TV

Why Rainbow’s 1994 Reboot Failed to Find Gold


No Geoffrey, an eyeless Bungle and a mysterious rabbit? No wonder it didn’t work.

Rainbow 1994 screengrab
Photo: CITV

Thames TV’s Rainbow was the ordinary, everyday tale of Geoffrey: a grown man who turned his back on family life and a fulfilling career in favour of living in a primary-coloured nightmare with an assortment of irascible talking animals and polyamorous troubadours. There was Bungle, a moody, stroppy wet-blanket of a bear who spent the day naked but inexplicably donned pyjamas at night-time; George, a passive-aggressive pink hippo who hid his Machiavellian evil and simmering sexuality behind a façade of lash-fluttering shyness; and Zippy, a… a… erm… (whatever the hell Zippy was) hellraiser with a rugby-ball head who enjoyed hurling hand grenades of mischief into every interaction. Whenever we think of Rainbow, it’s this cast of four main characters that comes to mind, but they weren’t the original quartet, and neither would they close out the show’s long run on television.

In 1994 – two painful years after the curtain came down on Geoffrey et al’s almost 18-years together – a reboot rose to take its place. This time around, all humans were removed from the menagerie, leaving Zippy, Bungle, George, and a new character called Cleo the Rabbit, in charge of a toy shop. That few are aware of this reboot’s existence – cunningly also called Rainbow – is a testament to its exquisite naffness, but the tale of how we got there, and why it was doomed to failure, is one worth telling.

It’s not every day you get to implicate alleged corporate skulduggery, the IRA, and Margaret Thatcher in the downfall of a children’s television show. And, dear readers, today is that day.

Rainbow Rocks

The MCU doesn’t have the monopoly on Multiverses. Rainbow has had so many soft and hard reboots, and existed in so many alternate televisual realities, that Doctor Strange himself would be hard pressed to keep up with it all. To put it in perspective: there have been almost as many Bungles as James Bonds. And before Rainbow settled on its resident jolly song-smiths – the unsurpassable Rod, Jane and Freddy – Rainbow cycled through a cosmos of crooners, including, at one point, Matthew Corbett – he of second-generation Sooty fame. Both fortunately and unfortunately for a generation of children, Corbett was called away from Rainbow so he could keep a hand in the family business.   

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