Basil Brush is a fictional anthropomorphic fox, best known for his appearances on daytime British children's television. He is primarily portrayed by a glove puppet, but has also been depicted in animated cartoon shorts and comic strips. The character has featured on children's (and later adult) television from the 1960s to the present day.
A mischievous character and a raconteur, Basil Brush is best known for his catchphrase "Ha Ha Ha! Boom! Boom!", used after something he finds something funny, and also for speaking in a "posh" accent and manner, referring to himself as a "fella". The character claims to dislike puppets, and says his most prized possession is his "brush", this being the traditional name for a fox's tail.
The original Basil Brush glove puppet was designed by Peter Firmin, in 1962, for a BBC television series, and was voiced and performed by Ivan Owen until his death in October 2000.
Ivan Owen took great care to ensure that he, personally, never received any publicity. Professionally, only Basil had a public persona, with Ivan himself remaining entirely unknown. This helped give the character believability, making Basil appear to be real, since - unlike Harry Corbett and Sooty, for example - the audience never saw the puppeteer.
Ivan modelled Basil's voice on that of the film star Terry-Thomas, giving the puppet a touch of well-cultivated class. This, plus a degree of sophistication in the humour (which often included topical political jokes) helped give Basil a broad appeal. So although Basil began as a children's entertainer, in the 1970s he became a mainstream act, attracting a family audience.
Basil first appeared on television in 1962, in a series called The Three Scampies, an out-of-work circus act. The human was Howard Williams, Ivan Owen animated and voiced Basil and Wally Whyton animated and voiced Spike McPike, a very aggressive Scottish hedgehog also made by Peter Firmin. In the mid Sixties Basil became a supporting act for the magician David Nixon, upstaging Nixon on the latter's TV show in 1966, to such good effect that the fox was offered his own show.
Basil thus acquired his own television series on the BBC, The Basil Brush Show, which ran for 13 years from 1968 until 1980, in which he was supported by various famous stooges: firstly, in 1968, by the actor Rodney Bewes, known on the show as "Mr Rodney"; secondly, from 1969 to 1973, by the actor Derek Fowlds (known as "Mr Derek"); then until 1976 by actor and singer Roy North ("Mr Roy"); then by "Mr Howard" (Howard Williams), who was in the original "Three Scampies; and finally by "Mr Billy" (Billy Boyle). By the mid-1970s the show was aimed at a family audience, so was usually broadcast on BBC 1 in an early evening timeslot on Saturdays (although in the early days it had aired during children's programmes on Thursdays, prior to the evening news at 5:45pm), typically running for 13 weeks in each series.
The show was recorded in the presence of a studio audience, and usually ran approximately 25 minutes. The format of the show typically featured an opening introduction by Basil and his co-star (Mr Derek, or Mr Roy, etc.), in which they would do a few jokes; this was followed by a comedy sketch, featuring them doing topical jokes about a then-current subject (for instance, a sketch set on board an aeroplane flying them to a holiday in Spain, loosely based around the hit pop song Eviva España); then a musical item, featuring a guest singer or group (these included some of the most famous singers of the day, top stars such as Demis Roussos in 1973, Petula Clark in 1979, and Cilla Black — big stars vied to get on the show, which had a huge audience); sometimes the guest singer would do a song, straight, but then also do a comic duet with Basil.
Finally, the show would conclude with 'storytime', in which Mr Derek or Mr Roy, etc., would read aloud from a serial story about the adventures of some fictitious historical relative of Basil's - for instance 'Bulldog' Basil, or Blast-Off Basil and his journey to the stars (a Star Trek spoof), or Basil de Farmer the knight in shining armour (a Robin Hood spoof); or at least he would attempt to, whilst being continually interrupted by a string of jokes and humorous remarks from Basil. Often at this point, in the mid-1970s, Basil would get out Little Ticker, his clockwork wind-up dog, and have it do humorous tricks at the side, almost off-camera, in order to distract the audience and thereby take the rise out of Mr Roy. Each week's story ended on a cliffhanger: to be continued the following week. Basil and Mr Roy would then finish on a song, based upon that week's serial story, whilst the closing credits rolled.
A dispute in 1980 led to the show's cancellation. Ivan Owen aspired to a mid-evening timeslot, which the BBC were unwilling to agree. In 1982 the puppet reappeared on television in Let's Read With Basil Brush, an infant schools programme on ITV produced by Granada Television. Basil eventually returned to the BBC, as co-host of the long-running children's television series Crackerjack, broadcast at 4:55pm on Fridays, during the 1983-84 Season.
Basil Brush also performed in the theatre, regularly appearing live in Pantomime at Christmas; usually co-starring at the top of the bill with a well-known singer or comedian. His pantomime co-stars during the 1960s included the singer Cilla Black. After the television show's cancellation in 1980, Basil ended his partnership with Mr Billy and teamed up once again with Howard Williams ("Mr Howard"); they toured in a live stage show, capitalising on Basil's celebrity - and continuing popularity - as a result of thirteen years on TV.
During this period Basil also featured in his own cartoon strip in the children's publication TV Comic, published weekly in Britain by Polystyle Publications.
The Basil Brush ShowEdit
In 2002, after the death of Ivan Owen, Basil made a comeback - performed by a new puppeteer - in a children's BBC sitcom, again named The Basil Brush Show, in which his new comic foil, Stephen, is played by Christopher Pizzey. It was produced by The Foundation, part of the RDF Media Group. Child actors Georgina Leonidas and Michael Hayes also appeared on the show. Basil Brush now had a family, which included his destructive, hyperactive but cute nephew Bingo, and his criminal cousin Mortimer. Other friends were introduced as well, such as the moneymaking child Dave and the more sensible Molly, as well as Madison, a hippy who lived upstairs, Irish sidekick Liam (played by Michael Byers), and Anil, a crazy café owner and rubbish cook.
Several celebrities made cameo appearances on the show. These included Eamonn Holmes and Ainsley Harriott. The original shows were recorded before a studio audience, comprising mainly children, but the new programme used a post-production laughter track instead of an audience.
Interspersed with the main programme, there are now various animated shorts in which Basil and/or another character is seen making jokes. The more recent puppet looks different from the original 1960s/ 1970s puppet in a number of aspects, but the 'well-spoken' voice of Basil is similar to the original Ivan Owen version.
Basil Brush often breaks the Fourth Wall by having shots of the set and making references on how long the show is, and abusing the obvious way of walking across to other scenes.
Basil briefly appeared as a presenter for several Friday episodes of the popular British children's TV programme Blue Peter in 2003, in which he had his own joke segment. On 16 November 2010 Basil made a further guest appearance for one episode.
Basil's Swap ShopEdit
Basil & Barney's Swap Shop(also known as Basil's Swap Shop) is a British children's television series that was produced for CBBC and ran on Saturday mornings on BBC Two and CBBC Channel from 5 January 2008 to 25 September 2010. Based on the original BBC children's Saturday morning show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, which ran on BBC One from 1976 to 1982, it was hosted by future Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood, along with veteran puppet character Basil Brush, from whom the show takes its title.