Someone recently sent me a YouTube clip entitled ‘Zippy being An Asshole For Five Minutes’. It was sent by a stranger on social media. They didn’t explain why they’d sent it but I’m glad they did.
People who grew up watching Rainbow often like to look back on it with a wry take on the peculiarities of the show. They chuckle about the hidden innuendos and speculate ironically about the sexual proclivities of the main cast: Geoffrey and his puppet harem; George, the camp neurotic struggling with his own desires; Bungle the bear, striding about on his hind legs with a sexual boldness that verges on the sinister.
Yes, yes. Ha ha. Rainbow – like so many weird shows created for kids in the 70s and 80s– can have its meaning twisted by clever-clogs grown-ups with too much time on their hands.
But all of that misses the real point of Rainbow. Because there really was something deep and meaningful hidden beneath the sugary veneer of afternoon children’s entertainment. But it wasn’t a sexual subtext. It was a detailed and powerful character study of one of the most complex and richly textured characters in the history of television: Zippy.
Zippy is a creature of indeterminate species, with great big unblinking eyes, no nose and a zip for a mouth. He lives with the human Geoffrey plus his puppet friends George (a hippo) and Bungle in what appears to be an ordinary suburban home. While his housemates are naive yet personable, Zippy is conflicted, highly strung, volatile and wildly egocentric. He is loved by the other three unconditionally despite his infuriating antics. Zippy ruins games, shouts over people, sometimes steals and imposes his own emotional state – good or bad – on to every single situation in the house. Zippy wants and needs everything to be about him.