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Hand puppet - Joe Crow

Joe Crow

  • Object:

    Hand puppet

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    1955-1960 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wool felt, hand-sewn; rabbit fur, carved and painted wood

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Sean Whyton

  • Museum number:

    B.65-2017

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

ITV began broadcasting as an independent television provider in 1955, their first children’s programmes, called ‘Small Time’, were shown the same year. A nursery rhyme-themed segment called ‘The Musical Box’ was devised by the artist, puppetmaker and animator Peter Firmin in 1958. When its original presenter, Rolf Harris, left in 1960 he was replaced by the musician Wally Whyton (1929-1997), who brought with him a crow glove puppet he had obtained in Germany, which he named Joe Crow. Firmin created a scarecrow character named Simon for Joe Crow to ‘perch’ on, and the three would hold impromptu conversations, broadcast live.

Physical description

Crow glove puppet, made from black wool felt and wood. The felt body has long, pointed arms to represent a crow's wings. The head and beak are of carved and painted wood, a black felt triangle is stuck to the upper and lower parts of the beak, on the inside. The eyes consist of a white painted circle with a concentric black painted circle within them. The head is painted black, the beak is a dark yellow. Either side of the puppet's face is glued a short black-dyed strip of rabbit's fur. Stuck to the puppet's head is a tall-crowned 'sugar loaf'-style hat, made from red felt over a card core. It is encircled by a dark band, with a black plastic-covered, non-functioning buckle at the front. There is a small feather stuck beneath the band.

Place of Origin

Germany (made)

Date

1955-1960 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Wool felt, hand-sewn; rabbit fur, carved and painted wood

Dimensions

Height: 32 cm, Width: 48 cm wings outstretched, Depth: 23 cm including beak

Object history note

Joe Crow was obtained by Wally Whyton (1929-1997) in Germany around the time he became the main presenter of ITV's Small Time series of children's programmes in 1960. It passed to Wally Whyton's son, Sean, who offered it as a gift to the Museum in 2016 along with Ollie Beak (B.64-2017) and Spike McPike (B.66-2017) [2017/432]

Peter Firmin recalled in 2017: 'He [Whyton] had found a simple glove puppet in Germany, I think. He called it Joe Crow... I made a scarecrow called Simon for the crow to perch on and we had impromptu conversations. These live programmes followed the news and I remember when Yuri Gargarin first flew up into space, our programme opened with Simon looking up and saying "There he goes!".'

Historical context note

The Television Act of 1954 was designed to break the monopoly of the BBC over Britain’s television programming. Independent Television (ITV) began broadcasting as an alternative, commercial provider in 1955. Small Time, regular programming designed for under-fives, akin to today’s CITV, debuted on that network the same year. Small Time had several incarnations through to its cancellation in 1966. The puppet maker and artist Peter Firmin (b.1928) devised a nursery rhyme-inspired segment, The Musical Box, first shown in 1959 with Rolf Harris as its presenter. Harris was replaced in 1960 by the musician Wally Whyton (1929-1997), who became one of the best-known faces of early British children’s television.

Broadcast live, the host interacted with the puppets in a variety of segments. Joe Crow first appeared in March 1960. The puppet was apparently purchased in Germany by Whyton, and Firmin created a scarecrow named Simon for it to perch on. Whyton conducted impromptu conversations with both of these characters as part of the show.

The most popular character in the show’s early phase was a cat named Pussycat Willum. When Willum’s animator, Janet Nichols, went on holiday in 1962, Firmin was asked to create a puppet to temporarily replace him. Whyton suggested an owl character, and a puppet was created by Firmin and his wife, Joan, with a school cap added by Whyton’s wife, Mary. Whyton himself invented the name Ollie Beak, and provided him with his cheeky character and Merseyside accent. Ollie Beak proved so popular in his initial appearances that he became the star of his own show, The Five O’Clock Club, later renamed Ollie and Fred’s Five O’Clock Club to reflect Ollie’s popularity, and that of his ‘co-host’, the dog Fred Barker. This new show was actually a later incarnation of Small Time, it was broadcast every Tuesday and Friday from 1963-1966.

In 1962, Peter Firmin was also asked to create another new children’s programme, so he devised The Three Scampis, about an out-of-work circus act, for which he also made the puppets. This show was the first appearance of the still-popular character Basil Brush, performed by Ivan Owen (1927-2000). Another of the Scampis was an aggressive Scottish hedgehog named Spike McPike, performed by Wally Whyton.

Descriptive line

Crow glove puppet, 'Joe Crow', wool felt, made in Germany, late-1950s

Materials

Wood; Wool; Rabbit

Techniques

Hand sewing; Carving; Painting

Subjects depicted

Crows

Categories

Puppetry; Television; Children's entertainment

Collection

Museum of Childhood

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