Andy Cunningham (actor)
|Died||5 June 2017 (aged 67)|
|Bodger & Badger (1989–1999)|
Andrew Cunningham (13 May 1950 – 5 June 2017) was an English actor, puppeteer, ventriloquist and writer. He was best known as the creator and main writer of the children's BBC television series, Bodger & Badger, in which he acted as the likeable but accident prone Simon Bodger and his pet, Badger.
Cunningham studied at the University of Cambridge, where he read English. He dropped out of this course at the end of the second of its three years, citing academic pressures as the reason for doing so, but later completed his degree at the University of Reading. By the mid-1990s, he was in a long-term relationship with co-star Jane Bassett who played Mousey in Bodger & Badger. They later separated but remained good friends. He also had a daughter, Phoebe, to a relationship prior to his one with Jane Bassett.
Before entering the acting profession and entertainment industry, he was an English teacher, then a social worker  before, in the early 1970s, he decided to become a comedy magician. Andy had a lifelong interest in puppetry and magic that started when he was a child, watching such TV programmes as The Sooty Show and Muffin the Mule. When he was aged 8 his younger sister, journalist Tessa Cunningham, was born and he said he enjoyed entertaining her so much when she was young that in his early 20s, he decided to become a comedy magician. He began his craft by borrowing magic trick books from libraries, visited magic shops in the London area and after he spotted an advertising card in a newsagent's shop window for a ventriloquist's dummy, he took the opportunity to try learning ventriloquism. After picking it up - an unwanted Christmas present for a young boy - he began to teach himself ventriloquism, beginning with reading books on how to practice it. He found it quite natural to split himself in two and operate the puppet while doing something else, however, he was not happy with feeling that there was something very creepy about operating a human character, instead finding an animal character much less disturbing.
After a while Andy began to explore magic conventions and it was at one in Brighton where - after spending a considerable amount of time having trouble getting past the doorman - he ordered by mail order a puppet called "Benji the Adorable Puppy" (which he named "China" after the Cockney slang "china plate", meaning "mate" - later to be used as China the Dog in Bodger and Badger). When this puppet arrived, he found himself being able to operate the puppet dog naturally and was able to ad-lib routines and comments in a way that he wasn't comfortable with doing with the ventriloquist's doll (which he named Douglas). Soon after, he gave up his day job to turn this hobby into a full-time job, alongside his work with the Covent Garden Community Theatre (with whom he held various positions, including acting). It was while working as a director here that he gave comedian Julian Clary his first big break. His work as Andiamo the Magician then as The Mighty Sardini (both routines adopting a cod-Italian accent) was used for both children's party entertainment and at magic shows, where he found that audiences were more appreciative of his puppet routines with China than of magic tricks.
After this, he commissioned a friend of his called Deidre McArdle, who was good with making things out of textiles, to make him a puppet rat, as he thought it a good idea to have a puppet of an animal that people don't usually like. Unlike China, this puppet would talk (using a voice that was similar to that of Badger), and would be reserved for adult audiences where the rat (called Magritte) could be foul-mouthed, whereas China would be used in the presence of children. His decision to begin to phase out the magic act was taken when one night at a magic show, the person on stage before him did exactly the same magic tricks that he himself was about to do, so in a hurry he decided to drop his magic act for that night and ad-lib a puppet act with Magritte, extending the previously rehearsed act over the entire duration of his time on stage. He observed that the audience enjoyed this more than they usually did for his magic tricks, and after leaving the stage he found out part of the reason why was that they were laughing at the poor quality of his ventriloquism. As a result of this, instead of trying to improve his standard of ventriloquism (thinking he could never get to the standard of Ray Alan), he decided to shorten the puppet's sentences to a few words at a time, so that by the time people would look at his lips to see if his mouth was moving, the puppet would have stopped talking anyway.
Another act he developed was of a three-headed man named "Freeman, Hardy and Willis", after the footwear retailer, with Andy's head being the middle, and the two others either side being hand-operated puppets on top of an extra-wide suit. This act was used in public open spaces and especially at festivals, where Andy took great delight in embarrassing people in front of their friends by frightening them as a prank.
By the early 1980s, Andy had a regular income to supplement his magician and Community Theatre Group work as a handyman at a West London school, a job which he admitted himself he was entirely unsuitable for. This was to become the inspiration for the character of Mr Bodger and, in turn, the setting for the second and third series of Bodger and Badger. He began to adapt the Mighty Sardini act for touring shows and children's parties to that of a hapless Charlie Chaplin-esque character called Mr Bodger, including dropping the cod-Italian accent.
In 1986, Andy wrote a children's book featuring Mr Bodger and Magritte the rat entitled "Mr Bodger's Jumping Hat". Also during this time, Roland Rat became popular on TV-am's breakfast television ITV franchise and many people in London who knew Andy because of his work with Magritte either began thinking that Andy had stolen the idea of a badly behaving talking rat puppet from Roland Rat or confused Magritte with Roland, thinking Andy was Roland's puppeteer. It was also during this period when Andy made his only (uncredited) big-screen film performances in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi  when someone from the casting team saw him perform an act in a pub show when he was wearing a very cumbersome costume that gave the impression of one person giving another a piggyback. It was from here that he was cast in two roles in that Star Wars film, one as Ephant Mon and another in an unnamed alien costume.
After seeing the success of a badly behaved rodent puppet on television, around 1987 Andy began to explore the idea of adopting an act for TV himself. After wanting to have an act where both characters shared similar names, with one of those names being Bodger (and the other, by default through a lack of any other similar-sounding animal name, Badger), he commissioned his friend Deirdre McArdle, who had made Magritte, to make a puppet badger for him, wearing similarly eccentric clothing as Magritte. Badger would adopt a low, booming, voice similar to that of Magritte (and of boxer Frank Bruno) and would enjoy throwing food around. With a next-door neighbour he made two audition videotapes with him and Badger presenting a faux cookery programme where they made a recipe that coincidentally included mashed potato. The first performance was straight-laced and not very funny but the second, with Badger misbehaving and getting out of control throwing food everywhere, was much funnier. It is from here that Andy got the inspiration for Badger loving mashed potato, as he realised its potential for use in slapstick comedy (adapted from the traditional custard pie routine) while still being a very original and left-of-field idea. It was this second performance that he sent off to the BBC and several ITV regional franchisees. The ITV companies all gave him written appraisals but turned him down, however he received more positive news from Christopher Pilkington, an executive producer at the BBC within their Children's Programmes department. After this, he received no more positive news for months, occasionally calling up Chris Pilkington who would reply with encouragement.
In 1988, Andy received a phone call from Chris inviting him to make two pre-recorded appearances on the BBC's current Saturday morning BBC1 children's magazine programme On the Waterfront, both to test Andy out on broadcast television (as many stars who have performed in front of real audiences for many years have struggled to transfer to film or broadcast media) and to test how the act as it was at that time would fare with a children's TV audience. The results from both were encouraging for both Chris and Andy. However, Andy heard nothing again from Chris for months after this, continuing the routine of occasional phone calls to Chris with encouragement being received back.
Early in 1989, Andy received a call back from Chris giving the approval for a full series of programmes of Andy's act. However, Christopher had decided to change the idea from a series of 5-minute comedy cookery programmes into a fully-fledged sitcom with supporting characters and to make the episodes of the series 15-minutes in length. It was Chris who also suggested the idea of the setting for the first series, the kitchen of a "greasy spoon" cafe-cum-restaurant called "Troff's Nosherama" which, due to Badger's love of it, served themed meals all based around mashed potato and also specialised in cakes (a remaining feature of the two Saturday morning TV appearances the year before, which was to cease with the end of the first series). Andy wrote all the scripts for the first series based on this premise and the episodes were recorded in studio 7 of BBC Television Centre during the summer of 1989.
After the first series was broadcast, Chris phoned Andy stating that both he and Andy had created some of the best Children's BBC comedy in years and that he would like to commission another Bodger and Badger series. Confident with the future success of the programme, Chris gave Bodger and Badger a bigger budget and Andy more creative freedom over the series from the second series onwards.
During the run of the programme, Andy became very well known amongst his programme's intended audience and their parents, some of whom claimed that Badger's behaviour was a bad influence on its audience. He guest-starred (in character, with Badger) in various TV shows, events, theatre shows and children's parties off the back of the sudden success of his TV programme. Even after his programme stopped being shown on TV, he was a regular fixture in the "Kidz tent" at Glastonbury every year and performed more adult-themed nights at student unions up and down the country, who were children when Bodger and Badger was being shown on TV.
Cunningham died of duodenal cancer on 5 June 2017 at Royal Sussex County Hospital with his former partner and his family around him. He didn't regain consciousness after undergoing emergency stomach surgery, related to his cancer.
- "Bodger and Badger creator Andy Cunningham dies aged 67". BBC News. 2017-06-07. Retrieved 2017-06-07.
- "Andy Cunningham, creator and star of Bodger and Badger, dies aged 67". The Telegraph. 7 June 2017.
- "Bodger and Badger star Andy Cunningham dies aged 67". ITV News. 2017-06-07. Retrieved 2017-06-08.
- Hayward, Anthony (12 June 2017). "Andy Cunningham obituary". the Guardian.
- "PressReader.com - Connecting People Through News". www.pressreader.com.
- "Bodger and Badger star Andy Cunningham dies aged 67". BBC News. 7 June 2017.