Rainbow Rising: The Oddly Dour Children’s Folk Songs Of Telltale

The odd folk-rock soundtrack to the legendary children’s TV show is an odd mix of jollity and depression.

Rainbow was a well-known and long-lasting children’s TV show in the UK, broadcast in the lunchtime slot on ITV from 1972 until 1992 when producers Thames TV lost its franchise to Carlton. I’m not sure if ‘beloved’ is the word to use to describe the show, which always seemed the last choice for kids amongst the revolving midday ITV shows, compared to the likes of Pipkins, but it certainly became part of the collective consciousness for an entire generation of kids. The characters – the child-like Bungle the Bear, the snarky Zippy and the borderline backward George, human host Geoffrey and singing trio Rod, Jane and Freddy are so ingrained in our memories that it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t all there from the start. But in fact, only Bungle and Zippy were there from the very beginning, with assorted puppets, hosts and singers being tried out and then jettisoned as the show found its feet.

Among the rejects were folk band Telltale, who would remain a presence in the show via their chirpy theme song, but who were otherwise given the boot after the second season. Why this collection of affable hippies didn’t make the grade is perhaps made clear when you listen to the soundtrack LP issued in 1973, by which time the band were about to be kicked off the show.

The Music For Pleasure release Songs from the Thames Television Children’s Programme “Rainbow” seems, at first glance, an entirely affable piece – whistful (yes, that’s the word) folk songs that tied to the theme of each episode and so could pass as educational. But for a show that was all bright colours and forced cheerfulness, the songs seem a bit downbeat, possibly even depressing. Even the title theme, immediately known to everyone in the UK for its bouncy refrain – “up above the streets and houses, rainbow climbing high, everyone can see it shining, over the sky – paint the whole world with a rainbow” – suddenly becomes oddly dour 43 seconds into the extended version here.

These are not bleak tracks by any means, but they are hardly jolly singalongs either, and perhaps not what the nippers wanted as they scoffed down their lunch. As a folk album, fixated on nature and failure, the record isn’t bad at all, but as a children’s LP it leaves a lot to be desired. Rod, Jane and Freddy were more disposable fluffy.

For Telltale, recording an album for a children’s TV show was not the way to secure a good standing with more chin-stroking folkies and serious rock fans. The band, made up of Tim Thomas, Hugh Portnow, Hugh Fraser, Chris Ashley, Fluff Joinson and Ted Richards, would not record again after this.

As a pop culture artefact, you might expect that this album would have been reissued and reassessed over the years. But no – the 1973 edition is the only pressing and remains oddly uncollectible. If Reprobate Records ever launches, you can bet that we’ll be seeking out the master tapes and rights to this.

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