19 May 2005

Gilbert's Fridge

A Gilbert profile from 1988. Gilbert sez: "'Ere! I just 'ad an 'orrible thought! A dead zebra!"

Gilbert the alien came from the planet Drill and first turned up on the Millennium Dustbin - the space ship which took Get Fresh presenters Gaz Top and Charlotte Hindle (daughter of Madge Hindle, of Nearest and Dearest, Coronation Street and, more recently, Barbara) to various locations around England and the rest of the UK.

From "Look-In", May, 1987. The identity of the new "special guest presenter" is a secret. Who is he, she or it? We could never have guessed!

Surreal old Gilbert. Weird old Gilbert. Brilliant old Gilbert. Snotty old Gilbert.

Gilbert made his Get Fresh debut at the start of the second series in May 1987, and was set in motion by Michael Forte, the producer. Inspired by Fungus The Bogeyman, he contacted Fluck and Law, the Spitting Image creators, and asked them to come up with an original creation with the same capacity to endear and disgust. Original Gilbert certainly was - though his lips had come from a mould previously used for the Spitting Image Ringo Starr puppet and other Spitting Image puppets were "cannibalised" during his creation!

The responsibility for creating Gilbert's voice and personality was given to impressionist Phil Cornwell (he was told he could say what he liked, but NO swearing!), and the puppeteers were John Eccleston and Richard Coombes.

The snotty green alien was part of the new breed of non-cute TV puppets that emerged in the 1980s. Think of Gilbert's earthly cousins on Spitting Image. Think of Roland Rat. You get the idea?

Gilbert added an anarchic edge to Get Fresh, coming out with several controversial utterings. Legend has it that he once told the drummer from Aswad to "skin up", and viewers strained their ears to hear Gilbert's background babble whilst others spoke in the foreground.

Gilbert say: "Did you know that the Atlantic Ocean is over four times bigger than it is?"

Aside from all these fascinating facts and miraculous memories, three things are plain:

1) Gilbert was at the peak of his popularity in 1987, 1988 and 1989.

2) Gilbert had a very runny nose.

3) Gilbert was very original, very funny and very snotty indeed.
The "TV Times" from November 1988 shown in the illustration, as well as featuring Gilbert, also lists two children's shows which began in 1981 - "Button Moon" (note the picture of Tina, Mr Spoon and Egbert) and "Dangermouse".

In "
Sons and Daughters", Beryl Palmer was searching for her double, a woman called Ruby Hawkins (both parts were played by Leila Hayes). Ruby was later murdered and Beryl posed as her to bring the killer to justice.

Another Aussie soap, "Richmond Hill", was showing at 2pm, and "Jimmy's" (7pm), the documentary set in St James' University Hospital, Leeds, had come to the final episode of its present run - it was described in the "TV Times" as "the series which proves that real life is far more gripping than fiction."

In 1988, Gilbert spun off from Get Fresh into his own series, Gilbert's Fridge. Around the World Wide Web, Gilbert's Fridge is sometimes listed as being first broadcast in 1989 - but the TV Times page shown above, dated November 1988, places the series in its rightful year.
1988 - Gilbert in reflective mood.

Kim Wilde, she of "Kids In America" and "You Came" fame, finds Gilbert's talents as an agent somewhat lacking: "Mrs Huxtable from Cheadle Hulme has offered us a seventeen night deal in her larder. Now, I haven't confirmed this yet, Kim, 'cos I wasn't sure if you were confident about filling the larder..."

In a viewers' question-and-answer session with Phil Cornwell on BBC Online a few years ago, the subject of Gilbert cropped up twice. Phil told us that Gilbert was now retired and living in a small box - "in Scarborough or somewhere like that", and that he and Gilbert were still the greatest of friends and loved each other very much.

Of Gilbert's attitude to celebrities appearing on the show, Phil said:

"I was basically given carte blanche and I was told I could say what I liked. I made it up as I went along. I have very fond memories of having a go at pop stars of the day and trying my best to puncture a few egos. Somebody should have punctured mine!"
One of my favourite "Fridge" scenarios - Dieter Meier (Yello, "The Race") visits Gilbert, the incredibly posh art dealer, who tries to sell him a painting called "Bob" - "painted by a chap called Merry Pottinger in the year 171766 or so..."

Sandi Toksvig and Gilbert take to the open road...
In Gilbert's Fridge, as well as celebrity guests and bizarre sketches, there was a song, the theme tune to a featured (and absolutely heart rending) saga of POW life in World War Two, called How Far To Hitchin? It went something like this:

"How far to Hitchin? It's Hitchin I'm missin'...

How far to Hitchin? It's Hitchin I'm missin'...

How far to Hitchin? It's Hitchin I'm missing...


How I remember that song!

A kids' show? Nah, I was 23 at the time and thought that Gilbert's Fridge was brilliantly weird.

I still wonder why Gilbert took a load of dead fish, including Petula and Susan, on holiday to Benidorm with him. Susan never was much fun.

Charlotte Hindle, Gilbert's old pal from Get Fresh, also appeared in the holiday sequences, coping with Gilbert's sunburn, the aroma of dead fish and an unscrupulous admirer.
"Sunny Jolly Hols" - Gilbert writes a postcard to Charlotte's parents.

"Gilbert's Guide To Life", 1988 - including the lowdown on "The White Stuff" - milk.

"Tapes 'N' Tales" - Gilbert treasure from 1989. This comic came with an audio cassette of "Gilbert Gets It Sorted", read by Phil Cornwell in character as Gilbert. After a short burst of a very weird version of "The Girl From Ipanema" (played on what sounds like a fairground organ), Gilbert takes us back to a day much like today "only plumper..."
A rare piece of Gilbert merchandising - the Bendy toy of 1989.
Yes, it's "Giz The Dosh" with your host MARMADUKE SMARMY! Other tasty treats in the "Fridge" included David Bottlesock On The Network, Gadgie in rainy bedsit land ("You can always dream...") and "What's Your Problem, Chummy?" ("Yours in hoops...")

Oddly enough, I found myself really liking, even caring about Gilbert - who was basically a weird, green con artist. And, even more basically, a puppet.
Sometimes telly can be genius. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's good to recognise that fact.
Gilbert, oh hugely snotty one, I take me hat off to yer!
Remember Nifty and the chaps?


Big Boy said...

Doubt we will ever see the like again. I remember he once co-hosted an episode of ITV's version of Points of View, where he responded to a kid's letter by saying he never patronised kids and that's why they loved him. Too true. Also, saw a SunPat peanut butter ad with him in the other day that I knew nothing about. There's stuff out there, but hard to find. If you know where anyone cat get copies of the series, please let me know.

juggler24960 said...

Wierd as a box of frogs and fondly remembered.
A pity we don't have this kind of originality on TV nowadays.

Kerryg said...

I'm trying to find out about the Gilbert the Alien toy. There is nothing on the internet and my friend has one boxed in good condition.

Trying to find out how many were produced and how much he might be worth. All I know is he was made by Bendy Toys.

Drew said...

I have one of those. Not sure of the worth. Those who know Gilbert tend to love him in my experience, but he wasn't around very long at all.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to meet gilbert when i won a competition to name him. I was told i would have breakfast with him but all i got was a box of cornflakes dumped on my head live on tv! Lol

Drew said...

Fabulous! :) I sooo loved Gilbert!

Mark Taylor said...

I actually have the audio from the episode mentioned in the TV Times page above.

Drew said...

Brill. I love Gilbert! :)

Drew said...

I treasure his autograph. Being an alien, his differs from the norm: it's a drawing of himself!

Anonymous said...

Think I went to school with you! Did you meet the house martins aswell?

Anonymous said...

I have the incident on VHS where he told the Aswad drummer to skin up. Thinking of putting it on you tube.

Rich J B

Drew said...

Oh please do - and then send me a link! :)

Unknown said...

Gilbert was my idol when I was a kid. I still quote him quite regularly which leaves most people with a rather confused look on their faces!!! I have a DVD of Gilbert's Fridge, but I'd love to find some episodes of his late night chat show Gilbert's Late. I remember him interviewing Paul Gascoigne and he basically spent the entire time lobbing mars bars at Gazza!!!

Notorious DHG said...

Could anyone tell me where I could find a copy of the dvd mentioned above please? I've been trying to find Gilbert's Fridge for years with no luck. It's the most amazingly mad thing I can remember, I loved it!