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By Phil Hall | April 20, 2012

BOOTLEG FILES 424: “The Tomfoolery Show” (1970-71 animated series).

LAST SEEN: A 10-minute segment of one episode is on YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: This has been out of circulation for decades.


I will never be able to comprehend how my memory works. I am unable to recall what I had for dinner last night and I will most certainly forget what I need to purchase at the grocery store when I go shopping this weekend, but I can produce a crystal clear verbatim recollection of a television program that I have not seen in four decades.

Back in 1970, the inspired madmen at Rankin/Bass Productions teamed up with the British animation studio Halas & Batchelor to offer a weekly cartoon series that was inspired by the comic poetry of such writers as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. The resulting endeavor was “The Tomfoolery Show,” and it was easily among the most bizarre productions to assault impressionable TV-obsessed tykes (including yours truly – I was six years old when the series premiered on NBC).

In terms of style, “The Tomfoolery Show” was a product of its funky and psychedelic era. It eschewed the conventional parameters of animation offered by Hanna-Barbera and the classic Warner Bros. output and chose to follow a free-flowing, surreal visual vibe that was evident in the animated feature “Yellow Submarine” and in the live action shows produced by Sid and Marty Krofft.

Thus, the characters of “The Tomfoolery Show” were an outrageous sideshow of unlikely beings: the Umbrageous Umbrella Maker, a man with an umbrella for a head (he had circular eyes, but no mouth); the Scroovy Snake, whose head consisted of a straw bowler hat (he also had eyes but no mouth); the Fastidious Fish, an oversized goldfish that rested half out of his bowl and used stilts to walk about; and the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, a smiling, bespectacled humanoid whose circular head was roughly the same size as his torso. In comparison, the Enthusiastic Elephant, a bipedal pink pachyderm in a suit and derby, was the closest thing the show had to normalcy.

In terms of substance, “The Tomfoolery Show” relied on a skein of one-liners, puns and non-sequiturs. Or as the cheery theme song insisted: “We’re putting on the nonsense, the funny stuff and nonsense. With riddles, jokes and silly things, it’s all Tomfoolery!”

The show copied the then-popular format of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” by offering a nonstop skein of one-liners, blackout gags and comic songs. A great many of the jokes could probably be traced back to the Paleolithic Era. For example, a hungry individual’s exclamation that he’s not “had a bite in three days” is greeted by a comrade’s toothy chomp. Elsewhere, a character running about with a case of beer bottles announces that he is “taking his case to court.” He appears a few seconds later, still lugging the beer bottles but also holding a ladder. Why? “I’m taking my case to a higher court!” he proclaims. Ba-dum-bum!

Now, it is important to remember that this program was designed for the Saturday morning kiddie television ghetto. In concept, the nutty wordplay and over-the-top animation might have been utterly inappropriate for a youthful audience that was weaned on Yogi Bear and Fred Flintstone. Yet “The Tomfoolery Show” was a great favorite of mine when I was six years old. Maybe I didn’t appreciate the cleverness of all of the dialogue, but I was hypnotized by the sheer craziness of the production. The program did not look or sound like anything that was on television – indeed, it seemed to beckon to an intriguing horizon beyond the stifling limits of childhood, where nonconformist zany behavior ruled the day.

Personal favorite segments of “The Tomfoolery Show” involved the Tic-Tac-Toe Board, where an anthropomorphic X and O duo engaged in surprisingly bitchy exchanges, and a cooking segment where inane recipes were presented with such advice as “bake at 300 degrees for two days or two degrees for 300 days!” One episode that stands out has the normally cheerful Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo stomping around while yelling, “Somebody ate my ice cream!” Don’t ask me to explain, but I found it very funny when I was a kid and I can still laugh about it today.

And it seems that I am not the only one who feels this way. In researching this subject, I have found a wealth of comments by people who recall the program from the early 1970s. Some people have used online forums to quote the nonsense poems and lyrics that permeated the show’s musical interludes.

“The Tomfoolery Show” only had a single season run on NBC; it left the U.S. airwaves in 1971 and has yet to return. It was broadcast in the U.K., Canada and Australia, but it most likely never played in non-English-speaking markets (I cannot see how its puns and language-twisting riddles could be properly translated).

There are at least two collector-to-collector outlets that can oblige the show’s fans – one has four episodes on a DVD, the other has three. The full series consisted of 17 episodes, but these have never been compiled as a full anthology.

A 10-minute segment of “The Tomfoolery Show” can be found on YouTube. This provides a mere sampling of the unique entertainment of this long-elusive beauty. Hopefully, the powers that control the Rankin/Bass library will dust off “The Tomfoolery Show” and bring it back for today’s audiences to enjoy. Because now, more than ever, we really need the funny stuff and nonsense that this brilliant program provided.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. says:

    3/7/15 Wrote:
    “Tomfoolery” in Living Color. I don’t remember this show as a child, but this relic is a fascinating trip in psychedelic colors in spite of some corny jokes. Does Warner Brothers or Classic Media (two companies who own the rights to Rankin-Bass Animation) own this show today? If so, why no DVD? Lack of interest, or a dated time piece for today’s kids to understand, perhaps?

  2. Humble_Scribe says:

    Yes, many memories. I remember watching it at my nan’s place while my parents were working, so I must have been about 4 or 5, which would be spot on for 1970-71. Even though I was quite precocious I’m sure I only understood a fraction of it, but like you I loved it’s manic psychedelic energy, especially the exploding bird and the towering rages of the Yongy Bongy Bo. It was up there with the Banana Split Show as one of my favourites.

  3. Mark Looper says:

    “I have lost my temper! And terrible things happen when the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo [or other angry character] loses his temper! Earthquakes! Floods! Fires! Tidal waves!” I’m the same age as the author, and the show had the same warping effect on me; one difference is that my family didn’t have a TV from 1974 until after I went away to college, so the effect was “set” and never overwritten by other shows…

  4. Tally Isham says:

    Wow, I remember this show! Would you believe it was shown in regional Australia where there was only one commercial station at the time? But we got some good cartoons like Cool McCool and Lucky Luke.

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