This week: "Trilby and Co" LWT 1978-1982
Trilby and Co was a kids tv programme aimed at 4 to 6 year olds and pre school kids.
It was commissioned by London Weekend Television and filmed around the South East of England.
In early 1976 producers for children's television devised a new programme to entertain and educate at the same time. The programme would follow the adventures of a live chimpanzee called "Trilby". Trilby would drive a double decker, red, London bus to schools and meet school children. There with his assistant Aljanon, he would "talk" to the kids about school and learning. A small sub story would involve Trilby collected numbers and letters to fill his "Monkey Board".
Trilby's helper, Aljanon was played by a black man (Marcus Mears) who would "speak" for Trilby using such lines as "what was that Trilby, you want the kids to give you a banana?" or "what was the Trilby, you want to go to sleep now?" Casting of both Trilby and Aljanon took some time as both needed to suit each other. As Trilby needed to be well behaved, Aljanon needed to be able to follow the handlers course and look after Trilby and the safety of children.
In late 1977 a chimp called Mr Fitz had been deemed suitable and had bonded well with Mears. Filming soon began and that is when the problems began. For although Trilby was manageable in most parts, he was prone to mood swings. In a documentary of "Kidz Top 40", Mears was asked about the time with Trilby. "The chimp was horrible. For every adorable cuddle, there was faeces throwing and blind refusal to cooperate".
In Mears biography (published in 1990 "Monkey Business and Me". Flannel Books) he tells of how Trilby would take off his blue boiler suit and cap, parading around the bus naked. The problems were not particular to Trilby either, as Mears tells how racist exec's paid the monkey more than him, forcing him to quit the show in 1981. Mears was replaced by "Jan" (Sue Flipflop) with no explanation to fans, late 1981, but was also unhappy with the chimp. Flipflop left the show after rumours of Trilby trying to "make love on her".
Sadly by November 1982, it was all over. Trilby was cancelled after an "automotive incident". Chinese whispers circulated that Trilby (now heavily dosed drunk and chain smoker) had actually figured out how to drive the bus! Word spread that the chimp escaped from his handler and jumped into the bus, started it, and went screaming off round the studio car park. Witnesses reported seeing the chimp grinning in the driving seat, "flipping the bird" to shocked onlookers. After hundreds of pounds of damage to parked cars, the bus crashed. The LWT Marksman took aim and shot Trilby. Bringing an end to a bitter sweet adventure.
Exec's were rightly saddened by the passing of Trilby, but had to move on. They followed this up with Gonk! in 1983. It was an animated stomach that taught children how to eat the right food. Although popular, it never captured the hearts of a cheeky chimp and a helper called Aljanon.
To this day you can see a statue dedicated to the memory of "Mr Fitz" at Gypsy Adventure Park, Norwich. The inscription on the stand reads: "Mr Fitz, actor, womaniser, misunderstood bus thief"