Rainbow Titles.jpg
Genre Educational
Created by Pamela Lonsdale
Presented by David Cook
Geoffrey Hayes
Starring John Leeson (1st Bungle)
Stanley Bates (2nd Bungle)
Malcolm Lord (3rd Bungle)
Paul Cullinan (4th Bungle)
Peter Hawkins (1st voice of Zippy)
Roy Skelton (2nd voice of Zippy, voice of George)
Violet Yeomans (voices of Sunshine and Mooney)
Ronnie Le Drew (puppeteer)
Telltale (1st musicians)
Rod Burton (musician)
Jane Tucker (musician)
Matthew Corbett (musician)
Roger Walker (musician)
Freddy Marks (musician)
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 23
No. of episodes 1071
Location(s) Teddington Studios
Running time Typically about 15 minutes
(occasionally longer)
Production company(s) Thames Television
Tetra Films (1994–1997)
Original network ITV Network (Thames)
Picture format 4:3
Original release 1 September 1972 (1972-09-01) – December 31, 1992 (1992-12-31)

Rainbow is a British children's television series, created by Pamela Lonsdale, which ran between five times weekly, twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays then Tuesdays and Fridays, and finally once weekly at 12:10 on Fridays on the ITV network, from 1 September 1972 to 31 December 1992. It was intended to develop language and number skills for pre-school children, and went on to win the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme in 1975.

The show had three producers over its lifetime - Pamela Lonsdale, Charles Warren and Joe Boyer.

The programme was originally conceived as a British equivalent of long-running American educational puppet series Sesame Street. The British series would be developed in house by Thames Television, and had no input from the Children's Television Workshop.[1]

After more than 1000 episodes (a total of 1071 episodes with 23 seasons), the series came to an abrupt end when Thames Television handed its ITV franchise over to Carlton Television on New Year's Eve 1992. Since then, it has gained cult status and continues to get frequent mentions on radio and television. A few DVDs have been produced, including one celebrating 30 Years of Rainbow.


Each episode of Rainbow revolved around a particular activity or situation that would arise in the Rainbow House, where the main characters lived. Usually, it would involve some kind of squabble or dispute between the puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle, and Geoffrey's attempts to calm them down and keep the peace. The main story would be interspersed with songs (usually from Rod, Jane and Freddy, although, guest singers would occasionally take their place), animations, and stories read from the Rainbow storybook, usually by Geoffrey. Some episodes would focus on a particular theme, such as sounds or opposites, and would consist mainly of short sketches or exchanges between the main characters, rather than a consistent storyline. Brief sequences of animated line drawings, made by Cosgrove Hall Productions, were included in many episodes.


Zippy and George NMM

Zippy and George at the National Media Museum

Rainbow featured the following characters, each with their own character style:

  • The presenter – at first David Cook, who was replaced after a year by the best-known presenter Geoffrey Hayes. He would bring the other members of the Rainbow household to order or give them something to do.
  • Bungle – a brown furry bear with a squashed face, who is inquisitive but also clumsy and usually complains a lot about the other characters, especially Zippy's antics. a costume; played by John Leeson , Stanley Bates, Malcolm Lord, Anthony Pitt and Paul Cullinan.[2] Although unclothed most of the time, he wraps a towel around his waist after a shower and also wears pyjamas at bed time.
  • Zippy – loud and domineering, but usually very funny (albeit not to the other characters in the show). The puppet was originally voiced and operated by Peter Hawkins and later voiced by Roy Skelton – both were also well known for voicing Daleks and Cybermen in Doctor Who – and operated by Ronnie Le Drew. Zippy's mouth is a zip, and when he becomes too bossy or irritating, this would be zipped shut to prevent him from continuing: on at least one occasion he unzipped himself, though he appears unable to do so on other occasions.
  • George – a shy, pink and slightly camp hippo. (puppet; voiced by Roy Skelton and operated by Malcolm Lord, Tony Holtham and later Craig Crane).
  • Sunshine and Moony – optimistic sunshine (yellow with a red hat) and his more gloomy friend Moony (brown with a tuft of yellow hair) were the original 'stars' of the programme, but soon became little more than foils to the more popular Zippy; they were phased out by 1973, in favour of greater roles for Bungle and (especially) George. They were voiced by Violet Yeomans.
  • Rod, Jane and Freddy – a group of musicians who regularly featured on the show. When they debuted in 1974 they were 'Rod, Jane and Matt', Matt being Matthew Corbett (of The Sooty Show fame). Matt was replaced from 1977 by Roger Walker, before Freddy Marks in turn took over in 1981. When the series began in 1972, the regular singing trio were Charlie Dore, Julian Littman and Karl Johnson.
  • Telltale – a six-piece group who provided the music in the early days of the show being replaced by Charlie Dore and Julian Littman and then Rod, Matt and Jane.
  • Zippo – Zippy's cousin, identical in appearance to Zippy but slightly brighter in colour, who would make the occasional guest appearance. Originally portrayed as an eloquent Frenchman, but a later episode depicted him as an American-accented rapper with loud, flashy clothing.
  • Georgina (a.k.a. Georgie), a cousin of George. Georgina is physically identical to George, except for her longer eyelashes and floppy hat.
  • Dawn – the next-door neighbour, played by Dawn Bowden, who was introduced in the show's later years, first appearing in 1990.
  • Aunty – played by numerous actresses, is the aunt of one of the characters, probably Geoffrey.

Generally speaking, George and Zippy represented two 'types' of child, George being the quiet and shy type, while Zippy represented the hyperactive and destructive type. George was usually vindicated, but Zippy got his comeuppance. While they were apparently young 'children' (aged around 7 or 8), Bungle was an older 'child' (aged around 12–13), and differed from them in being a costume rather than a hand puppet. Geoffrey's relationship to them was unclear, other than being a kind of father figure (although he is referred to as 'Uncle' Geoffrey in at least one episode). Apart from Jane and (in the early days) Sunshine, females rarely appeared on the programme, despite some ambiguity concerning the often effeminate (and permanently pink) George.

In 1989, Rod, Jane and Freddy left the show to concentrate on touring, pantomime appearances and their own separate TV show (which had run parallel with Rainbow since 1981). This meant that Dawn Bowden was introduced as a regular female character in place of Jane, while the songs were generally provided by guest singers, notably Christopher Lillicrap. The show would also often include guest stars, to make a change from Geoffrey telling all the lessons – this way, the characters would be told stories and lessons by a fresh face. Even so, Geoffrey was never completely eliminated and continued to act as presenter and "member of the Rainbow House" until the end of the programme in 1992.

Theme song

The theme song for the show was actually a small part of the full version, also called 'Rainbow' and written by Hugh Portnow, Hugh Fraser and Tim Thomas of the band Telltale, who regularly appeared in the first series of the show. This was released by Music for Pleasure in 1973 with the B-side "Windy Day".

There have been several dance versions of the theme tune which have been released as singles. The dance act Solo had a minor hit in 1991 with a sample-free instrumental version of the Rainbow theme, while Eurobop released a dance version in 1993 featuring samples taken directly from the original theme as well as voice samples of the main characters, who appeared on several music TV shows to promote the single; a hardcore version entitled 'Rainbow Vibes' by the Sonz of Bungle circulated on 12" vinyl in 1992 which sampled the theme tune over a chopped up breakbeat and featuring rave stabs. The most recent dance version, titled "It's a Rainbow!" and featuring the vocals of Zippy and George, reached the UK top 20 in 2002.

VHS releases

Bumper Special Videos

#List of FilmsRelease DateRunning Time
1 Rainbow Bumper Special 5 January 1990 100 minutes
2 Rainbow Bumper Special 2 26 March 1994 150 minutes


Although the original Rainbow died with the loss of Thames' broadcasting licence in 1992, Tetra Films (an independent production company created by Thames' children's department) revived it for ITV in 1994 and 1995 (two series, 33 episodes in total). The new version of the show departed from the original format, centred on the slightly redesigned puppet characters – without a presenter – running a toy shop. A new character was introduced, a Scouse-sounding blue rabbit named Cleo (voiced by Gillian Robic). Geoffrey Hayes claims to have heard the news of his 'sacking' from the tabloids, rather than from Tetra: "I was shocked really, and for a couple of days I thought it was just me who had been dropped. But then Rod, Jane and Freddy had already left and of course Roy had now been dropped too. The guy playing Bungle – he was history, as was the puppeteer doing George; only Zippy's puppeteer was left. Ronnie Le Drew who also voiced Zippy for the new Tetra series; I discovered later, had auditioned for it. Bungle looked different too, though Zippy and George looked much the same".[3]

A second revival, in 1996, saw a return to something like the original format in a series of short 10-minute shows entitled Rainbow Days, presented by Dale Superville, which ran to only one series of 12 episodes. Both were produced in association with HTV. A comic based on the latter series, also titled Rainbow Days, ran for a handful of issues in 1997.

Episodes of the original Rainbow, dating from the early 1980s, were shown sporadically on the UK satellite TV channel Nick Jr. (and/or its sister channel, Nick Jr. 2) in the late 2000s as part of its Nick Jr. Classics re-runs. A previous repeat run took place on UK Gold (now Gold) from its launch in November 1992 to 1994; these were mostly from the last three years of the programme (without Rod, Jane and Freddy). There are also numerous episodes on the video viewing website, YouTube.

The "adult" version

In 1979, the cast and crew of Rainbow made a special exclusive sketch for the Thames TV staff Christmas tape, sometimes referred to as the "Twangers" episode. This sketch featured plenty of deliberate sexual innuendo (beginning with Zippy peeling a banana, saying 'One skin, two skin, three skin, four...' before being interrupted), and was never shown at the time (as it was never intended to be screened to the general public.) It also included Geoffrey convincing the viewers to 'bounce' their balls, but if they did not have any balls, they could ask a friend if they could play with his. Jane also claimed that she was "blowing a lot with Rodger". Soon, Zippy asked them to stop, suggesting whether to play with a blowing tube and maracas, so they could start singing "The Plucking Song".

The clip became famous after being aired on Victor Lewis-Smith's Channel 4 programme TV Offal (1997) and was referred to as 'the pilot episode' in order to fit into the regular programme segment "The Pilots That Crashed"; however, the clip clearly was not a pilot, as Geoffrey Hayes was not a regular presenter until the series itself was a year old. The clip became widespread with the advent of the Internet, first as an e-mail attachment and later via online video websites such as YouTube, where to date it has received more than a million hits. This has led to many erroneous claims that the episode was publicly broadcast as a regular episode.

TV Offal also broadcast some very risqué material featuring Hayes, Zippy and George as guests on a variety programme hosted by comedian Jim Davidson in the 1980s; the sketch in question featured former children's TV presenter Tommy Boyd asking a question about Adam and Eve. Boyd and Davidson used some profanities in the sketch, along with some innuendo from George (presumably again not intended for broadcast like the above), and there was one particularly shocking moment when Zippy exclaimed to Geoffrey an expletive phrase quite out of character from his children's television persona. This sketch would in all likelihood have been filmed during rehearsals. (Incidentally, the said footage appeared uncut on Thames Television's 1984 Christmas tape.)

Comedian Bobby Davro also parodied Rainbow as a comedy sketch in his own TV series in the early-1990s, playing the part of Geoffrey alongside exaggerated versions of Bungle and the puppets, which contained some mild sexual innuendo. Davro had appeared in a regular edition of the show, in which he performed impressions of the characters in front of them.

While never explicitly adult, most interviews featuring Zippy and George since the show's demise commonly portray them as somewhat more edgy in terms of personality. For example, in an episode of SMTV Live, they call Bungle an 'idiotic, blundering creature'.

Episode list

Further information: List of Rainbow (TV series) episodes


  1. "History". 19 March 2002. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  2. Moses-Lloyd, Rachel. "The Voice returns for 2015 – with a new judge, and Bungle from Rainbow", 10 January 2015. Retrieved on 17 February 2015. 
  3. Anderiesz, Mike (2002). Climbing High: Life Under the Rainbow Exposed. Boxtree. pp. 122–123. 

Further reading

  • Mike Anderiesz, Climbing High: Life Under the Rainbow Exposed (Boxtree, 2002).
  • Tim Randall, Rainbow Unzipped – The Autobiography Published on 1 October 2009 by Headline Publishing Group (Template:ISBN).
  • The A to Z of Classic Children's Television by Simon Sheridan. (Reynolds & Hearn books, 2004, reprinted 2007)

Template:ISBN. Features a chapter on the series and interviews with Jane Tucker and Pamela Lonsdale.

External links