Who was your childhood puppet? Can you still remember the theme song of your favorite kiddie show?
Today gives us occasion to bring back some childhood memories and remember the puppets we used to watch on the telly. The 21st of March is World Puppetry Day, an annual celebration launched in 2003 by the International Puppetry Association (UNIMA).
Puppetry has been around for about four thousand years in almost every civilisation. It is believed that puppets and marionettes were the first theatre performers in history. Interestingly, the very first character to appear on TV was not a human being but a dummy known as Stooky Bill.
In 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird used Stooky Bill to transmit the first television image. It was impossible to conduct his experiments on humans because the lights on the imaging system were too hot. More puppets emerged on the small screen in the 1930s as TV technology became more sophisticated.
In Belgium, TV programs starring puppets and marionettes began airing in the early 1960s. Let’s get to know some of the darling TV dollies that brought joy to many generations of Belgians.
Bla-Bla is a childlike character who lives inside a computer called Blamatic. His virtual home is located in a public street where he regularly encounters other characters on the show. People come to him whenever they need help or information on matters ranging from silly to serious.
The alien-looking puppet was created by Belgian screenwriter Bernard Halut. He was the star of Ici Bla-Bla, which aired on RTBF from 1994 to 2010. But seven years after Bla-Bla’s retirement, something strange happened.
In November 2017, news spread about the mysterious disappearance of Bla-Bla and two other puppets. The property custodian at RTBF reported that the three had suddenly vanished from the storage area.
One month later, Bla-Bla was found lying in a baby stroller inside a storeroom for accessories. He was apparently relocated by mistake while the RTBF building was undergoing some renovation.
Samson is an Old English Sheepdog who can talk but often mispronounces words and forgets names. He lives with his master and best friend, Gert. They live in a big house on 101 Main Street, where life is rarely uneventful.
The canine puppet was designed by Gert Verhulst, who also plays Gert on the show. Samson en Gert premiered in 1990 and still airs on Ketnet, a Dutch-language children’s TV channel owned by VRT.
Beware. She’s ill-tempered, she’s insufferable, and she spits when she’s furious. But her feisty character is exactly what makes Malvira unforgettable.
Malvira started out as a stage puppet at the Magic Land Theatre in the 1970s. She made her TV debut as one of the co-hosts of comedian and cartoonist Philippe Geluck on Lollipop. The show ran from 1980 until 1985 on RTBF. The grumpy old puppet continued her career as a talkshow host on Les allumés.be and Ma télé bien aimée.
The idea for Malvira came from Franco-Belgian director and comedian Patrick Chaboud. In October 2003, Chaboud’s car was stolen along with the puppet, which was stored in the trunk.
The incident became a major headline in Belgium. Several public figures appealed to the car thieves to surrender Malvira. Nobody seemed to care about Chaboud’s car. They only wanted Malvira back. A few weeks later, the puppet was returned intact in a suitcase.
Back in the days when TV shows were still in black and white and RTBF was still called RTB, Bébé Antoine became an evening favorite in many Belgian households. This baby is actually one of the oldest television puppets in Belgium. He was on TV from 1965 to 1971.
In each episode, the characters told bedtime stories and sang lullabies. The show ended with Bébé Antoine wishing the viewers a good night. Actors André Lange, Ralph Darbo, and Georgette Mariot developed and operated the puppet.
Bonhommet et Tilapin
Bonhommet was a wise boy with a mischievous rabbit named Tilapin. Just like Bébé Antoine, Bonhommet et Tilapin was a bedtime program. Every episode ended with the two friends getting ready for bed and inviting children to do the same.
The late screenwriter Renée Fuks and puppeteer José Géal were the makers of Bonhommet et Tilapin. The children’s show was an evening regular on RTB from 1966 to 1971.
He’s not exactly a puppet but close enough. Bumba is a mascot who moves and behaves like a toddler. He loves to skip and jump and dance together with his co-stars.
Created by TV producer Jan Maillard, Bumba has been performing since 2004 on VRT’s Ketnet channel.
He may seem like a snob, but Tatayet is just bashful and reserved. A cross between a dog and a bear, Tatayet was designed and operated by ventriloquist Michel Dejeneffe.
The duo starred on Le Tatayet Show, which was broadcast on RTBF from 1986 to 1992. In 2017, Dejeneffe and Tatayet retired from show business.