If you grew up in Canada between the 1950s and 1980s, then chances are you watched a little show called The Friendly Giant.
Beginning in Wisconsin in 1953 on the WHA-AM radio station, The Friendly Giant debuted and before long it was on the local television station. It was there for five years until CBC executives saw it and were impressed by it. They asked Bob Homme, the creator of the show, to move the show to Canada. It was there that the show not only took off in popularity, but became an iconic piece of the Canadian landscape.
Running in spans of 15-minutes, every episode began with the panning over of a detailed model of a village as the Friendly Giant talked. Then, he would say the magical words of Look up….waaaaay up….and he would invite everyone to his castle where he played the harp and recorder.
Rusty the Rooster and Jerome the Giraffe would visit through the window and chat with the Friendly Giant.
Most of the show was completely unscripted, something that was not common for children’s shows. The gentle nature of the Friendly Giant was also a big part of why the show was so popular among Canadian children. The show remained the same for most of its years on television, unlike many other shows that changed things up. Rod Coneybeare was the puppeteer and voice actor for the show, where he performed as Jerome the Girafffe and Rusty the Rooster.
From the 1970s to 1980s, The Friendly Giant was played between Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street.
It all came to an end in 1984 when the Friendly Giant was cancelled after deep cuts to the CBC. There was strong opposition to the cancellation and Fred Penner’s Place, which replaced The Friendly Giant, was often referred to as The Giant Killer. The last episode of the Friendly Giant aired in March of 1985. A Globe and Mail piece in Dec of 1984 was highly critical of the cancelling of The Friendly Giant. The opinion piece stated that, ‘this was an exceptional component of Canadian television and one that will be sorely missed.”
In all, 3,000 episodes of the Friendly Giant were created. Several items from the show are now on display at various museums throughout Canada.
As for Homme, who was born on March 27, 1919, he was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998 and died at the age of 81 in 2000 of prostate cancer. While called the Friendly Giant, he stood five foot 11 inches.
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