Bringing inanimate characters for children and adults to life by using drama, comedy and satire, puppetry productions can take an incredible toll on the person controlling the puppet.
In front of an audience, every aspect of a puppet’s movement is seen. It is the puppeteer’s responsibility to react and adapt their performance according to audience reaction. Such productions can make high demands on their controllers having to perform in cramped positions, strained spaces, below stage or even on stage as a ventriloquist.
With the majority of puppet based performances, whether on stage or television, the audience is almost always drawn to the central character being controlled. This suggests just how effective and real such puppets can seem. It is also the reason why the most important people, those behind the puppet, are forgotten.
Here we take a look back at some of those forgotten faces, often missed when we tune in or sit down to a puppet-based performance.
Keith Harris and Orville
This duo famous due were around for many years, even going as far as having a UK top 10 hit in 1982. Keith has been a ventriloquist for many years and had his own television show with Orville and Cuddles the Monkey in the 1980s. He is known for his slapstick jibes, recently adding self-mockery to his act. Cheeky but recognisable, Keith Harris has achieved something that most puppeteers miss out on, recognition under his own name.
Jim Henson and Kermit
An extremely talented puppeteer, entertainer, actor, producer, director and cartoonist. American Henson won fame for his creations Kermit the Frog and Ernie being involved in Sesame Street for more than 20 years. It is believed that Henson, initially didn’t want to become a puppeteer but wanted to appear on television. However, the fact that he did has seen Kermit the Frog, and numerous other Muppet characters become household names.
Caroll Spinney and Big Bird
First meeting Jim Henson in 1962 at a puppeteering festival, Spinney initially missed his chance to work with Henson on the Muppet Show. However, a second meeting at the American festival of Puppeteers in 1969, saw them begin talks leading Spinney to join the Sesame Street cast. Playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch Spinney brought to life characters that remained integral characters of the hit children’s show. His work continues to be studied by international puppeteers worldwide.
Roy Skelton and Rainbow
Skelton is quite possibly one of the most famous TV voices you’ve probably never heard of, having worked as the voice of George and Zippy from Rainbow and Dr Who’s Daleks for more than 50 years. In addition to writing scripts for spin-off programmes, Skelton was a talented voice artist who began his career acting in repertory theatres before being discovered.
Rod Hull and Emu
It was said that the emu puppet, which was attached to Hull’s arm, was another side to his personality which liked to promote havoc and happiness.
The effective use of a false arm gave the misleading appearance that the neck and head of Emu moved of its own accord. This gave the illusion that the bird has its own personality. Emu, or more specifically Rod, undertook unprovoked, but side-splitting attacks, on people including celebrities such as Michael Parkinson. Many puppeteers would not have been able to pull off such a high energy and exuberant performance.
Initially starting his career in TV as a lighting technician, it was his appearance on the Royal Variety performance in the 1970s that spurred him into the national spotlight.
If you have aspirations of joining our list of famous puppeteers and have a puppet character that you would like to bring to life, then we can help. Please contact our experienced puppets makers, who will do everything they can to assist with your requirements.