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Rainbow (TV series) facts for kids

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Rainbow Titles.jpg
Genre Educational
Created by Pamela Lonsdale
Presented by David Cook
Geoffrey Hayes
  • John Leeson
  • Stanley Bates
  • Malcolm Lord
  • Richard Robinson
  • Paul Cullinan
  • Peter Hawkins
  • Roy Skelton
  • Violet Yeomans
  • Ronnie Le Drew
  • Telltale
  • Rod Burton
  • Jane Tucker
  • Matthew Corbett
  • Roger Walker
  • Freddy Marks
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 23
No. of episodes 1,002
Production location(s) Thames Studios
Running time Typically about 15 minutes
(though specials were 10 minutes longer)
Production company(s)
  • Thames Television (1972–1992)
  • Tetra Films (1994–1997)
  • FremantleMedia
Original network ITV Network
Picture format 4:3
Original release 12 November 1972 (1972-11-12) – 31 December 1992 (1992-12-31)

Rainbow was a British children's television series, created by Pamela Lonsdale, which ran from 12 November 1972 until 31 December 1992 when Thames Television lost its ITV franchise to Carlton Television. The series was revived by HTV in 1994 until 24 March 1997, in two different formats from the original Thames series, with differing cast members.

The series was originally conceived as a British equivalent of long-running American educational puppet series Sesame Street. The British series was developed in house by Thames Television, and had no input from the Children's Television Workshop. It was intended to develop language and social skills for pre-school children, and went on to win the Society of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Children's Programme in 1975. It aired five times weekly, twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays then Tuesdays and Fridays, and finally once weekly at 12:10 on Fridays on the ITV network.

The show had three producers over its lifetime – Pamela Lonsdale, Charles Warren and Joe Boyer.

The original Thames series has gained cult status and continues to get frequent mentions on radio and television. A few DVDs have been produced, including one celebrating 30 Years of Rainbow.


Each episode of Rainbow revolved around a particular activity or situation that arose in the Rainbow House, where the main characters lived. Some episodes, particularly in the early years, were purely educational in format and consisted of a series of scenes involving the characters learning about that particular episode's subject, interspersed with real-world footage, songs, stories and animations related to that same subject. The puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle would take the role of inquisitive children asking about the episode's subject, with the presenter (initially David Cook, and from 1974 onwards Geoffrey Hayes) serving the role of teacher figure, educating them about the subject. From the 1980s onwards, most episodes were more story-driven and frequently involved some kind of squabble or dispute between the puppet characters of Zippy, George and Bungle, and Geoffrey's attempts to calm them down and keep the peace.

The main story was interspersed with songs (most notably from Rod, Jane and Freddy, although the singers on the show changed several times during its run), animations, and stories read from the Rainbow storybook, usually by Geoffrey (or David, depending on the episode's air date). Some episodes focused on a particular topic, such as sounds or opposites, and consisted mainly of short sketches or exchanges between the main characters, rather than a consistent storyline. Brief sequences of animated line drawings, made by Cosgrove Hall Productions, were included in many episodes.

Theme song

The theme song for the show was actually a small part of the full version, also called "Rainbow" and written by Hugh Portnow, Lady Hornsbrie, Hugh Fraser and Tim Thomas of the band Telltale, who regularly appeared in the first three seasons of the show. It was released by Music for Pleasure in 1973 with the B-side "Windy Day". Although Telltale left the show in 1974, their recording of the theme tune continued to be used until the end of the original show's run in 1992.

There have been several dance versions of the theme tune which have been released as singles. The dance act Solo had a minor hit in 1991 with a sample-free instrumental version of the Rainbow theme, while Eurobop released a dance version in 1993 featuring samples taken directly from the original theme as well as voice samples of the main characters, who appeared on several music TV shows to promote the single; a hardcore version entitled "Rainbow Vibes" by the Sonz of Bungle circulated on 12" vinyl in 1992 which sampled the theme tune over a chopped up breakbeat and featuring rave stabs. The most recent dance version, titled "It's a Rainbow!" and featuring the vocals of Zippy and George, reached the UK top 20 in 2002.

In 2019 Matt Berry produced a version of Rainbow included on an album recreating some 70s and 80s TV theme tunes, called Television Themes tunes.

Episode list


Zippy and George NMM
Zippy and George at the National Media Museum

Rainbow featured the following characters, each with their own character style:

  • The presenter – at first David Cook, who was replaced in 1974 by the best-known presenter Geoffrey Hayes. He brought the other members of the Rainbow household to order or gave them something to do. He acted as the symbol of adult wisdom, and rarely demonstrated overt affection to any of the three puppet characters, acting more as a carer/teacher than a father. While bright and cheery by default, Geoffrey occasionally became exasperated and flustered by the misbehaviour of the puppet characters, and a lot of the comedy in the later episodes revolved around him showing a grumpy streak and occasionally losing his temper. There were infrequent mentions to his life outside of the Rainbow household, such as girlfriends, while several episodes stated that Geoffrey had a day job, apparently working in an office during weekdays.
  • Zippy – loud and domineering, but usually very funny (albeit not to the other characters in the show). The puppet was originally voiced by Peter Hawkins and operated by Violet Philpott and later voiced by Roy Skelton – both were also well known for voicing Daleks and Cybermen in Doctor Who – and operated by Ronnie Le Drew. Zippy's mouth is a zip, and when he became too bossy or irritating, this was zipped shut to prevent him from continuing: on at least one occasion he unzipped himself, though he appears unable to do so on other occasions. He broadly represented childhood self-centredness, "naughtiness" and extroversion. Zippy was extremely boastful and would frequently brag about his superior intelligence and singing skill (both of which proved to be completely unfounded when put to the test) and was also greedy, often overeating and displaying a particular love for chocolate and sweets.
  • George – a shy, pink and slightly camp hippo. He broadly represented sensitivity and introversion. (puppet; voiced by Roy Skelton and operated by Malcolm Lord, Tony Holtham and later Craig Crane). George first appeared in 1973, introduced as a shy friend of Zippy's who was afraid of being seen or heard, usually crouching very low behind the window pane and rarely speaking, preferring to make funny noises. In subsequent seasons George gradually became more extroverted and spoke more, though he remained predominantly shy and timid. The most generally well-behaved and well-meaning of the puppet characters, George often found himself caught between Zippy and Bungle's squabbling, and his good nature taken advantage of by the other characters. Although mostly introverted, several episodes reveal that he aspires to be a singer.
  • Bungle – (Also known as Bungle-Bonce, particularly by Zippy) a brown furry bear with a squashed face, who is inquisitive but also clumsy and usually complains a lot about the other characters, especially Zippy's antics. He broadly represented conformity. Although on the surface he appears well-behaved and sensible, Bungle has a very sneaky side and a tendency to suck up to authority, making him frequently just as troublesome as Zippy, if not more so. The polar opposites of Zippy and Bungle's personalities is the source of much humour. Unlike Zippy and George, Bungle is a costume rather than a puppet; played by John Leeson, Stanley Bates and Malcolm Lord in the Thames TV series and by Richard Robinson and Paul Cullinan in the reboot. Although unclothed most of the time, he wraps a towel around his waist after a shower and also wears pyjamas at bed time. The original 1972 costume resembled a wild brown bear, but in 1974 this was replaced with a new design resembling a teddy bear.
  • Rod, Jane and Freddy – a group of musicians who regularly featured on the show. When they debuted in 1974 they were 'Rod, Jane and Matt', Matt being Matthew Corbett (of The Sooty Show fame). Matt was replaced from 1977 by Roger Walker, before Freddy Marks in turn took over in 1983. Although initially confined to the song segment of the show, gradually Rod, Jane & Freddy began to feature more heavily in the episode's storylines during the show's run, often playing significant roles in the plot. Some of the early 80s episodes stated they lived in the Rainbow House and they were shown to have a bedroom of their own, although later episodes implied they lived next door. Rod, Jane & Freddy were very well-respected and looked up to by Zippy, George and Bungle, who admired their singing and rarely ever got into any conflict with them.
  • Sunshine and Moony – optimistic sunshine (yellow with a red hat) and his more gloomy friend Moony (brown with a tuft of yellow hair) were the original 'stars' of the programme, but soon became little more than foils to the more popular Zippy. They would occupy short sketches in the early episodes, the humour coming from the boastful, extroverted Sunshine winding up the more modest, cynical Moony, in a loose parallel of the later relationship between Zippy and George. they were phased out by 1974, in favour of greater roles for Bungle and (especially) George. They were voiced by Violet Yeomans.
  • Telltale – a six-piece group who provided the music in the early days of the show. They were a folk rock band and their repertoire would consist of both original compositions and cover versions.
  • Charlie Dore, Julian Littman and Karl Johnson - the singing trio who replaced Telltale in 1974. They stayed with the show before being replaced by Rod, Matt & Jane in 1975. Charlie Dore and Julian Littman went on to have hugely successful music careers, while Karl Johnson became a well-known actor.
  • Duffy - a white sheepdog. Zippy's short-lived original sidekick for a handful of episodes circa 1972–73. Replaced by George in the 1974 series.
  • Zippo – Zippy's cousin, identical in appearance to Zippy but slightly brighter in colour, who would make the occasional guest appearance throughout the 80s and 90s seasons. Originally portrayed as an eloquent Frenchman, but a later episode depicted him as an American-accented rapper with loud, flashy clothing. Operated first by Valerie Heberden and later by Nigel Plaskitt, and voiced by Roy Skelton.
  • Georgette - a pink female hippo, identical in appearance to George except for her longer eyelashes and floppy hat. She appears in the 1986 episode "Falling Out and Making Up" in which she moves into the house next door to the Rainbow House and immediately gets along well with George. Despite her close resemblance to George in appearance and name, this appears to be nothing more than sheer coincidence.
  • Dawn – the next-door neighbour, played by Dawn Bowden, who was introduced in the show's later years, first appearing in 1990. Dawn would often pop round to the Rainbow House to help out with everyday chores and socialize with the characters, as well as performing songs with the rest of the cast on her Casio keyboard.
  • Aunty – played by Patsy Rowlands, is apparently Geoffrey's aunt, who he used to stay with as a little boy. Aunty comes round to visit in several episodes, while in others the cast visit her. Aunty is a very old-fashioned woman, which occasionally exasperates the puppet characters, although they enjoy her company nonetheless.
  • Christopher - played by Christopher Lillicrap, a semi-regular guest star who would guest on the show from time to time since the 70s, at first to read stories and later to perform songs, which the main cast would join in with.
  • Vince - played by Vince Hill, a singer who would occasionally visit the Rainbow House and join in a song with Rod, Jane & Freddy. One episode portrayed him as a kind of 'Geoffrey' figure for Zippo when he showed up with Zippo to a garden party.

Generally speaking, George and Zippy represented two 'types' of child, George being the quiet and shy type, while Zippy represented the hyperactive and destructive type. Zippy often demonstrated a cynicism and wit that went beyond the "4th wall" and appealed to older viewers. George was usually vindicated, and Zippy got his comeuppance. While they were apparently young 'children' (aged around 6), Bungle was an older 'child' (aged around 8), and differed from them in being a costume rather than a hand puppet. Geoffrey's relationship to them was unclear, other than being a kind of mentor/teacher/carer.


Episodes of the original Rainbow, dating from the early 1980s, were shown sporadically on the UK satellite TV channel Nick Jr. (and/or its sister channel, Nick Jr. 2) in the late 2000s as part of its Nick Jr. Classics reruns. A previous repeat run took place on UK Gold (now Gold) from its launch in November 1992 to 1994; these were mostly from the last three years of the programme (without Rod, Jane and Freddy).

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