There was a time when all television shows were in black and white and there were far fewer channels than we have nowadays; and back in the 1950's there was a popular children's variety show called Andy's Gang. There may be a few of you out there you actually remember it. For the rest of you, perhaps I could take you on a trip back to a time and place where Froggy ruled supreme and Midnight the Cat would be content to play her violin along with squeaky the mouse.
This show was a real Saturday morning treat for most kids. I say most because it wasn't to everyone's taste. You see Froggy the Gremlin, who was the most popular character in the show, would love to wreck things. Usually a guest speaker would be invited on to the show and Froggy would then go and ruin their carefully prepared speech. With this seemingly evil intent and Froggy's gravel voice, a few children found him a bit scary and even gave some nightmares. My theory is that the really nice kids - the ones who would never be naughty - found Froggy a little upsetting, but the kids who could sometimes be naughty - the vast majority - found his rejection of authority refreshing. . . and very funny.
The show would kick off with a rendition of Buster Brown Shoes, the sponsor's song. This was followed by a mix of live stunts involving presenter Andy Devine and the various puppet characters and filmed adventures of an Indian boy called Rhama of the Jungle.
Andy's Gang was actually quite bizarre and bemused kids and entertained them in equal measure. There were often real live animals in the show, including lions and monkeys that would be dressed up silly costumes. The real star of the show, however, was Froggy the Gremlin. He was a true rebel. The show's guests would give a lecture to the studio audience (in fact there was usually no live audience, just canned footage and sound) about an earnest subject such as how to bake a cake or how to catch fish and froggy would constantly interrupt and put words in the guest's mouth.
Guest: Once I have mixed the custard I. . . .
Froggy: . . . put it on my head
Guest: . . . put it on my. . .
And, of course the guest takes up the suggestion before realising what she has done. Froggy wins again!
Froggy the Gremlin's rebellious streak was loved by most kids. Some have suggested, presumably with tongue in cheek, that the generation of kids that watched Froggy turned into the rebellious teenagers of the late 60's and Froggy was a subliminal influence on them. One day we might see a thesis with the title “Froggy the Gremlin's Influence on History".
One of the many bizarre happenings in this show was the catchphrase Andy Levine used when he wanted Froggy to appear: “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!". What the verb plunk and the noun twanger mean is not certain, but the saying may have its roots in an earlier incarnation of Andy's Gang called Buster Brown Gang, presented Ed McConnell where Froggy once played a guitar.
If adults find today's kids tv a little baffling, just think of what the 1950's grown-ups thought of Andy's Gang. . . . nothing changes!
Vernon Stent is marketing consultant to bygonetv.com. Have a look at this link about old tv shows including Andy's Gang