Rodney Stephen Hull
13 August 1935
|Died||17 March 1999 (aged 63)|
|Children||6, including Toby|
Rodney Stephen Hull (13 August 1935 – 17 March 1999) was an English comedian and popular entertainer on British television in the 1970s and 1980s. He rarely appeared without Emu, a mute, highly aggressive arm-length puppet modelled on the Australian flightless emu bird.
Hull was born on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England in 1935. He attended Delemark Road School and the County Technical School, Sheerness. After national service with the RAF, he qualified as an electrician.
Hull moved to Australia in 1956. His first job in television was as a lighting technician with TCN Channel 9 in Sydney. He then began appearing on air, notably as Constable Clot in Channel 9's Kaper Kops with Reg Gorman and Desmond Tester, a regular segment in its children's afternoon programming. Clot proved very popular and soon gained his own segment, Clot in the Clouds, which depicted Constable Clot daydreaming about having other professions, such as a world-famous brain surgeon, 'Blood Clot.'
Later he worked with Marilyn Mayo as co-host of a children's breakfast TV programme, The Super Flying Fun Show, playing a wacky character named 'Caretaker Clot,' an extension of his Kaper Cops role. Hull first used Emu as a puppet in this show. There are conflicting reports as to how this came about: The 2003 BBC documentary Rod Hull: A Bird in the Hand states bluntly, "In fact, Emu was a Channel Nine creation". Other sources cite a Channel Nine producer, Jim Badger, who said that he had requested a reluctant Hull to use Emu. Hull assigned to himself full authorship of Emu, stating, "Sure I found him in a cupboard, but I had put him there in the first place. I concocted him, nobody else." The bird subsequently became a regular part of Hull's set on cabarets back in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Hull returned to the UK in 1971 and signed with International Artists (after Emu tore up the office). Soon after, his Australian success translated to his native country with Hull appearing on several children's and adult light entertainment shows.
Hull used Emu to create a kind of gleeful havoc, while not accepting blame for it. The simple, effective conceit of a false arm attached to Hull's jacket, which cradled the emu, made it appear that the neck and head moved of its own volition. This apparently independent movement gave the illusion that the bird had its own personality, which entailed sudden, unprovoked, and often violent attacks on anyone and anything that came too close. During these events Hull would imitate half-hearted attempts to pull the bird away from its victim but would often become embroiled in the fracas, rolling around on the floor, creating theatrical mayhem.
When Hull left The Super Flying Fun Show and Australia, a duplicate of Emu was made so the character could continue on the show, much to Hull's annoyance, and comedian Marty Morton took over Hull's co-hosting position in Australia.
There were apparently no boundaries to Emu's outrageous behaviour. At least two people have publicly reported Hull's sexual assault of women using Emu as a cover. Darts champion Eric Bristow wrote: ‘He used the puppet to feel up women and stick his hand between people's legs.’ In a 2007 interview with Chortle, the late veteran comedy producer Michael Hurll said to Hull ’ "Look Rod, you’ve got your hand in that emu, up girls’ skirts and squeezing their tits; doing things you would get locked up for."
More common was Hull's physical assault of people and things using Emu. In 1972, Hull destroyed The Queen Mother's bouquet of flowers during the after-show line-up at the aforementioned Royal Variety Performance after which he appeared in many other shows. During 1976 Hull made his most famous appearances when Hull's Emu repeatedly attacked Michael Parkinson during his eponymous chat show, eventually causing the interviewer to fall off his chair. Fellow guest Billy Connolly threatened, "If that bird comes anywhere near me, I'll break its neck and your bloody arm!" Perhaps mindful of his professional future, Hull swiftly stopped his Emu behavior. In later years, Parkinson lamented that despite all the star guests he had interviewed during his career, he would always be remembered for "that bloody bird."
Also in 1983 he appeared in the US on The Tonight Show, attacking host Johnny Carson, even after he was told not to by the producers, and Richard Pryor in one of the comedian's first public appearances after undergoing major emergency reconstructive surgery on his face.
By the 1990s, Hull was seen less frequently on TV, although he continued to appear in pantomime and television commercials. He won the 1993 "Pipe Smoker of the Year" award. Nonetheless, his name remained well known, and comedians Richard Herring and Stewart Lee included a "not Rod Hull" character in their 1996 television sketch show, Fist of Fun played by Kevin Eldon. This character was performed as a grotesque imitation of Hull and was finally unmasked by the real Rod Hull who appeared (minus Emu) in the last episode of the series. It was to be Hull's penultimate television appearance.
A 2003 Channel 4 documentary, Rod Hull: A Bird in the Hand, suggested that Hull nursed an increasing resentment towards his puppet, believing that the success of the bird prevented him from pursuing other avenues in show business. He saw himself, according to the makers of the programme, as a talented performer who could have developed a more varied career in the entertainment industry had he not been repeatedly forced to play the 'and Emu' role. Hull once complained, "I want to write but Emu doesn't leave me the time. I want to be a comedian in my own right, but again Emu won't let me do it."
Hull married his first wife Sandra in 1958; they had two daughters, Deborah and Danielle.
In the late 1980s Hull bought Restoration House in Rochester for £270,000 but the cost of renovations and an unpaid tax bill resulted in bankruptcy in 1994. Hull's second wife, Cher Hylton-Hull, already had a daughter, Catrina, and the couple had three children together: Toby, Amelia, and Oliver. Cher, who had been instrumental in his success, moved to her home country of Australia with the children while Hull remained in England and relocated to a shepherd's cottage in East Sussex.
On 17 March 1999, Hull climbed onto the roof of his bungalow, in Winchelsea in East Sussex, to adjust his television aerial. He slipped from the roof and fell through an adjoining greenhouse. He suffered a severe skull fracture and chest injuries and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital in Hastings. Following an inquest, the coroner, Alan Craze, recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Prior to Hull's death, Lee and Herring had planned to revive their "not Rod Hull" character for their contemporary series, This Morning with Richard Not Judy, but although they filmed several sketches – in which the character would die after performing a pointless stunt – the footage was never used. Instead, the final episode of the second and final series of This Morning with Richard Not Judy concluded with a post-credits sketch featuring Kevin Eldon's Rod Hull character, fading out to a simple dedication reading "This series is dedicated to Rod Hull."
Upon Hull's death, Michael Parkinson reminisced that he had found him to be "a very charming, intelligent, and sensitive man – quite unlike the Emu." He observed that the puppet "was the dark side of Rod's personality, and very funny, provided it was not on top of you."
His son Toby brought Emu out of retirement for the first time since his father's death during the 2003 pantomime season, appearing in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Toby Hull and Emu appeared in their own series on CITV.
Hull also made an appearance in the strategy map game Hearts of Iron IV as an easter egg as the leader of the Australian Non-Aligned party, and the country's name becomes the Emu Empire.
- Bernie Clifton, contemporary comedian with ostrich puppet based comedy routine
- Arthur! and the Square Knights of the Round Table, Australian series for which Hull was a writer.
- Alistair McGown (17 March 1999). "Rod Hull biography". screenonline. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
- This Is Your Life - Rod Hull - 3rd February 1983 VHSRip UK, retrieved 30 November 2019
- At 25m, available online at e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbeISqjKM4k
- "Hudson Brothers / Classic TV stars". Tvparty.com. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- Eric Bristow, The Autobiography: The Crafty Cockney (London: Century, 2008), 160-62. ISBN 140906316X
- "You'd never get away with it today... Six comedy icons with a seedy reputation", Chortle (20 Nov. 2017): https://www.chortle.co.uk/features/2017/11/20/38474/youd_never_get_away_with_it_today. Hurll reports the same activity, including to males' private parts at 23m in the Channel 4 documentary Rod Hull: A Bird in the Hand (2003); available online at e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbeISqjKM4k
- "obituary: The man behind Emu". BBC News. 18 March 1999. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
- Katy Heslop, "Parkinson: the greatest hits" (27 June 2007): https://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2007/jun/27/parkinsonthegreatesthits
- "Rod Hull". Bigredbook.info. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- With illustrations by Sally Gregory. The Reluctant Pote (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983); ISBN 0340343338
- "Rod Hull & Emu". POVonline. Archived from the original on 9 March 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
- "ntlworld.com: Rod Hull vs Rod Hull". Homepage.ntlworld.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
- Nancy Banks-Smith (4 July 2003). "Rod Hull: A Bird in the Hand | No 57: The History of a House". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- The Unforgettable, 1 February 2012
- http://www.45cat.com/record/db9029; and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r8afyJjOsM
- Pierre Perrone (19 March 1999). "Obituary: Rod Hull - Arts & Entertainment". The Independent. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "Rod Hull's death 'accidental'". BBC News. 5 May 1999. Retrieved 29 October 2008.
- "Warming Up". RichardHerring.com. 4 July 2003. Retrieved 29 October 2008.
- Our Last Album? (2004): discography at https://www.discogs.com/The-Toy-Dolls-Our-Last-Album/master/333244
- "Rod Hull dies in rooftop fall". BBC News. 18 March 1999. Retrieved 29 October 2008.
- "Rod Hull's Emu smashes estimate at auction". Sky News. 1 June 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2019.