Uncle Bobby’s birthday ritual

Remember Uncle Bobby? Every Saturday, CFTO used to air a kids show starring “Uncle” Bobby Ash – the Merv-Griffinesque pantsuited ringmaster who would run sort of a puppet circus variety show.

What every Canadian of that era will remember is how at the end of each show Uncle Bobby used to do this strange, actually downright creepy birthday letter ritual. It went like this…

Uncle Bobby would get a volunteer birthday picker person. From thin air – there was never a visible audience, so I don’t know where they came from. But the volunteer would stand beside him in a white straw hat that said BIRTHDAY PICKER on it (Bobby would say “behrthday pickah”) and do whatever Uncle Bobby said. The birthday ritual has many parts and Uncle Bobby could be pretty bossy about pushing a clueless volunteer through all the parts of the birthday ritual, so watch out.

Then the two of them would yell at the broom closet for Bimbo the Birthday Clown to come out. Watch Darlene get it wrong and Bobby slap her down. The clown does not come out if you don’t yell the right thing.

[An aside – watch the YouTube clip from about 40 seconds in, as Bingo’s closet door opens. The announcer – clearly Uncle Bobby with the reverb turned up – says “Introducing Bimbo the Birthday Clown.  And Son of Happy.” – WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN? What’s Son of Happy? That always bothered me. ]

Anyway – then Bimbo the cardboard birthday clown – literally a creepy circus clown on cardboard with flapping ears and a crumpled handful of tinsel flapping on his hat – would sing the Bimbo song with a soulless chipmunk falsetto while his demonic cardboard eyes darted back and forth. I won’t even go into the song. You know the song. We all know the song. But what this clip reminded me of was the Jim Reeves vocal on the Bingo song that I’d forgotten about, but which really fills out the bottom.

Once Bimbo sang his song, Uncle Bobby would again take control. Next up – we meet Birthday Bunny and Birthday Bunny’s friend. They are the most primitive fabric and wood cone puppets – something Bobby picked up in the gift shop of a European hotel and glued to Bimbo’s chest. Birthday Bunny’s friend is so primitive, it doesn’t even get a name. Every week Uncle Bobby would lean in close to hear their meek voices whisper their secret message and every week it was the same stupid exact “Have a happy day, even if you didn’t have a birthday.” Dammit Birthday Bunny and Birthday Bunny’s friend – we all heard the same secret message dozens of times. We all saw it coming every week. How about switching it the fuck up now and then? You’re why Uncle Bobby got cancelled!

Anyhoo – then a family of knitted dolls would fall from the ceiling on elastic strings. It was almost as if by interacting with Birthday Bunny and BBF, something in Uncle Bobby’s universe triggered the release of the knitted doll family from the ceiling. As a child, I never knew the names of these puppets and I found this frustrating. From this video they appear to be:

  • Big Daddy. Who Uncle Bobby also calls a big boy, which seems contradictory. He also calls him Happy and Mr. Happy.
  • Mrs. Happy, or Henrietta. This would make her Mrs. Henrietta Happy.
  • And then Wilson, Keppel and Betty, who were all attached. “Betty’s the one in the middle”

Then, Happy Birthday. Uncle Bobby and the Birthday Picker would start it off with a Rockette-style kick, then everyone would sing Happy Birthday right up until the second last line – when everyone would stop so that the largest knitted doll (Big Daddy?) could sing Happy Birthday AGAIN from the beginning, alone this time, in an even creepier, even chipmunkier voice (yes, that’s a word), with Uncle Bobby making Mr. Happy kiss Mrs. Happy after each line of the song.

[Another aside – I have questions. Who were all these puppets? Why were they each involved in the birthday thing each week? How long were the Happys married? Why did Uncle Bobby make them kiss? Why were their kids attached? For that matter – who was Birthday Bunny’s friend, really? I think that Uncle Bobby really failed to develop the back story to his characters. He couldn’t get away with that these days.]

And then “Don’t forget to kick” – one more line kick. Cue the Lawrence Welk singers. Birthday Picker blows into the noisemaker. And then Uncle Bobby would swing the whole knitted family back up up up into the sky. I always imagined some P.A. furiously hauling it back up to the rafters while those evil dolls giggled maniacally, mocking us all.

Uncle Bobby.  Kinda creepy.

Uncle Bobby. Kinda creepy.

Straw hat off. Uncle Bobby woud take this week’s letters from Bimbo’s pocket, and put them in the volunteer’s hat. Uncle Bobby tells Birthday Picker to yell “Fanfare Please.” Birthday Picker yells “Fanfare Please.” Cue canned fanfare. Birthday Picker then, eyes closed, selects a single letter from the several in the hat and hands it to Uncle Bobby. Darlene’s work is done. Nice job Darlene.

For a child, writing a letter is a huge deal. For the trouble of writing Uncle Bobby a letter – an actual ink and paper letter with a stamp from a child – Uncle Bobby would announce the name, town and age of a single writer from the pile. That’s it – Jeannette Huff from Pickering Ontario is Five. That’s it. Cue the address card. Screw you Jeannette. What a rip off.

I always thought that Uncle Bobby was low-rent, not funny or even fun really, and bordering on sad and creepy. But there it was on CTV for 15 years from 1964-1979, and even longer in reruns – and it seemed to always be aired in a programming dead zone with nothing else on – so I watched it.

Did anyone actually love this show? Any Bobbysoxers out there?

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9 thoughts on “Uncle Bobby’s birthday ritual

  1. “Creepy” is a good word, although a number of us did watch it as kids… However, a number of kids were traumatized for life when we went to a CNE winter show called “Christmas Fairyland” in the late 60’s – “Uncle Bobby” was one of the draws, we all lined up for his autographed photo and he was the grumpiest, most miserable cockney we had ever met. Not a smile, no words. The look on his face as he sat there was pure disgust. I’m over 50 now, and it is still discussed between friends as a reality turning point of childhood.

  2. My brothers and I watched when we were kids in the late 60s and early 70’s. Always remember my mom and dad saying that he was a drunk…. we always wanted to get mom and dad to buy the juice or pop that uncle bobby was advertising., but because it was on his show, they said no way!

  3. You got everything rite except his name, Bimbo the birthday clown, the puppet that drops down from the ceiling that he calls big daddy . Its first name is Happy .its Bimbo the Birthday clowns father lol

  4. It was Bimbo the clown not Bingo and he was on weekdays at noon as I watched him while eating lunch then watched the Flinstones for 30 mins before heading back to school for the afternoon.

  5. Liz – you’re absolutely right. It was Bimbo. Post has been updated.

    But when you think about it – isn’t ‘Bimbo’ actually quite a bit worse?

  6. Uncle Bobby was awesome! I watched this in the late 60s to the early 70s. Of course, this was before cable in Newfoundland and we had only channel 6 (CBC) and channel 8 (CJON, later NTV), so not a lot of choice. 8)

    I remember the Happy progression quite clearly. At first, there was only Happy. Then, later (I don’t know how long) Mrs Happy joined them. Finally, sometime later, son of Happy came along.

    I’d somehow forgotten about the birthday bunny until I read about it in your article. One of my staff remembers Uncle Bobby too. She and I reminisce about it now and then to the querulous glances of our younger staff.

    I dimly recall sometime in the 70s when I was older, reading a newspaper column in which the writer trashed the show for being too negative for kids. One thing I remember presented as proof of this was Uncle Bobby saying to a child named Wayne, “Wayne, Wayne, you are a pain.”

  7. You just made my life! The dolls – They are Wilson, Keppel and Betty? Really? Really?
    Oh, that’s too wonderful.
    The link below is to a sand dance by Wilson Keppel and Betty. You will enjoy this. Really.
    Beats the hell out of Uncle Bobby (and just before I came here, I posted on the YouTube video “Son of Happy? Didn’t he assassinate someone?)

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wilson+keppel+and+betty+sand+dance&oq=wilson+kepp&aq=0&aqi=g3&aql=&gs_sm=c&gs_upl=2416l4127l0l5569l11l11l0l2l2l1l249l1456l1.6.2l9l0

  8. I used to watch Uncle Bobby as a kid in the 70’s. When I was a on a T.V. show in the 80’s, he was a guest. I accidentally walked into a room when he was changing. He said “My body is nothing to be ashamed of”. What a creep!!!!!!!!

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