Curious pop cover versions by men in animal costumes in an oddball 1970s children’s TV show.
Back in the mid-1970s, there were just three channels on British TV, which meant both a restriction on just how much pop music could be shown and a need to provide children’s programming. One of the spaces designated for kids was ITV’s lunchtime slot, when it was expected that pre-schoolers and primary schoolers alike could tune into to shows like Rainbow, Pipkins and other. One of the more curious shows to fill the slot was Animal Kwackers, which ran for three series between 1975 and 1978, and was quickly relegated to the “did I really see that, or just imagine it?” part of the memories of those who were growing up at that time. Now, of course, it’s available on DVD, but for years it was almost forgotten, never mentioned on those shows that wallow in collective childhood nostalgia. Like many of the weird kid’s TV shows of the time, it somehow slipped through the cracks.
Yet Animal Kwackers had everything that a cult show needed. The concept, unchanging from episode to episode, was very simple. A crudely animated title sequence set up the story: the Animal Kwackers ride in their spaceship to Popland, introducing themselves as they descend. That’s it as far as an overarching narrative goes. We then get the live action show, which opens with a song, features a narrated story that involves another song, and then ends with a final song before the animation is repeated in reverse to end the show. At just fifteen minutes or so an episode, it was very, very strange, but it certainly didn’t overstay its welcome.
The four-piece titular band consist of Rory, a blue lion who plays guitar and is seemingly the band leader; Twang is the bass and keyboard playing monkey; Boots is a tiger with an eye patch who also plays guitar; and Bongo is a dog who plays drums and is – let’s not beat around the bush here – a blatant copy of Fleegle and Bingo from The Banana Splits. In fact, The Banana Splits is clearly an influence here, though the anarchic humour of that show has been replaced with gentle, pre-teen friendly tales in which the Kwackers come to the rescue of some character who needs their help (usually provided in the form of a song), as Rory tells the central story in a Jackanory style, egged on by the call of “Rory, Rory, tell us a story, Rory, Rory, tell it like it is.”
You’re probably getting the impression that Animal Kwackers was a pretty derivative show. And you’d be right. But it was great fun nevertheless – good-hearted and unchallenging, with a bunch of fun songs guaranteed. It was harmless fun for little kids, and older kids tuned in to enjoy the cover versions of pop hits – this was, after all, the era when the Top of the Pops LPs were big sellers, and not-quite-right versions of big hits were more acceptable than they would be today, especially with limited options to enjoy popular songs.
Ahh, the songs… let’s start with the title number, a groovy little glam rock cruncher opens with the words “do you believe in rock and roll?” and could’ve been a hit a couple of years earlier (if the idea of Animal Kwackers on Top of the Pops seems ludicrous, you’ve obviously forgotten the many, many hit singles that The Wombles had in the same era). Then there are covers of various pop hits – some obvious choices, like Sweet’s Blockbuster and Mud’s Tiger Feet, both huge stompers that you can hardly go wrong with, and more leftfield choices like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (clearly deemed safe for kids despite the drugs connction) and A Little Help from My Friends. Less impressive, in the later series, are the nursery rhyme songs and ditties like The Teddy Bear’s Picnic that the band were made to play, presumably because someone decided that tracks like Drive My Car or lyrics like “he’ll steal your woman out from under your nose” and “I’ll get high with a little help from my friends” were perhaps not ideal for the pre-teen crowd.
The Kwackers were actually real musicians beneath the costumes – sadly not famous rock stars slumming it for an extra pay day though. In the first two series, it was Roy Apps (Rory), Nick Pallet (Twang) Tony Hannaford (Boots) and Geoff Nicholls (Bongo), but by series three, there was an all-new line-up – Bev Doyle (Rory, ) Step Holdsworth (Twang), John Bassett (Boots) and Atalanta Harmsworth (Bongo). It’s doubtful that most people noticed, even though Rory’s distinctive voice had now altered. By this time, the show had evolved to feature new, flashy opening titles and animated stories, but it wasn’t enough to save it. Quite how the ratings for lunchtime kid’s shows were calculated is something of a mystery, but Animal Kwackers didn’t make it past this third season. Perhaps, like other mid-Seventies pop acts, they’d run out of steam and fell victim to the punk revolution.
Still, at its peak, Animal Kwackers spawned at least two double albums (how very prog!) and a story book, which suggests a certain popularity, even if neither record spawned any hits. It makes the fact that they were so quickly forgotten all the stranger.
Here are a couple of complete episodes plus some picks of the Kwackers pops.