Gus Honeybun was the station mascot for Westward Television, and later Television South West, from 1961 to 1992. A puppet rabbit, and star of Gus Honeybun's Magic Birthdays, he achieved a longevity for a TV puppet second only to Sooty.
Gus Honeybun was filmed at Westward/TSW's Plymouth studios in the Derry's Cross part of the city. There were four different Gus Honeybun puppets and TSW employed a person to create Gus Honeybun's wardrobe. Gus had a theme tune composed by TV composer, Ed Welch, and a short video was made to accompany it, featuring Gus and several TSW presenters walking around in Plymouth. A 7" picture disc single of the theme song was released in 1987 in several local record shops. Other Gus merchandise available were cuddly toy puppets, keyrings and car stickers. One car sticker said "Watch Gus on TSW!" and had both his face & the TSW logo on it.
Gus Honeybun (given the full name Augustus Jeremiah Honeybun by some continuity announcers) was supposedly found under a gorse bush on Dartmoor in 1961 by the founders of Westward Television. A more credible legend is that he was devised to fill unsold advertising slots during children's TV broadcasts. Several ITV franchise stations had at one time had a regional birthdays slot (often following Children's ITV or the predecessor children's television slot) with a continuity announcer and puppet announcing children's birthdays. With Gus the announcer would read out a birthday card and the puppet would give a jump, known as bunny hops, for each year of the child's life. Alternatives to bunny hops were ear waggles, head stands, winks and later "putting out the lights" and a colour distorting "magic button". Gus appeared with virtually every Westward/TSW presenter, including the late Ian Stirling, Fern Britton, Judi Spiers, David Fitzgerald, Ruth Langsford & Sally Meen.
During the TSW-era, Gus was broadcast twice a day on weekdays (before and after Children's ITV), and usually once a day at weekends. The show usually lasted about 2 or 3 minutes per episode. From 1987-90, TSW used to often opt out of showing the first and last Children's ITV in-vision continuity links of the day, so it could fit in Gus' birthday slot on weekday afternoons.
There was also a TSW/Gus branded Hoppa bus, which was made by local bus and coach company, Western National. It was in regular use by them on most service routes, until TSW's demise in 1992.
Gus Honeybun attracted a cult following and it was not unknown for adults to write in requesting "bunny hops" etc. 12 was the official age limit for having a birthday read out on air so people of 40 were presented as being 4 and so on.
Gus Honeybun was so identified with regional television in the south-west that, when TSW's managing director Harry Turner presented the station's ITV franchise renewal in 1991, he took Gus with him. However, Gus's Magic Birthdays series and his career at the station were cancelled at the start of 1993, when Westcountry Television took over from TSW after winning the franchise.
The last ever Gus Honeybun programme, aired on 31 December 1992, at the tail end of the final TSW Today which paid tribute to the station's 11 years of service, saw Gus returned to the moor and reunited with his rabbit family with the help of continuity announcers Ruth Langsford and Dave Fitzgerald. The successor ITV franchise Westcountry did provide a successor programme called Birthday People, but this was cancelled in 2004.
In popular culture
The puppet was spoofed on Victoria Wood As Seen On TV by Susie Blake's continuity announcer character accompanied by 'Wally Wallaby'. Terry Wogan for some time referred to Gloria Hunniford (whose show preceded his on national BBC Radio 2) as Gloria Honeybun.