Basil Brush is a fictional anthropomorphic British red fox, best known for his appearances on daytime British children's television. He is primarily portrayed by a glove puppet, but has also been depicted in animated cartoon shorts and comic strips. The character has featured on children's television from the 1960s to the present day. He has also appeared in pantomimes all over the UK.
|First appearance||The Three Scampies (1962)|
|Created by||Ivan Owen|
|Portrayed by||Ivan Owen (1962–2000)|
Michael Winsor (2002–present)
A mischievous character and a raconteur, Basil Brush is best known for his catchphrase "Ha Ha Ha! Boom! Boom!", used after something he finds funny, and also for speaking in a "posh" accent and manner, referring to himself as a "fella". The character claims to dislike puppets, and says his most prized possession is his brush, this being the traditional name for a fox's tail.
Basil Brush from 1963 to 1984
Ivan Owen took great care to ensure that he, personally, never received any publicity. Professionally, only Basil had a public persona, with Owen himself remaining entirely unknown. This helped give the character believability, making Basil appear to be real, since—unlike Harry Corbett and Sooty, for example—the audience never saw the puppeteer.
Ivan modelled Basil's voice on that of the film star Terry-Thomas, giving the puppet a touch of well-cultivated class. This, plus a degree of sophistication in the humour (which often included topical political jokes) helped give Basil a broad appeal. So although Basil began as a children's entertainer, in the 1970s he became a mainstream act, attracting a family audience.
Basil first appeared on television in 1962, in a series called The Three Scampis, an out-of-work circus act. The human was Howard Williams, Ivan Owen animated and voiced Basil and Wally Whyton animated and voiced Spike McPike, a very aggressive Scottish hedgehog also made by Peter Firmin. In the mid-1960s Basil became a supporting act for the magician David Nixon, upstaging Nixon on the latter's BBC1 show Nixon at Nine-Five in 1967 and The Nixon Line (1967–68), to such good effect that the fox was offered his own show.
Basil thus acquired his own television series on the BBC, The Basil Brush Show, which ran for 12 years from 1968 until 1980, in which he was supported by various famous stooges: first, in 1968, by the actor Rodney Bewes, known on the show as "Mr Rodney"; next, from 1969 to 1973, by the actor Derek Fowlds (known as "Mr Derek"); then until 1976 by actor and singer Roy North ("Mr Roy"); then by "Mr Howard" Howard Williams, who was in the original "Three Scampies"; and finally by "Mr Billy" (Billy Boyle). By the mid-1970s the show was aimed at a family audience, so was usually broadcast on BBC1 in an early evening timeslot on Saturdays (although in the early days it had aired during children's programmes on Thursdays, before the evening news at 5:45 pm), typically running for 13 weeks in each series.
The show was recorded in the presence of a studio audience, and usually ran about 25 minutes. The format of the show typically featured an opening introduction by Basil and his co-star (Mr Derek, or Mr Roy, etc.), in which they would do a few jokes; this was followed by a comedy sketch, featuring topical jokes about a then-current subject (for instance, a sketch set on board an aeroplane flying them to a holiday in Spain, loosely based around the hit pop song Eviva España); then a musical item, featuring a guest singer or group (these included some of the most famous singers of the day, top stars such as Demis Roussos in 1973, Petula Clark in 1979, and Cilla Black — big stars vied to get on the show, which had a huge audience); sometimes the guest singer would do a song, straight, but then also do a comic duet with Basil.
Finally, the show would conclude with 'storytime', in which Mr Derek or Mr Roy, etc., would read aloud from a serial story about the adventures of some fictitious historical relative of Basil's — for instance 'Bulldog' Basil, or Blast-Off Basil and his journey to the stars (a Star Trek spoof), or Basil de Farmer, the knight in shining armour (a Robin Hood spoof); or at least he would attempt to, whilst being continually interrupted by a string of jokes and humorous remarks (often concerning "Dirty Gertie from Number Thirty") from Basil. Often at this point, in the mid-1970s, Basil would get out Little Ticker, his clockwork wind-up dog, and have it do humorous tricks at the side, almost off-camera, in order to distract the audience and thereby take the rise out of Mr Roy. Each week's story ended on a cliffhanger and the catchphrase "and that's all we've got time for this week, Basil", followed by protestations from Basil which would lead into a final song, based upon that week's serial story, whilst the closing credits rolled.
A dispute in 1980 led to the show's cancellation. Ivan Owen aspired to a mid-evening timeslot, which the BBC were unwilling to agree. In 1982 the puppet reappeared on television in Let's Read With Basil Brush, an infant schools programme on ITV produced by Granada Television. Basil eventually returned to the BBC, as co-host of the long-running children's television series Crackerjack, broadcast at 4:55pm on Fridays, during the 1983–84 season.
Basil Brush also performed in the theatre, regularly appearing live in Pantomime at Christmas; usually co-starring at the top of the bill with a well-known singer or comedian. His pantomime co-stars during the 1960s included the singer Cilla Black. After the television show's cancellation in 1980, Basil ended his partnership with Mr Billy and teamed up once again with Howard Williams ("Mr Howard"); they toured in a live stage show, capitalising on Basil's celebrity and continuing popularity as a result of thirteen years on TV.
The Basil Brush Show from 2002 to 2007
In 2002, after the death of Ivan Owen, Basil made a comeback (performed by Michael Winsor) in a children's BBC sitcom, again named The Basil Brush Show, in which his new comic foil, Mr Stephen, is played by Christopher Pizzey. It was produced by The Foundation, part of the RDF Media Group. Child actors Georgina Leonidas and Michael Hayes also appeared on the show. Basil Brush now had a family, which included his destructive, hyperactive but cute nephew Bingo, and his criminal cousin Mortimer. Other friends were introduced as well, such as the moneymaking child Dave and the more sensible Molly, as well as Madison, who lived upstairs, Irish sidekick Liam (played by Michael Byers), and Anil, a crazy café owner and inept cook.
Several celebrities made cameo appearances on the show. These included Eamonn Holmes and Ainsley Harriott. The original shows were recorded before a studio audience, comprising mainly children, but the new programme used a post-production laughter track instead of an audience.
Interspersed with the main programme, there are now various animated shorts in which Basil and/or another character is seen making jokes. The more recent puppet looks different from the original 1960s/1970s puppet in a number of aspects and, apart from being well-spoken, the voice of Basil is very different from the original Ivan Owen version.
Basil Brush often breaks the Fourth Wall by having shots of the set and making references to how long the show is, and abusing the obvious way of walking across to other scenes.
The British Film Institute in November 2016 announced The Basil Brush Show would be digitised as part of the BFI's five-year strategy for 2017-2022 to preserve shows from the 1970s and 80s. Many of the tapes at the BFI's Conservation Centre in Hertfordshire were reportedly deteriorating and at risk of becoming unplayable.
Basil's Cartoon Story Book
Basil's Cartoon Story Book is a collection of 24 animated children's stories from around the world and presented by Basil Brush. Released on VHS in 1994, it was sold and distributed in the United Kingdom by PolyGram Video Ltd under The Pocket Money Video brand.
Stick It Out
Fantasy Football League
Also in 1993, Basil appeared alongside Roy Hattersley on the BBC comedy series Fantasy Football League with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel — his first television appearance in a decade. Inevitably, his fantasy football team for the series included Norwich City midfielder Ruel Fox.
Basil made a surprise guest appearance at the end of an act featured on the BBC game show The Generation Game in about 1973, where the game between the players was to identify six celebrities hidden behind disguises who sang a song about a dastardly plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Both teams of contestants identified Basil as one of the masked celebrities.
Basil briefly appeared as a presenter for several Friday episodes of the popular British children's TV programme Blue Peter in 2003, in which he had his own joke segment. On 16 November 2010 Basil made a further guest appearance for one episode.
French and Saunders
The Weakest Link
On 10 December 2005 Basil appeared on The Weakest Link and won the show, receiving £10,900 for his chosen charity, the Blue Peter 2005 charity appeal, "Treasure Trail" (in aid of Childline). This makes him the first puppet to win The Weakest Link (Roland Rat had previously appeared as a puppet contestant, but did not win).
Basil returned to Weakest Link as one of the contestants on the show's 1000th UK edition, recorded on 1 November 2006 and aired on BBC Two on 18 December 2006. Although he made it to the final round, this time he failed to win. However, the winner (Miss Evans) still decided to share half of her winnings with Basil's chosen charity. Although Basil is a puppet, he did not appear in the puppet special that aired the following year.
Basil Brush starred in the Christmas pantomime Cinderella in 2007, including St Albans, where he would appear from a large box on wheels for various hilarious off-plot moments, and encouraged children in the audience to shout 'Boom Boom Basil!' after each use of his catchphrase. In December 2010 Basil Brush appeared in the Croydon Fairfield Halls pantomime production of Cinderella.
Basil's Swap Shop
Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation
In February 2010 Basil Brush appeared on the Australian game show Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation in episode one of season two as the show's first international guest. He appeared in the Baby Boomer team.
Rolf Harris at The Royal Albert Hall
Basil appeared with Rolf Harris at his 50th anniversary concert for The Prince's Trust. Basil criticised Rolf about wanting to tie a kangaroo down, leading to a montage of clips from Animal Hospital, then they performed a duet of the song 'In The Court Of King Caractacus' together.
Basil was the Newerer Magazine headline in the Celebrity Juice Series 6 Christmas special.
On 21 December 2012, Basil appeared on the show ITV News as part of the "Text Santa" charity event.
Let's Dance for Comic Relief
On 2 March 2013, Basil appeared in the third episode of the 2013 series.
Don't be Afraid
In the summer of 2014, Basil Brush made a cameo appearance in glass onion's retro kids telly themed music video, "Don't be afraid" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgPoIxIp3nk
Beauty and the Beast
Between 3 December 2014 and 11 January 2015, Basil starred in Beauty and the Beast at the Theatre Royal in Windsor.
Good Morning Britain
On 2 March 2015, Basil appeared on Good Morning Britain talking about his tour around the United Kingdom. On 5 April 2018 Basil became the Guest Entertainment Editor.
On 12 September 2015 and 29 May 2016, Basil appeared on Pointless Celebrities in an episodes featuring children's TV presenters.
The Last Leg
On 11 November 2016, Basil appeared on The Last Leg to considerable public adulation. On 23 December 2016, by popular demand, Basil appeared on the Christmas special.
The Chase: Celebrity Special
On 10 December 2017, Basil appeared on The Chase (UK game show).
The Generation Game
It was revealed that Basil starred in the revamped version of The Generation Game alongside Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins when it returned in Spring 2018 on BBC 1.
Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two
On 16 November 2018, Basil appeared on Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two alongside Alexandra Burke, Jamie Cullum and Rob Deering as a part of the Friday Panel. He revealed that his favourite dance is the Foxtrot.
Basil appeared in Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal in Windsor which ran from 23 November 2018 till 6 January 2019.
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