The Friendly Giant was a children's television show that aired on the CBC for almost thirty years. Much like many children's programs it focused on a human actor and his puppet sidekicks. However, unlike many children's programs, the human actor played a giant (named Friendly) and one of his puppet sidekicks was Rusty, a rooster that lived in a sack that hung from the giant's castle wall. The other sidekick was a giraffe named Jerome who stuck his head through the castle window to converse with Rusty and Friendly.
The show would always start with a shot of a giant boot in the middle of a small town. You would then hear Friendly asking his viewers to "look up, waaaaaaaay up" in order to see him and then he would welcome them into his castle. Inside the castle Friendly would arrange some tiny chairs for the children watching to sit in. Of course, the chairs weren't actually tiny. They were normal-sized chairs that only appeared tiny due to the fact that they were being held by a giant.
This show ran for many, many years and generations of Canadians were practically raised by this giant and his animal companions. Sometimes Friendly would tell stories and other times the trio would play instruments. It was an entertaining, and definitely bizarre, show. I would have liked to be in the room when the show was proposed to the network.
"Okay, we're going to have a show about a giant. Except this giant isn't mean, he's friendly. He's so friendly that his name is actually 'Friendly!' He lives in a castle with a rooster and a giraffe. Well, the giraffe lives outside the castle, but the rooster lives inside in a bag that hangs from the wall. Of course, the rooster is also huge in size as a regular-sized rooster would be too small for a giant to interact with. Oh yeah, the animals also play instruments."
And thus a children's classic was born!
But The Friendly Giant wasn't the only bizarre program Canadian children were introduced to. There were many more:
- Mr. Dressup - A man who had an endless variety of costumes inside his "Tickle Trunk." He would dress in these costumes to entertain his puppet friends. The original puppets were Casey (a human child in puppet form) and a dog named Finnegan. The puppets spent most of their time in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup's yard. The puppets were later changed as the puppeteer retired. Mr. Dressup often drew pictures or made crafts for the children as well. A puppet alligator named Al ran a local trading post.
- The Elephant Show - Three singers (Sharon, Lois & Bram) went through a series of wacky adventures accompanied by a group of children and their elephant friend. The elephant (appropriately named "Elephant") was a person inside an elephant suit who never spoke but loved to dance. The show also featured concert footage of the three singers as well as appearances from their friend Eric, who played a tuba made from washing machine parts.
- Polka Dot Door - Adapted from a British show, Polka Dot Door featured a cast of several actors; both adults and children. They told stories, sang songs, and played with (and talked to) stuffed animals. The stuff animals did not talk, but everyone pretended they did, holding them up to their ears and asking them to repeat themselves. When the stuffed toy said nothing for the second time it was instantly understood. The signature moment in the show would occur when only one of the two adult hosts were present. A strange creature known as "Polkaroo" would appear and try to explain something to the remaining host and any children that were nearby. Of course, Polkaroo would have been easier to understand if it was capable of saying anything other than its own name. Eventually, through a series of actions and muted "Polkaroos," it would be understood and leave happily. At this point the missing host would return and find out, much to their dismay, that Polkaroo had left. This always prompted a sad "And I missed him again?" from the unlucky host.
- Today's Special - Shot in a department store, this show featured a mannequin that came to life, a puppet security guard and a giant mouse that spoke in rhyme. If the mannequin (named "Jeff") ever lost his hat he would turn back into a mannequin and could not move again until his hat was replaced. This aspect of the show terrified me as a child.
- Camp Cariboo - A fictional camp where the two hosts/camp counselors wore hats with giant antlers and eyes. They would frequently do crafts, sing songs and other such camp activities. They would also end up in several wacky situations that they would need to find their way out of.
- Under the Umbrella Tree - The story of a woman (Holly) who lived (under an umbrella Tree) with a puppet blue jay, puppet iguana and puppet gopher. Holly may or may not have been the mother of the three puppets. She certainly treated them that way. How a human woman gave birth to puppets of three different species was never explained. Even if she wasn't their mother, didn't anyone find it weird that she was living with three different wild animals?
- Fred Penner's Place - The story of a man who crawl through a hollow log during his daily hike. Once through the log he would enter a clearing where he would spend his day singing and doing crafts. Much like any good television show, there were also puppets.
- Rocket Robin Hood - This was an older show that aired in reruns for many years, thus touching the lives of many Canadians. It basically told the story of Robin Hood, except it was in the future. Many characters wore rocket packs. No joke is necessary here.
- Sesame Park - Originally Canadian Sesame Street, this show was one of the many Canadian versions of international programs that are very common in Canada. However, this deserves its own recognition due to the large number of Canadian stereotypes present. Not only were there segments in French, but the show featured new, Canadian muppets such as a polar bear, an otter and a beaver. The show was eventually transitioned off of the standard street and into a "more Canadian" park and renamed.
Thanks to readers Art of Mashuptown and Geoff of Queen City Images for this suggestion. If you have an idea for the site please Email Us. We're always looking for new ways to spot Canadians.
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