Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Romper Room Remembered

I was surprised to see an American friend refer to Romper Room on Twitter, the social networking site, the other day. I had no idea the show I remembered from my youth in England was also shown elsewhere. A little detective work led me to find out about the show's history. It was, in fact, a very early example of an internationally franchised and syndicated TV show.

Originally the idea of Bert and Nancy Claster, various versions of the show aired from 1953 to 1994. In the US, it was available in two forms: A Nationally syndicated show, or locally produced. There were around 150 local versions in the US. It was also produced in Britain (By Anglia TV, UTV in Northern Ireland and by Grampian TV in Scotland), Australia, Canada, Japan and Puerto Rico.

Wherever you saw it, there were many of the same features: The opening theme featured a Jack-In-The Box, and a woman, always referred to as "Miss," hosted the show. The Nationally syndicated version in the US featured "Miss Nancy" (Nancy Claster) from 1953 to 1963, when her daughter "Miss Sally" (Sally Claster Gelbert) succeeded her, presenting the show until 1981. In England, I remember "Miss Rosalyn" (Rosalyn Thompson), who had worked as a Nursery Nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital before presenting Romper Room from 1964-1976 (Esther Rantzen of "That's Life!" fame also auditioned!). When Miss Rosalyn left, the show only ran on for another year. Well loved Romper Room "Misses" included "Miss Leslie," "Miss Adrienne," "Miss Louise," "Miss Mary-Ann," "Miss Molly," "Miss Joan" and "Miss Claire"

There was always a group of toddlers, of course. Editing was minimal, since several shows were often filmed in a day. Sometimes the show was live. I remember always finding it amusing when kids would suddenly announce that they needed to go potty. My brother and I never tired of that. Troublemakers would suddenly disappear after a commercial break.

Another feature was Mr. Do-Bee, a slightly frightening giant bee character who used to encourage kids to do the right thing. A song was sung in Mr. Do-Bee's presence: I always do what's right, I never do anything wrong. I'm a Romper Room Do-Bee, a Do-Bee all day long. There was also "Mr. Don't-Bee."

Perhaps the most memorable feature was The Magic Mirror. The presenter would hold up a mirror, the camera would cut away for a moment (sometimes to display a swirling picture), then when we saw the presenter again she could see right through the mirror into our living rooms! The magic incantation she used excited and terrified kids in pretty much equal amounts:

Romper, bomper, stomper boo.
Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.
Magic mirror, tell me today.
Have all my friends had fun at play?

The presenter would then call out children's names: "I can see Danny, Alice, Mary-Ellen," and so on. Several people I spoke with about their Romper Room memories talked about feeling anxious that their names would be called out, and then upset when their name was left out. I also discovered a friend of mine had actually appeared on Romper Room in Australia when she was a child:

"I 'starred' in an episode of the Australian version in about 1980...I remember the nurse's costume I had to wear (!!) and the TV Studio, and being 'interviewed' about what I wanted to be when I grew up (which WASN'T a nurse by the way, so no idea about that...?!?) Not much else though....

Anyway, that was the start of my glamorous media career....!"

Some interesting, yet slightly scary news: According to this article, River West Brands has bought the rights to Romper Room, and they intend to re-launch it.

There are some great Romper Room pages on the TV Party Site. In addition, a search on YouTube will reveal many short clips.

I would love to hear your comments about your own Romper Room memories.


Leora said...

I'm sending your post to a friend who was on Romper Room. I bet it will make her smile.

Graham said...

Oh, if she's online, do please encourage her to share her experience!

buffy said...

Graham, how funny - I too had NO idea it wasn't just an Australian show - I've never heard any of my friends mention it before!

I wish I could remember more about the experience - I do remember having to bandage up a teddy bear, and being asked questions by the host. But the rest is a bit of a blur! I can only have been 4.

Reading your post, I'm wondering if ours was actually recorded live - it certainly feels like that in my memory!

Graham said...

Folks, we have a celebrity in our midst! Buffy was my friend quoted in the above article.

Tess said...

I remember the magic mirror and the do bee and don't be. How very funny to be reminded of something so far back. Obviously the memeories are fond.

Graham said...

Hi Tess - I think it's the same for a lot of us! Did you know it was shown all around the world? I certainly didn't, and my friend Buffy who wrote the response above had no idea it was shown outside of Australia, even though she's lived in England for years.

Jannie Funster said...

Hello Graham! I caome here via Barbara Swafford's.

I cannot divulge my Real Name but let's just say it's a bit different and was never called on Romper Room. Boo, hoo.

And of course your blog has now got me singing Stings's song. A song I really like Thanks.

Graham said...

Hi Jannie! Thanks for dropping by. Your blog looks like a lot of fun too! I just subscribed. And I love your music. Reminds me a bit of Carla Ulbrich:

BTW - did you know that on your "Songs I Wrote" page that the link to "What'll I Do With Me" actually leads to "I Need a Man?"

Jannie Funster said...

What? My What'll I Do With Me link leads to I Need A Man!?!?!?

Guess I've got men on the mind too much!

Thanks, I'll have to fix that thang.

And thanks about the Carla Ulbrich tip - I had not heard of her.