Zippy fancied George! Puppeteer loved the woman behind character’s pal

Zippy fancied George! New rainbow revelations as puppeteer says he had the hots for the ‘beautiful young woman’ behind his character’s pink hippo pal

  • Puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew became besotted with co-star Valerie Heberdent 
  • Valerie, who handled Zippy’s friend George, ‘friendzoned’ Candian puppeteer
  • Le Drew, 73, is releasing a tell-all memoir called Zippy and Me next month

The puppeteer who operated Zippy in TV classic Rainbow has revealed he was ‘broken’ when his on-screen co-star palmed off his romantic advances.

Ronnie Le Drew became besotted with Valerie Heberdent – who handled George – over the course of the show’s staggering 1,071 episodes. 

But the 73-year-old Canadian has recalled his heartbreak after she abruptly ‘friendzoned’ him.

Bungle, George, and Zippy on the hit children’s show Rainbow. Stood behind them is Geoffrey Hayes who presented the show for two decades

‘It broke me, broke me. Of course, I told myself a girl like Valerie would never have fancied me,’ Le Drew told an East London venue, according to the Mirror. 

‘I was the ‘nice guy’. What an idiot I had been to imagine otherwise.’

Le Drew is releasing a tell-all memoir called Zippy and Me, that is set to shatter the innocence of the hit show, often described as Britain’s answer to Sesame Street. 

Rainbow ran for 27 series after its launch in 1972 and was famous for its three main characters: Bungle the teddy bear, George the hippopotamus and Zippy, an unknown yellowish creature. 

Remembering his crushing rejection, Le Drew added: ‘She realised I had a thing for her but her warmth cut through the embarrassment.

‘We could remain friends, and that meant a lot to me.’

Puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew has revealed all about life on the rainbow set when he played Zippy

And shortly after Heberdent quit the show to go on maternity leave, she stunned the Rainbow cast with her untimely death.

Earlier this week, Le Drew revealed the lewd secrets behind children’s TV classic Rainbow that involved a heaving-drinking cast who loved ‘getting lashed’ and arranging the animals into sex positions. 

Le Drew, a former debt collector who took over controlling Zippy from Violet Philpott after she suffered a slipped disk, has revealed the sexism backstage and also the culture of heavy drinking.

He claimed that the show’s star singer, Jane Tucker, had the nickname ‘Miss Whiplash’ because she would open her coat to show a ‘leather S&M outfit’ and would ask Zippy to ‘play with her maracas.’ 

In one incident an archbishop was being given a tour of Thames Television’s studios and stumbled across the team laughing with ‘Zippy mounted upon George, going at it hammer and tongs.’

Some of the Rainbow cast and the puppets, including (pictured l-r) Jane Tucker, George, Rod Burton, Zippy, Bungle and Geoffrey Hayes

Comedians Jim Davidson and Bobby Davro were ‘absolutely obsessed’ with the puppets and ‘paralysed with fear’ about appearing with them, he said.

And as the show was watched by millions they met the Queen and Prince Philip at a children’s party in Hyde Park in 1979.

Le Drew said there was a kids’ art competition where the winner had drawn a portrait of the Queen ‘painted with an almost entirely black face’, he said.

Her Majesty smiled politely and congratulated the little boy but the Duke of Edinburgh apparently burst out laughing before turning to his wife saying: ‘Oh dear, I think you’re going to have to change your make-up’.  

Le Drew said that Sid, the props man, would often make lewd suggestions about the show’s director Pamela Lonsdale, saying she had a ‘nice pair of Bristols’ or referring to her as ‘T*tsalina.’ 

Such were the antics on set Le Drew said: ‘Our exasperated directors could often be heard shouting, ‘make them stop!’ from the control room.’

The cast would also regularly alter the positions of the zoo and farm animals so they were in sexual positions. 

The rainbow puppets Bungle (2nd left) Zippy (back right) and George (back left), with Geoffrey (centre) and Rod Burton, Jane Tucker and Roger Walker (in the blue, green and red stripes respectively)

Ronnie with his Zippy alter-ego in a photo from his time on the classic Thames TV  kids’ show

Ronnie’s book, Zippy and Me, is out on July 25

There was also a strong culture of heavy drinking within the group who would often ‘get lashed’ and turn up drunk to rehearsals, said Le Drew. 

There were also tensions in the cast, as the host Geoffrey Hayes could at times be jealous of his puppet co-stars.

‘Geoffrey was afraid of being upstaged by Zippy and George’, remarks Le Drew.

The presenter was also annoyed the trio of puppets received more fan mail than he did. 

Rainbow was cancelled in 1992, and Le Drew delves into other aspects of his personal life in the memoir, including the death of his father when he was just 16. 

  • Zippy and Me by Ronnie Le Drew (with Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi) is published by Unbound on 25 July 2019 (£10.99)

What became of Zippy, George and Bungle? Puppeteers behind Geoffrey’s furry co-stars and their diverse post-Rainbow careers    

Rainbow’s Zippy, George and Bungle were the much-loved friends of generations of youngsters who would eagerly tune into to ITV’s hit show to catch up on their adventures. But children who grew up in the 1970s, 80s and 90s may not be aware of the real-life faces behind the popular puppets. The trio, joined on screen by presenter Geoffrey Hayes and singing group Rod, Jane and Freddy were played by a host of actors and voice artists who between them also left their mark on hit shows including Doctor Who, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men and even singing contest The Voice. Here, MailOnline reveals the real characters who wowed Rainbow fans each week, and what became of them after appearing on the show. 


Paul Cullinan, who played large furry bear Bungle in Rainbow, appeared on The Voice in 2015 (pictured)

The show’s large brown furry bear, Bungle, was played by various actors, but chiefly Stanley Bates from from 1973 to 1988. 

Paul Cullinan 

In 2015, one of the characters from the cult children’s show made an unexpected TV comeback on BBC talent show The Voice.

Child’s entertainer Paul Cullinan, who played large furry bear Bungle in the classic ITV series, reappeared on TV for the first time in almost 25 years as a contestant on the singing show.

When he revealed to judges that he has previously starred on Rainbow, just one of the four knew what he was talking about.

It fell to Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson to explain to his fellow judges –, Rita Ora and Sir Tom Jones – that he was ‘a slightly camp bear called Bungle’. 

Cullinan was the last of three actors to play Bungle in the hit show.

Malcolm Lord 

Malcolm Lord, who worked on Rainbow from 1980 to 1989, most recently performed on stage in Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Calendar Girls. 

Today, he is actively involved in his local community in Shropshire.  

Geoffrey Hayes with Bungle the Bear, pictured in 1981

Malcolm Lord, who worked on Rainbow from 1980 to 1989, playing Bungle, most recently performed on stage in Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Calendar Girls

Stanley Bates 

Stanley Bates, who played Bungle from 1973 to 1988, was bound over to keep the peace by magistrates in 2001 after appearing on a charge of assaulting a mother in a ‘road rage’ incident. 

At the time of the court case Bates, now 75, was said to have become a self-employed lighting manufacturer.  

John Leeson 

John Leeson is best known for voicing K-9 in Doctor Who in the 1970s and 1980s.

He played Bungle for 50 episodes in 1972. He has since voiced the character again in various spin-offs, and has also served as a magistrate. 

Stanley Bates (left) played Bungle from 1973 to 1988 while John Leeson (right) played Bungle for 50 episodes in 1972

Zippy and George

Peter Hawkins 

Policeman’s son Peter Hawkins played the role of Zippy and also voiced the Daleks in Doctor Who.

But Hawkins was perhaps most well-known for his gibberish language in Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men.

He died aged 82 in July 2006. 

Roy Skelton 

Roy Skelton, who played both Zippy and George, also coincidentally voiced the Daleks in Doctor Who from 1967 to 1988, as well as the Cybermen and the Krotons. 

He also wrote many of the scripts for Rainbow. Skelton died in June 2011 aged 79.

Zippy – The puppet for a zip for a mouth was played by Peter Hawkins and Roy Skelton 

Policeman’s son Peter Hawkins played the role of Zippy and also voiced the Daleks in Doctor Who

George and Zippy: Roy Skelton, who played both Zippy and George, also wrote many of the scripts for Rainbow. Skelton died in June 2011 aged 79

George the eyelash-batting pink hippo and Zippy in 2005’s spin-off, ‘Zippy and George’s Puppet Legends’

The other Rainbow presenter

David Cook 

David Cook presented the first and second series of Rainbow. He went on to write two novels about a boy with learning disabilities called Walter. 

He died in September 2015 aged 74. 

David Cook presented the first and second series of Rainbow. He went on to write two novels about a boy with learning disabilities called Walter. He died in September 2015 aged 74

The singing trio 

Rod Burton, Jane Tucker and Freddy Marks appeared on Rainbow before landing their own spin-off show.

Rod, Jane And Freddy composed and sang hundreds of songs for the programme and their spin-off show The Rod, Jane And Freddy Show, which ran from 1981-1991.

The trio continued to perform in guest appearances on various TV shows and in pantomimes over the years. 

Jane Tucker, Rod Burton and Matthew Corbett with Geoffrey Hayes and Bungle in 1972

Originally Jane and Rod were in a group called Rod, Matt And Jane with Matthew Corbett, but he left in 1976 to take over The Sooty Show after his father Harry retired.

At the time, Jane and Rod were married but divorced in 1979 and managed to remain on good terms.

Five years later, Jane and Freddy started dating, which sparked rumours of a secret love triangle between the singing trio – something all three vociferously denied, insisting they remained good friends. 

In 2016 Freddy and Jane finally got married before celebrating at Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair. 

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