Weekend Rewind: NZ's favourite TV puppets

Inspired by Jeremy Wells’ new-look Mike Hosking puppet, NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop pulls some strings on our TV puppet history.
Some of NZ's most memorable puppets on screen.
Some of NZ's most memorable puppets on screen.

Online parody show Like Mike has just added a new member to New Zealand's prestigious puppet alumni - a Sesame Street style replica of broadcaster Mike Hosking. The new Mike is in good company; as evidenced below, many of our local shows have a history of promoting plush-faced talent.

Late children's entertainer Chic Littlewood introduced a generation of Kiwi kids to the concept of puppet sidekicks. Littlewood's after school show Chic Chat saw him sharing the screen with a host of puppet pals, including Nowcy the Dog and a clan of Scottish mice led by the mischievous wee Willie McNabb.

Watch an episode of Chic Chat here:

Chic Chat - 1981 Episode

Low-tech but much-loved was 80s puppet series Woolly Valley. Set in rural NZ, the show followed the lives of woolly-haired farmer Wally and his long-suffering wife Beattie, with featured appearances from talking ewe Eunice, and head-banded hippie Tussock. Woolly Valley also marked an early piece of screenwriting by celebrated children's writer Margaret Mahy.

Watch a compilation of Woolly Valley episodes here:

Woolly Valley - Series One Compilation

The 80s also saw the arrival of Thingee, emerging from an episode of After School to become the long-term TV sidekick of Jason Gunn. Renowned for his quick wit and wobbly eyes, 1994 saw a heart-stopping moment when, on The Son of a Gunn Show, one wobbly eyeball proceeded to pop out on screen. Ever the professionals, both Thingee and Gunn continued presenting without missing a beat. Thousands of New Zealanders continue to bear mental scarring.

Watch Thingee's Eye Pop here:

The Son of a Gunn Show - Thingee's Eye Pop

The 90s saw Suzy Cato partnered with feathered puppet friend Russell Rooster on TV3's The Early Bird Show. Combining homegrown skits with overseas cartoons, the pair anchored weekend mornings on the channel for some years. These excerpts see Cato mercifully protecting Russell from a giveaway of fried chicken vouchers.

See excerpts from The Early Bird Show here:

Like the eponymous native plant, children's puppet programme Bidibidi stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced by TVNZ's Natural History Unit Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station, interspersing puppet scenes with first-rate footage of native fauna.

Watch the debut episode of Bidibidi here:

Inspired by UK series Spitting Image, Public Eye saw latex faced caricatures of a range of local personalities, largely taking aim at the world of politics. Built by a team headed by Weta maestro Richard Taylor, this episode sees Helen Clark, Winston Peters and Sir Richard Hadlee immortalised in puppet form.

Watch an episode of Public Eye here:

You can see more classic New Zealand TV puppets here, in NZ On Screen's Television Puppets Spotlight collection.

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