The Friendly Giant

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For the character created by Roald Dahl known as the Big Friendly Giant, see The BFG.
The Friendly Giant
Format children's show
Created by Bob Homme
Starring Bob Homme
Rod Coneybeare (puppeteer)
Country of origin United States (1953-1958)
Canada (1958-1985)
No. of episodes 3,000+
Production
Producer(s) Daniel McCarthy[1]
Running time 15 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel WHA-TV (1953-1958)
CBC Television (1958-1985)
Original run September 30, 1958 – March 1985 (Canada)

The Friendly Giant is a popular Canadian children's television program that aired on CBC Television from September 30, 1958 through to March 1985. It featured three main characters: a giant named Friendly (played by Bob Homme), who lived in a huge castle, along with his puppet animal friends Rusty (a rooster who played a harp and lived in a book bag hung by the castle window) and Jerome (a giraffe). The two principal puppets were manipulated and voiced by Rod Coneybeare.

Beginnings[edit]

The program started in 1953 on Madison, Wisconsin radio station WHA-AM. Shortly thereafter, the show was moved to the UW-Madison's WHA-TV. Kinescopes of these shows were distributed to a few other non-commercial stations, and some of them made it to the CBC headquarters in Toronto. At the invitation of Fred Rainsberry, the head of Children's Television at the CBC, in 1958 Bob Homme moved the show to Canada, where it became a staple show for several generations of young viewers. In the United States, National Educational Television carried both WHA and CBC versions from 1953 until 1970, when NET ceded the network to the Public Broadcasting Service.

The Friendly Giant was produced by Daniel McCarthy, who would later become the head of children's programming at the CBC.[1]

Format[edit]

The short, 15-minute show was perhaps most famous for its opening sequence. Each episode would begin with the camera panning over a detailed model of part of a village as Friendly could be heard observing the goings on in the town below. The pan would continue until the Giant's great big boot would come into view at the edge of the village and Friendly would ask the viewers to "Look up, waaaaay up!" and the Giant would invite everyone to come visit his castle. The traditional tune Early One Morning would then be heard being played on harp and recorder, while the camera slowly zoomed into the Giant's castle, whose drawbridge and doors opened wide in welcome. Once inside, The Friendly Giant would put out miniature furniture for his viewers beside his feet (with only his feet and hands visible), saying, "One little chair for one of you, and a bigger chair for two more to curl up in, and for someone who likes to rock, a rocking chair in the middle." Then the camera would pan up, as the Giant gave his iconic invitation to "Look up, waaaaaay up." Typically, Jerome the Giraffe would visit, poking his head in through a high window. Rusty the Rooster, who lived in a book bag hanging on the wall by the window, would emerge and produce, from the bag, books to be read and other props, some seemingly larger than could fit in the bag.

The rest of the show focused on gentle, humorous chat between Friendly, Rusty and Jerome, followed by a story or a musical performance. When extra instrumentation was needed, a pair of otherwise silent puppet cats — Angie and Fiddle, the Jazz Cats — joined in (puppeteered by Gustáv Hársfai (Sr) and Linda Keogh (Jr). Music for the show was composed by the show's harpist, John Duncan. [2]

At the show's conclusion, Friendly would put his miniature furniture away and his large, kindly hand would wave goodbye as the camera would zoom out and the castle's drawbridge would be raised; as a silvery moon with a smiling face rose into the sky a cow would jump over it. Once, when the cow failed to make an appearance, the CBC was inundated with phone calls from disappointed viewers.[citation needed] (On occasion, often for episodes devoted to musical performances, episodes would take place completely at night.)

The shows were largely ad libbed, typically based around a one-page plot summary for each episode. This gave the show an added spontaneity uncommon to most children's shows, though the series was marked by a go-slow, gentle nature. The simple repetition of its main elements from show to show put it fundamentally at odds with the bolder, ever-changing nature of such shows as Sesame Street.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, The Friendly Giant launched a block of children's programming aired by the CBC each weekday morning; it was followed in the block by Mr. Dressup and the Canadian version of Sesame Street.

The Friendly Giant's model castle, used during the opening sequence

Cancellation[edit]

In 1984, the Canadian federal government made deep cuts into the CBC budget, and The Friendly Giant was cancelled soon afterwards, though CBC executives insisted that the show's passing was unrelated to the cuts.[citation needed] It was commonly thought at the time that the move was intended to create enough public outrage that the government funding cuts to the CBC would be reversed.[citation needed] While there was strong public sentiment to keep the show on the air, the funding cuts were not reversed, and no new shows were made. It aired regularly for years afterwards as repeats.[when?]

The show's replacement, Fred Penner's Place, has been referred to by some people as "the Giant Killer".[3]

By the time 'The Friendly Giant' ended, more than 3,000 episodes of the show had been produced.

Post-cancellation[edit]

The star of the show, Robert Homme, was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998. He died on May 2, 2000, at the age of 81 of prostate cancer.

Approximately 850 episodes of the show are currently held in the CBC's archive, including kinescopes of the earliest episodes.

The Friendly Giant was honoured as a Masterwork by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada in 2005.

The authorized biography of Robert Homme called Look Up — Way Up is based on interviews conducted with Bob after he retired. Links to memorable audio clips are included.

Props controversy[edit]

Props, costumes and puppets from the show were on display at the CBC Museum in Toronto as part of an exhibit called Growing Up with CBC. However, Friendly Giant paraphernalia was removed from the CBC Museum, after the puppets Rusty and Jerome appeared in a sketch during the 2007 Gemini Awards without permission from the Homme family. Homme's daughter said that the clip was in poor taste and disrespected the memory of her father.[4][5] Only the castle wall and window on which Friendly would lean and talk to Rusty and Jerome remains in the museum. The train set used in the intro of the show is on display at the Pump House Museum in Kingston, Ontario.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Friendly Giant producer Daniel McCarthy dies, Former head of CBC children's programming also developed Mr. Dressup". CBC News. 2013-01-18. Retrieved 2013-02-02. 
  2. ^ Desjardins, Carolyn Whitley. "Duncan, John". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  3. ^ "Life & Times: Growing Up Canadian". CBC. 
  4. ^ "Retired Puppets Retired From CBC Museum". Torontoist. 2007-11-28. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  5. ^ MacDonald, Gayle (2007-11-28). "CBC says sorry after toying with Rusty and Jerome". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  6. ^ "Museum exhibit with train on display". Pump House Steam Museum. 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 

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