Saturday, November 19, 2005

Meet Your Maker #2

In-between bouts of Beat The Teacher and Willy Fogg’s 80 Days Around the Goddam World was a real hidden gem – The Really Wild Show. As to emphasise just how off the wall this programme was - the word Wild I recall was made up of graphical animal’s prints laid over a thumping jungle soundtrack. We are talking Grizzly Brown Bear wild here!

Inevitably each programme would open with the talismanic Terry Nutkins eulogising over what could be found in your back garden or just how far a flea could jump if it were human scale. It was clear then that Terry put the Wild in the Really Wild Show.

Born in the 1940s in Salford Terry suffered from hair loss at an early age. The resultant teasing from peers led him to seek sanctuary in the only ones that would listen to him – animals. Leaving the UK to live with some Gorillas, Terry got lost in the mist and sadly went undetected in the Amazon for 5 years. Emerging, high on Cane Toads, he returned to the UK, where he fell under the spell of one Johnny Morris.

When he wasn’t impersonating camels or apes the Don of televised animal tomfoolery was without doubt Johhny Morris, and it was under his tutelage that our Terry cut his teeth. Animal Magic was a much loved programme and became a mainstay for children up and down the country whose only prior contact with animals was a trip to the see the dirty polar bears of Bristol Zoo shitting. Animal Magic peaked in 1981 when Johnny and Terry were shrunk to just a few inches high to explore a farmyard now full of dangerous giant creatures. Eye opening stuff in the early 80s when the height of technology was the Big Trak your cousin received for Christmas.

However the whimsical eccentricity for which Animal Magic was most loved led to its demise when in 1983 new BBC bosses judged it too 'unscientific'. "Balls to you" Terry was heard to declare and in 1986 Terry pitched, to Tony Hairs over a Waldorf salad, The Really Wild Show. The green light was given there and then, and an unheard of budget of £2.5m per show was commissioned. It was only months later after Terry had spunked the budget on arranging for the appearance of a live Blue Whale in Studio 4 that Hairs was found nervously shaking in a corner of South Mimms Service Station off the M1. The budget was slashed and back to the likes of the Wiltshire Animal Sanctuary and Tigglewinkles went Terry and team.

As a result the programme suffered and Terry sank with it. His personal nadir was back stage on Going Live when he was found covered in leaches only minutes before a live phone in about his Achilles heel – the native Otter. It is the otter for which Terry will be most dearly remembered so it is only right that we caringly touch on that. Terry’s accident came when he was living and working with a family of otters in a remote Scottish loch-side retreat. To give real depth to this incident I turn to Terry’s 2002 autobiography Otter Bites Man.

"I just remember Edal [the otter] going beserk and latching onto a finger. All I could think to do was get her to the door, throw her outside and slam the door shut quickly. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the door she had chewed right through the finger, and as I launched her she twisted in the air and managed to nip most of another finger off the other hand. A local doctor made a valiant attempt to sew the severed fingers back on, but gangrene set in. A shocked colleague described the scene on the removal of Terry’s bandages: "The top two joints of the second finger of the right hand had literally been chewed off. The doctor had somehow contrived to stitch them on again, but now they were very dead indeed. Terry looked at them dispassionately: ‘Chop ‘em off, Doctor,’ he said, ‘that ruddy lot’s no good to anyone .’”
Wild, truly wild.

No comments: