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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Bleep and Booster

BLEEP AND BOOSTER
by Jeremy Briggs

The adventures of the robot-like alien Bleep and the human boy Booster were created by Austrian artist William Timym, credited as "Tim", for the BBC children's magazine programme Blue Peter around 1963. In addition to their animated adventures on screen they also appeared in stories, all credited to Tim, in their own annuals and storybooks as well as the annual Blue Peter books where their adventures outlasted their television appearances by many years.


William Timym was born in Austria in 1902 and left the country for the United Kingdom in 1938 around the time of Nazi Germany's takeover of the county during the Anschluss. In Britain, after the war, he created various comic strip animal characters including the puppies Wuff, Tuff & Snuff and Humphrey the donkey for Woman magazine, Caesar the dog for the Sunday Dispatch and Bengo the Boxer puppy for the Daily Express. Later in his life he moved into sculpture and is perhaps best known for his bronze statue of Guy The Gorilla for London Zoo and the bust of the Blue Peter dog Petra originally placed in front of BBC Television Centre in London and later moved to the Blue Peter Garden at the back of the building. William Timym was awarded the MBE just two years before he passed away in 1990.

Timym created the characters of Bleep and Booster in the early 1960s with IMDB placing their first TV broadcast as early as 1963. Booster is a human boy named for his interest in creating a booster rocket powerful enough to go into space. He achieves this ambition and blasts into space where he meets the robot-like alien Bleep from the planet Miron and Beep’s father, the unnamed Captain of the Miron Space Commandos and the commander of Space Freighter Number 9. Booster stays on Miron with Bleep and his father and the many stories document their various adventures.


They first appeared in print in 1964 in the first Blue Peter book in a story in which they journey to the planet of the Frigs, a mischievous race that were renamed as Trugs in later stories probably due to “frig” being a minced oath. On the Frig planet they find and adopt an alien pet that they call Spiky, who resembles an anteater and acts like a dog, and who becomes a regular character in many of the other stories.


This initial Blue Peter story does not set up the situation of how Bleep and Booster know each other which has to wait for a thin hardback storybook published by Purnell in 1965. This first storybook simply entitled Bleep and Booster has two linked illustrated text stories, Into Outer Space and The Space Dragon, plus a selection of pages of models to make and puzzles to draw and colour on plus a dice game. In Into Outer Space Booster is introduced as a small boy who invents a “new type of lightweight slow-burning rocket booster” which he then incorporates into a space rocket that he built at the bottom of his garden and in which he launches himself into space without considering how he is going to get back. Once in space he runs out of fuel but is rescued by a flying saucer making a “bleep, bleep” noise. The pilot of the saucer is Bleep the space boy who, unlike Booster, does not need a spacesuit to survive in space. After an adventure on the planet Miron in The Space Dragon, they are rescued by Bleep’s father in Space Freighter Number 9 who returns Booster to his now refuelled rocket in which he returns safely home. While this storybook’s stories are more juvenile than the other Bleep and Booster stories it introduces the basic situation while acting as a standalone book in its own right. However, just to confuse continuity somewhat, the planet that they discover the Space Dragon on is called Miron which we later discover is Bleep’s home planet, although it is not referred to as such here.

The characters returned in the second Blue Peter book in 1965, as they would until 1977, however in 1966 they appeared in the first of three of their own annuals. These, like the first storybook, were published by Purnell and like all the Bleep and Booster books displayed their Blue Peter credentials prominently on the front cover. This 80 page book has six different stories, four illustrated text stories – A Meeting In Space, The Big Freeze, The Forbidden Planet, and The Threat To Miron, and two nursery style comic strip stories – Adventure On Ziron and Alarm On Freighter 9. In addition to these stories there are puzzle pages, cut-out dioramas and a dice game.

The second storybook, Bleep and Booster’s Space Secret, published in 1967 follows the style of the first in having one story split in two with puzzle and game pages in between. The story tells an expedition to the distant planet of Numa to find out if there is life on it and features the Captain, Spiky and Space Freighter 9 as well as the two boys discovering just what the secret of Numa is.

The second of the three Bleep and Booster Annuals appeared in the same year. With a copyright of 1967, which makes it the annual for 1968, this 80 page book has seven different stories, four illustrated text stories - Space Emergency, The Forbidden Journey, The Giant From Titan, The War Of The Weeds, and three nursery style comic strip stories - Castaways On Peril Planet, The Space School Rebellion, and Starshot. In addition to these stories there are the usual puzzle pages and dice games.

A third annual appeared in 1968 and followed a similar format to the previous ones with text stories, nursery comic strips and the inevitable games and quizzes. Again published by Purnell its 80 pages included three illustrated text stories – The Flying Fortress, A World On Fire, Journey Into Micro Space, and four nursery comic strips – The Rolling Rocks, Miron Safari, Crash Landing, and Famine On Miron. The three annuals are certainly the most impressive of the Bleep and Booster books and include the best stories which are less juvenile than the two storybooks and longer than any of the stories in the Blue Peter books.

Yet it is from the Blue Peter books that the characters are perhaps best remembered due to their appearances in four page illustrated text stories published in these annual books. The Bleep and Booster stories, none of which were given titles, began in the first Blue Peter book published in 1964 and continued in every following book up to and including the fourteenth book published in 1977 and two of these Blue Peter books had extra Bleep and Booster features. The Blue Peter Fourth Book published in 1967, the same year as the first annual and the Space Secret storybook, had a two page full colour painted dice game entitled Space Rescue, while the Mystery Picture in the Blue Peter Ninth Book featured the pair of space boys in 1972. The Mystery Pictures were regular features in the early Blue Peter books, with the majority be credited to Timym, and were a simplistic type of paint-by-numbers with the page size grids having squares to be coloured in based on each number being assigned a colour.

The pair also made it onto the front cover of the Blue Peter Colouring Book released in 1975 along with Bengo, one of Tim’s dog characters who also appeared in the Blue Peter Books, with their cover antics being watched by the four Blue Peter pets of the time, Shep, Jason, Petra and Freda. 

On screen the pair appeared in black and white animated stories inserted within the main live action Blue Peter programme in the 1960s with the animation being limited to animatic style zooms and pans on artwork frames. These were filmed by Timym himself with stories written by Dorothy Smith and narrated by Peter Hawkins. It is interesting to note that some on-line references for Bleep and Booster confuse the final Blue Peter book appearance in 1977 with the final television appearance and therefore assume that the black and white episodes were being broadcast as part of the colour show long into the 1970s when they were not. As a very limited form of black and white animation there have been no modern DVD releases of the episodes although a VHS video of two stories, The Giant Brain and Solaron, was released by Watershed Pictures in 1990 and re-released under PolyGram’s Pocket Money Video in 1993.

Timym had considerable success merchandising his various characters beyond storybooks and annuals with Wade releasing figurines of many of his dog characters including Bengo, while Rylee produced greetings cards and calendars of Wuff, Snuff and Tuff. The marionette company Pelham Puppets had previously released puppets of Caesar, Bengo and the trio of Wuff, Snuff and Tuff (changing the three virtually identical black dogs of the cartoons into three different colours of the same puppet) and they continued the Tim theme with four Bleep and Booster tie-in puppets in the 1960s. These consisted of Bleep and Booster themselves plus two aliens, a Trug and a Rotundan.
The spiky haired, mischievous Trugs from the planet Truga appear in Adventure On Ziron and Alarm On Freighter 9 in the first annual, as pupils in The Space School Rebellion story in the second annual as well as being in the first Blue Peter book in a story in which they are referred to as Frigs. The gangly, three eyed Rotundans from the planet Rotunda also appear in the same school story in the second annual as well as The Big Freeze in the first annual and The Flying Fortress and A World On Fire in the third annual although they did not feature in any of the Blue Peter books stories. The excellent Pelham Puppets Online website has photos of the four puppets (Bleep, Booster, Trug and Rotundan) as well as the original colour artwork produced by Timym for the Pelham designers to work from. The site also has pictures of the puppet versions of the dog characters Bengo, Wuff, Snuff and Tuff, and Caesar.
In addition to the Pelham Puppets, jigsaw manufacturer Philmar produced at least one Bleep and Booster jigsaw, presumably released in the late 1960s. This 50 piece jigsaw was 15 inches long by 10 inches high and used an illustration of both Space Freighter 9 and one of its patrol pods, a smaller spacecraft that Bleep and Booster use in the 1967 Space Secret storybook as well as in several of the Blue Peter Book stories.

 
From their origins in the early 1960s, Bleep and Booster continued on until their final appearance in the Blue Peter Fourteen Book published in 1977. They were missing from the next Blue Peter book which was the first to be published after Star Wars had changed British children’s perception of science-fiction forever - Space Freighter 9 and the Miron Space Commandos simply couldn’t stand up against the Millennium Falcon and Imperial Stormtroopers. Yet as childish as their adventures were, today the characters of Bleep and Booster remain fondly remembered by the pre-Star Wars generation of Blue Peter viewers.


(* This is an updated version of of a Bear Alley column originally published in  March 2011. A full listing of all Bleep and Booster and other Tim stories in the Blue Peter books can be found on Bear Alley here. Bleep and Booster © Cooper Features/the estate of William Timym; Blue Peter © British Broadcasting Corporation. With thanks to Keith Ansell and Steve Holland for additional information and illustrations.)

10 comments:

Mike W said...

Fascinating stuff - many thanks.

Anonymous said...

I loved Bleep And Booster when I was little; still do now that I'm large, come to think of it. Thanks for this, Jeremy.

David Simpson

Steve M said...

Great stuff! I used to be a big fan of Bleep and Booster. Had one of the annuals too - the one with the 'birds' on the cover, used to read that story over and over, seem to remember they melted metal with their firey breath.

Lesley H said...

Excellent and informative article.

Anonymous said...

Probably my earliest TV memory - predating even Dr Who! Never knew there'd been annuals. Nice article Jeremy.
Mike O'Doherty

Norman Boyd said...

Thanks to Steve for being so humble as to allow a great writer on his blog - fascinating stuff. That gorilla statue gave my 3 kids great times in London Zoo

Keith Ansell said...

Hi Jeremy
There were 3 Bleep & Booster Annuals by the way
You have only given details of the 2nd and 3rd ones.
I have all 3 in my collection plus the 2 story books
Regards
Keith

Jeremy Briggs said...

Hi Keith, I was expected to be told that I had missed out on 1960s jigsaws or other merchandise along those lines rather than a third annual. You've now given me something to search for and once I get hold of a copy I'll update the article. Thanks, Jeremy

Keith Ansell said...

Hi Jeremy
There is a picture of the fist Bleep & Booster Annual (copyright 1966) on Flickr at :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bonitoclub/442825298/

I hope you manage to track down a copy.
Funnily enough I thought there was only ever the one annual published until I bought the later ones at a Memorobilia Fair in the 90s.
Lets hope someone releases B&B on DVD one day soon (if the episodes still exist that is)
Regards Keith

Jeremy Briggs said...

Finally got a copy of the other annual and so I have updated the piece with that and some other information. Jeremy