Almanac (TV) Memoir: Three Little Bops

 

These phone calls only happened between 5 and 5.30pm, and when they did the excitement was unequalled.

 

Childhood friendships are hatched over countless connections, both pure and mischievous: footy, pinball, pinching cars, but for Trev and me, our lifelong pact came through 6 minutes and 41 seconds of televisual delight.

 

The Bugs Bunny Show aired on weeknights and for us its highlight was even better than Happy Days when Pinky Tuscadero was injured and out of the demolition derby thanks to the Mallachi Crunch, but Fonz still wanted to marry her; was even better than Blankety Blanks and Ugly Dave Gray’s jokes about Dick (Did Dick? Dick did.) and was even better than Lizzie Birdsworth’s daggy Wentworth antics on Prisoner.

 

We’d a simple code, the equivalent of “London Bridge is down,” and because of our urgency the conversations were spy-thriller brief:

 

-Hello?
-It’s on!
-Yep.

 

(Rotary-dial phones simultaneously slam down, and two teenage boys, in country-town houses about a kilometre apart, rush at their boxy Pye TVs)

 

The first impressive aspect of Three Little Bops was that I’d hear the Bill Haley-like jauntiness of the intro before I’d see those distinctive title cards (Director: Friz Freleng), and then with electric anticipation I’d shriek out to Mum or my sister Jill or whoever was in earshot as I tucked into a plate of Saladas with their vegemite worms slithering out in their salty, alien blackness.

 

With a rollicking melody penned by the celebrated trumpeter Shorty Rogers who’d later offer musical direction on The Monkees, The Partridge Family and that supremely orchestrated buddy-cop series, Starsky & Hutch, it’s a song with rich resonance.

 

Released in 1957 within the broad context of Beat culture, the score is prototypical rock ‘n’ roll rather than jazz, and shares little with that year’s seminal album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Like so many memorable tunes its simplicity of purpose is genius while its execution is comic and engaging.

 

*

 

Beyond decades of personal bliss this cartoon once secured us (minor) fiscal reward. Late last millennium some mates launched a Schnitzel Club which met at a different pub every Wednesday, and among other vital mid-week pursuits, we ate schnitzel.

 

Once we descended upon the Arab Steed Hotel in Adelaide’s east, and post-crumbed veal, lingered for the weekly quiz. Coincidentally, this is my favourite question: Apart from AB who’s the only Australian Test cricketer to play in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Answer: Peter Sleep.

 

Our laddish dining collective was an eclectic ensemble, but scoring modestly until this Round 8 challenge: How many keys on a piano? Although we were music fans none had technical insight.

 

And then as we murmured and frowned about our table, suddenly emerging into my frontal lobe from a Coopers fog, these lyrics from Three Little Bops appeared as neuronic sign-writing

 

Well, the piano-playing pig was swinging like a gate
Doing Liberace on the eighty-eights.

 

Who says there’s no gain in an (occasionally) idle life of miscellany? With this ebony and ivory insight, we came second, by a schnitzel crumb. Sometimes the jetsam of youth washes up on your adult beach, and it’s grand.

 

*

 

Of course, I maintain a persistent, entirely ridiculous fantasy during which I take up the rooster-like position behind a charismatic pub bar as mine host. Among my first landlord chores is to rename my boozer the Dew Drop Inn, because there is no better label in all hostelry

 

The Dew Drop Inn did drop down!
The three little pigs crawled out of the rubble
This big bad wolf gives us nothing but trouble
So, we won’t be bothered by his windy tricks
The next place we play must be made of bricks

 

*

 

In this masterpiece what are my treasured moments? There’s so many! The galaxy of my youth was brightened by these comets

 

“Be very quiet. I’m hunting wabbit.”
and
“I knew I should have made a left toin at Albukoykee”

 

But the following is unsurpassed in its goldenness, although I didn’t then connect it to Liberace. When you’re a kid, drenched in cartoonish fun, context is sometimes nothing.

 

“I wish my brother George was here.”

 

The script and the vocals were by cult comedian Stan Freberg who’s credited on this, the only Warner Brothers film to not feature Mel Blanc doing voice characterisations.

 

Sixty years on, his remains a magnetic vocal performance ringing with muscularity and irresistible confidence. In that post-war cultural repositioning, his phrasing and delivery heralds American brashness and Rat-Pack cool.

 

A transformed fable, its essential familiarity lends it much charm. With the power migrating from the recast outsider wolf to the pigs, our trio goes from victims to smug porcine hipsters. Universally, we’re barracking for the wolf as he’s turned from predator to loopily-grinning fanboy, and villain to tragic hero. This narrative inversion generates much of the comic energy, and as our aficionado blows his sleek horn while broiling in a Satanic pot the final lyrics provide a catharsis

 

The Big Bad Wolf, he learned the rule:
you gotta get hot to play real cool!

 

As a ubiquitous pebble, this cartoon rippled into so many of my childhood spaces: the arithmetically-unresponsive back row of Year 9 Maths; the cold Mid-North showers of under-age footy; the endless roasting sun of Kapunda swimming pool summers. Our affection for it has flowed down the decades, and I promise myself to again locate it on YouTube, and show our boys. I reckon it’ll grab them too.

 

And soon, on a languid afternoon just after 5pm, I’m going to ring Trev and shout, “It’s on!”

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Priceless Mickey. One of my all time favourite cartoons. I’m definitely going to You Tube it as well. Thanks.

    Another great Bugs Bunny cartoon line that we use in our house comes out of the cartoon involving the gangsters whose hats were so big we never saw their eyes:
    “I dunno how yous dunnit, BUT I KNOW YOUS DUNNIT!”

    Brilliant stuff.

  2. Shane John Backx says:

    Second best cartoonie ever. Beaten only by the singing frog. Third is the dwarf injun hunting the dwarf moose.

  3. It’s 1963 again and all is well with the world. Grandfather Bob Menzies’ double breasted wool suits are the mark of the serious man. But that young President Kennedy stares down the commies in Cuba and epitomises cool optimism. West Torrens have just missed out in the Prelim but 1964 will be our year. Bugs Bunny or Bullwinkle or the Three Stooges – decisions, decisions. It’s tough being 8yo. Grand memories Mickey. Loved the jetsam of youth washed up on the adult beach. You provoked a tsunami of memory for me. Enjoy.

  4. Without dpubt, THE best cartoon ever. My brother and I still make comment to each other about wishing our brother George was here. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mark Duffett says:

    A mate of mine (later to be best man at my wedding) once did the exact same thing – “Channel 9, now”, phone down. This would have been late 80s-early 90s, so clearly the genius of the Three Little Bops is undimmed by the passing of decades.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Great stuff Mickey. Definitely into, Bugs, Sylvester, Happy Days and Pinky. Don’t remember the Bops. Was more into the Groovy Ghoulies:

  7. Joe De Petro says:

    You gotta get hot to play real cool.

    Oh yeah, thanks, Mickey.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Bewdy Mickster

    Oddly enough, this one didn’t sear into my bonce like many other memories of my youth.

    But more generally, how good was kids’ TV, including the music? First one to come to mind was the Courageous Cat theme song.

  9. DBalassone says:

    Epic. Greatest cartoon ever. A hit with three generations of Balassones. My girls (9 & 6) are crazy for it.
    We had it video-taped (vhs) in the mid 80s and played it till the tape wore out.

  10. Peter Flynn says:

    Made my Spotify Top 100 last year.

    Ooh ya cool.

    Ooh ya cool.

  11. george smith says:

    There is a clip on YouTube featuring a host of amazingly talented Australian kids playing the wolf, the pigs and the band. Yes, including:
    “I wish my brother George was here.”

    One of my favorite bits is the wolf sneaking in wearing a racoon skin coat! and playing the Charleston on a ukulele! showing how 1920s and out of touch our poor boy is!

    All this in 6 and1/2 minutes…

  12. Thanks for your comments old mates. So many great memories.

    Swish- agree with you on terrific cartoon themes- Josie and the Pussycats, Cool McCool- just a couple of rippers. I had the Saturday Morning Cartoons album with the songs performed by various indie artists but the CD was pinched from a mate’s house who was looking after it when we lived OS. And I’ve not be able to find a replacement. Bugger.

    Mark- I reckon there’d have been a few phone calls made right around the country when Three Little Bops came on! Just as there’s a spike in electricity usage in East Enders at the break when half of England gets up and makes a cup of tea, there’d have been a jump in phone usage here. Good news for Telecom or whatever it was called then!

    PJ Flynn- I’ve only just located it on Spotify in the last week- brilliant.

    PB- Rocky and Bullwinkle went very nicely too.

    George- a while ago I read of Three Little Bops being played live by various ensembles, and I’d love to see it, but I reckon the vocals would be hard to pull off. Thanks, I’ll dig around on YouTube.

    DBalassone- how cool would a VHS copy be? My story initially pre-dates video recorders which left you at the mercy of Channel 9 (gee, we still are in many different ways!). I recall that some nights on the Bugs Bunny Show that’d follow a music theme and you might have the singing frog and the Ring Cycle one by Wagner, and finish up with the Three Little Bops. That was a brilliant half hour.

    Phillip Dimitriadis- Pinky and Leather. That’s all.

    Dips- was that Elmer Fudd? I still love that Darren Jarman’s nickname is Fudd. Perfect.

  13. Greatest cartoon ever. No arguments thanks.

    2nd greatest for me is the one named “It’s Hummer Time”…”Not the birdbath…!”

  14. Thanks Smokie. Here’s a list-

    The Thinker

    The Works

    The Wheel of Penalties

    The Gesundheit

    The William Tell

    Roll Out the Barrel.

  15. Brilliant, Mickey. Must search for that on YouTube also

  16. John Butler says:

    Absolute pearler, Mickey.

    Not Roll Out the Barrell!

    Please, not Roll Out the Barrell!

  17. Mickey thanks for the bit re Allan Border and Peter Sleep def use that

  18. Thanks JB and ‘book. It’s Hummer Time and its companion cartoon, Early To Bet, are also classics.

    I especially love in the later the use of Blues in the Night as a sonic device which illustrates the impending misery for the poor cat.

    Cat: [spins 36 on the wheel and goes into spasms when he sees what it is] Roll Out The Barrel. Oh No. Not that. No, not Roll Out The Barrel! Please!

  19. Oh yes.
    A big favourite.
    Loved that depiction of the dancefloor filling each time the Bops hit the stage.
    An image I carry to this day.

    I was always partial to a bit of Nasty Canasta.

    Surprised that Mel Blanc couldn’t perform an impression of Stan Freberg..?

  20. Luke Reynolds says:

    Not familiar with the Three Little Bops at all. Sadly.

    But grew up with many WB cartoons. Road Runner was my favourite.

    It is so wonderful when something from your childhood helps you in a trivia night!!

  21. Mark Duffett says:

    I still use “…so you must pay the penalty!” with my kids (invariably followed by a massive barrage of tickling; my son is particularly susceptible), also “You win…the Rock of Gibraltar!” Alas, they have no idea what I’m talking about, must remedy that if possible via YouTube.

  22. Thanks chaps.

    Er- that instantly-filled dancefloor is a great image. Still makes me laugh. On a future series of The Trip Coogan and Brydon could trade cartoon character impersonations.

    Luke- love some Roadrunner. Free bird seed is genius.

    Mark- with all the rubbish on the internet there’s still great joy within courtesy of YouTube and its cartoons. I showed my boys Cool McCool when on holidays. They liked Hurricane Harry. Who wouldn’t?

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