Skippy: Roo are so clever

Skippy: Roo are so clever
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This is an exclusive feature from the now sold-out Issue 7 of Yours Retro. For more nostalgia, check out the latest Retro at www.greatmagazines.co.uk

How Skippy the bush kangaroo captured our hearts – and some fascinating facts about Australia’s answer to Flipper!

He was the smartest marsupial on the planet – able to explain the trickiest rescue situation with just a few clicks, but you could always count on Skippy the bush kangaroo to save the day and that’s why we loved him! Even today if you were growing up in the Sixties and Seventies you can almost certainly remember the theme tune without any prompts. But just what was the secret to his success? Read on for some fascinating facts about the canny kangaroo and his pals!

How the story started

The idea for Skippy was a co-creation between actor John McCallum and producer Lee Robinson. Originally born in Australia, John made his name in British films in the Forties and Fifties, often starring with his English actress wife, Googie Withers.

He and Googie were packing up after a holiday at the Australian beach resort of Pittwater in 1966 when it struck him that Australia was the only country on earth with indigenous kangaroos. When his producer friend Lee came up with the notion of the adventures of a boy and a kangaroo, John put $5,000 into a pilot show.

Liza Goddard as Clancy Merrick, who often found herself chasing escaping Roos

Liza Goddard as Clancy Merrick, who often found herself chasing escaping Roos

Lee himself was interested in the success of the TV series Flipper. He visited the set to get a first-hand look at what ideas worked in making the show and applied the formula to a uniquely Australian animal – Skippy was born!

Who played Skippy?

It took six months to train the principal Skippy, but there were ‘body doubles’ – including one that could run fast, another that could jump high and even one that could get in and out of a car. And if you noticed that Skippy often seemed to change size, shape and colour you were right. In all some 35 kangaroos were used in the course of making the series, as the animals often fled into the bush!

The human cast

Child actor Garry Pankhurst played Skippy’s young sidekick Sonny, with Ed Devereaux playing his dad Matt, ranger of Waratah National Park. Other original cast members included Liza Goddard as Clarissa 'Clancy' Merrick. Speaking on a documentary in 2009 called Skippy: Australia’s First Superstar, Liza recalled: “We were always running off into the bush, and there was a prize for whoever captured the most escaped Skippys at the end of each day…”

Did you know? The series was reinvented in 1992 as the short-lived The Adventures of Skippy. This revival series focused on an adult Sonny who had followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a ranger at a wildlife park and had his own family and a pet kangaroo named Skippy

How many episodes were there?

In all, a total of 91, which were 30-minutes long. They were made over a period of three years from 1966 to 1968 and went on to be shown in some 80 countries, with an estimated viewing audience of 300 million. The action was filmed at the Waratah National Park outside Sydney and the series ran in the UK on ITV from 1967 to 1969.

Skippy takes to the skies with Mark (Ken James) and pilot Jerry (Tony Bonner)

Skippy takes to the skies with Mark (Ken James) and pilot Jerry (Tony Bonner)

Skippy’s little secrets

Although it’s hard to believe now, Skippy wasn’t actually as clever as we thought. He couldn’t unlock doors, serve tea or operate radios. These effects were achieved by a man off-camera holding two fur-covered sticks with claws on the end. And those famous clicking sounds that could be interpreted by his human friends? They were added in as Skippy didn’t make a sound!