Opinion

Animal Kwackers and the affirming power of great TV

There is a worldview inherent in the greatest TV shows that helps fans better understand one another

Animal Kwackers group

Animal Kwackers seen here in a Central London park. Left to Right Rory the Lion, Bungo the hound dog, Twang the monkey, and Boots the tiger. 17th October 1975. Image: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

One of my earliest memories is watching TV, naked, at my childhood home. I would dance and sing along to the theme tunes and mimic the action as it unfolded. It was the late ’70s, so I must have been about three. My favourite show was called Animal Kwackers. It featured a four-piece rock’n’roll band consisting of men dressed in life-size animal costumes.

The leader was Rory, a terrifying blue lion with skinny limbs and a gigantic, mutated head. Rory’s bandmates were called Bongo, Boots and Twang. One was a tiger, one a dog and the other one a species that I couldn’t quite identify. Maybe a goat? The tiger wore an eye patch. The dog wore shades. They all hip-thrusted around the stage with their instruments like members of Kiss.

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Because it was a low-budget British show, the costumes were a bit threadbare and the characters’ mouths wouldn’t move when they sang or spoke, which made the whole spectacle even more bizarre. Of course, I only recall these details from rewatching episodes on YouTube more recently. At the time, I wouldn’t have watched with such a critical eye: I just thought these big musical creatures were absolutely dazzling. The show began with a cosmic animation accompanied by a banging theme tune, the opening lines of which ran: “Do you believe in rock’n’roll? Into the spaceship and off we go!”

I might only have been three but I knew even then that, yes, I DID believe in rock’n’roll and I was VERY much up for a ride on that spaceship.

The format was simple: the lads would sing a song (usually a cover version, such as Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds or Blockbuster) then Rory the big blue lion would read a nice story through his motionless lips about the band going on an adventure. Then one last song before the show closed. Lovely stuff.

I vividly recall having my viewing pleasure soured by my elder brothers snarking that Animal Kwackers was, in fact, “just a shit rip-off of The Banana Splits”. My brothers were all several years older than me, part of a generation above that had grown up with shows of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Banana Splits of whom they spoke were a similar TV band of grown men in animal costumes singing rock’n’roll songs. Only their mouths moved properly because it was an American show with a proper budget.

My brothers framed them as rivals to Animal Kwackers and so I regarded them with pure hatred. “SHUT UP ABOUT THE BANANA SPLITS!” I would shout at my brothers. They would laugh and point out how mangy Rory’s costume looked. “FUCK YOU AND FUCK THE BANANA SPLITS!” I would scream, tears of rage swelling in the corners of my eyes. At least that’s how I remember it. The truth is I might not have even been able to form sentences at that age.

Telly remained a tribal thing for me as I grew older. Eventually, my irrational prejudices would be transferred to other TV rivalries, such as EastEnders v Corrie (I was always an ’Enders man). In adulthood, I may not be conscious of so many explicit TV show rivalries. But I remain deeply partisan in my tastes.

My favourite show of all time is The Simpsons (seasons 1-11). There is a worldview inherent in the greatest shows, from The Simpsons to The Wire. I believe that a shared love of certain shows can engender deep human connections. If you meet a complete stranger on the other side of the world who demonstrates a love and understanding of your favourite telly programme, then the chances are high that you will get along and share similar opinions on other matters.

They used to say television would rot the brain and destroy society. Since then, the internet has come along and made TV viewing seem intellectually nourishing by comparison. But, for me, it has done more than just open my mind, it has instilled in me a certain faith. I’ve never found religion. But at least I have Animal Kwackers.

Read more from Sam Delaney here

Sort Your Head Out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99)You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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