not really missed, Russell Rooster I don't hear you ask?

Then there's the ensemble players, the cast of Woolly Valley would be high on the list of puppets I'd like to meet, not PILFs you understand but PILM's.

If you're old enough you'll remember this lo-fi masterpiece of pipe-cleaners and felt. To be honest my heart sank when this was on because it was extremely boring. Perhaps I was too old, perhaps it was extremely boring, but it's memorable and it is weird.

Memorable and weird, now there's two Kiwi qualities that get overlooked with all this nonsense about ingenuity and bits of wire. Oh and I came across this too, something called Beyond Woolly Valley, not sure if it's got off the ground yet but I live in hope.

Anyway, the reason I'm going on about all of this is that I have been asked to write about the latest collection of some magic TV moments on the NZ On Screen site, which you will find here.

And they have collected real some beauties, including the fabled footage of Thingee's eye popping out.

Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

Read more by Paul Casserly

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