Wacaday

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Wacaday‘s something which crops up a lot in suggestions, but like much of the stuff I cover, very little footage has survived. In this case, that’s not surprising, given even even The Upper Hand would slink off defeated at Wacaday‘s genuinely incredible tally of 455 episodes. Barring all those creepy drama series from the 70s and 80s which got rebranded post-millennium as hauntology, there’s a real dearth of old kids TV online. I’ve always wanted to do a run on the Saturday morning shows, but even full episodes of the big boys like Going Live are digital gold dust; partially because of their length (a whole tape in SP), but also due to their throwaway nature. Nowadays, it’s all just weightless data, but back when Timmy Mallett was pumping out half-hours every weekday when school was off, nobody thought to preserve it for future generations. And any kid who did press record on Mallett arsing around would’ve grown out of it, eventually sacrificing the contents for an episode of Eurotrash where you could see actual German fanny lips.

Confusingly, Wacaday takes its name via spinning off from the Wide Awake Club, and not the word ‘wacky’ — five letters which run through its hosts bones like a stick of rock. Timmy Mallett is the absolute King of Colin Hunts, jigging round in bermuda shorts and oversized Elton John specs, his top and bottom lip always off in different directions, and never not cementing how loud and bloody bonkers he is. He’s less Mr. Rogers than the adult victim in a body-swap comedy, approaching forty, and switching souls with an eight-year-old boy who’s been mainlining sugar with a dirty needle. A clown without face paint, even for the 90s, Mallett’s is the most extreme case of kee-rayzee ever recorded.

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During Wacaday‘s run, Mallett’s persona and the house style intersected with mainstream kids fashions, when ‘loud’ clothes were in, with everyone in bermuda shorts and neon pink socks, five pairs a pound from the market. But like a Hulk Hogan or John McCririck, he lived that character onscreen and off, and still rocks the shorts in modern TV appearances. It was strange to see him pared down to the default khaki of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, and trapped with only other adults for company, he turned out to be weirdly passive aggressive and insincere, at one point, cheating during a race to down a crocodile-bollock milkshake by roughly pinching another contestant’s arm.

One of Wacaday‘s trademarks was the Wac-a-Wave, putting the tip of your thumbs together to form a W shape and waving your fingers, like the kind of thing a wrestler would do at the crowd before hitting his finishing move. I’ve a strong childhood memory of sitting up the front on a coach trip with my cousin and Wac-a-Waving through the big window to oncoming traffic on the motorway, feeling like a ruddy anarchist. We must’ve brought into Wacaday‘s cult-like brainwashing, as, like the wave, almost every word is front-loaded with Wac, reminiscent of 1960’s Batman, as calls come in on the Wac-a-phone, and even a entire continent is rebranded into WacAfrica.

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Remember British television’s great catchphrases? “Awright at the back?” and “nice to see you, to see you…”? Well Timmy’s is “blurgh!” — the noise one makes while being violently sick — accompanied, as is everything he does, by a poking of the tongue, and gesticulating his arms like he’s trapped in a burning building. The look of the show is the most early 90’s thing imaginable, all neon colours and pulsating, broken shapes; Saved by the Bell‘s opening titles but with a child-man bouncing off the wonky walls. The custard-yellow set is emblazoned with red dots and green stripes, like ITV’s carpenters were handed instructions which simply read ‘build a headache’.

Keep in mind, this show was very much just for kids, and as kids, I probably speak for most of us who lived through Wacaday, in having spent every school holiday glued to it. Mallett really got what made children tick, and he’s the reason it’s remembered so fondly. But with no double-entendres for the adults in the room, and no hot lady co-presenters for the dads, perhaps it would be disingenuous for me, a grown man, to pick it apart, thirty years on. Still gonna do it, mind. I’ll be sampling episodes from Wacaday‘s final year, 1992, which had a world tour theme, with each week focussing on a different country.

First up, it’s Scotland, which should set every alarm bell ringing itself to pieces, if you recall our growing catalogue of televised brutality suffered by the Scots at the hands of the English. And indeed, we open with Timmy emerging through a revolving wall, clad in kilt, sporran, and t-shirt of the Loch Ness Monster, ‘singing’ Scotland the Brave in blurghs — “blurgh blurgh, blurgh-blurgh-blurgh, blurgh blurgh…” under a constant background dirge of tuneless bagpipes.

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Timmy bids us welcome to an “utterly, utterly brilliant McScottish McWacaday” in a Maynards Wine Gums accent, before being interrupted by Pinky Punky. An anthropomorphised foam hammer who speaks in Timmy’s sped-up voice as it’s waved in front of camera, Pinky Punky’s catchphrase “Mr. Mallett, Mr. Mallett, can I go to the toilet?” infers that it’s got a urethra and/or anus. However, it manages to hold in the piss and shit long enough to tell a joke. “I done A. I done B. I done C. I done D. Dundee!” Yes, that is a place in Scotland. Well done. “Who has done de washing up?!” jokes Timmy.

His other sidekick is “wee timourous beastie,” Magic the cockatiel, who’s pretty well trained, and spends most of the series sat on children’s heads or on Timmy’s shoulder, as his master skips about, screaming. “He’s gone nuts this morning!” cackles Timmy, as Magic flits madly around the studio after being let out to see a cockatiel-sized kilt and caber sent in by a fan. There’s a horribly sad note at the end of Timmy’s wiki page, noting that Magic now resides in a grave in his garden, though at least he probably went of natural causes, unlike Koko B. Ware’s parrot, Frankie, who died in a house fire while screaming the words “help me!” Sorry, but if I have to live with that trivia, so do you.

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With no co-hosts, presenting duties are shared out between pairs of children appearing as guests-slash-contestants, giving an air of the amateur when tasked with reading out names and addresses or fielding callers. The English kids are cosplaying as Scottish, in fancy dress kilts, and one in a tartan Tam o’ Shanter about two feet wide. The little girl is very nervous, introducing herself in a flat tone with “och aye the noo, I’m wee McSamantha from Chingford,” but the next child is an exuberant ginger boy, confidently announcing “och aye the noo, I’m James wee Mc… um…” and forgetting where he’s from. His hobbies are watching Wacaday, playing football, and making models. Models, that’ll be planes and stuff, yeah? “Houses, out of paper and sellotape.” Right you are. His sporran is from “my dad’s mate, Bill,” and he’s borrowed his father’s socks. “Poo! I can tell, it’s a bit pongy round here!” shrieks Timmy, holding his nose and staggering from the stench.

I am — as should be patently obvious by my work and the photo of my face — a single, childless man, and during Covid lockdown, there were a lot of assumptions from people trapped indoors with small children, that the likes of me, free to watch Netflix and defecate in peace, don’t know we’re born. Trust me, I got months worth of grizzling toddler energy from a single episode of Wacaday. Timmy’s a 37 year old baby, and worst of all, he’s a baby with all the power. Were he an actual six-year-old, running round with his tongue out, jumping on the furniture, he’d be getting a clip round the ear, but this is decidedly his show, and every squeal is met, not with threats of the naughty step, but loud offscreen laughter from the crew. The vibe of a pre-school Noel’s House Party or Big Breakfast is no coincidence, as Chris Evans considers Timmy a mentor, getting his start in showbiz as one of Timmy’s on-air radio posse and general dogsbody. Consequently, there’s that same sense that anyone caught failing to add Wac to a word — “here’s your coffee… I mean Wac-coffee, Mr. Mallett!” — faces being bludgeoned with a real hammer.

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The kids are made to yell “Wac aye the noo,” as Timmy warns us a painted-on spill of crude oil is about to live up to its name; specifically by saying “Spotty botty!“OH MY GOODNESS ME!” shrieks Timmy, absolutely unable to contain himself, “COVER YOUR EARS!” You homeschooling parents fancy a swap? Thought not. He introduces his “utterly brilliant cousin, Hamish McMallett,” who’s Timmy in a big ginger beard and hot water bottle sporran, pratting about with Scottish dancers in a school hall. In staggering creativity, minutes later, someone dressed in tartan and the same beard, also called Hamish (the Haggis), will prance into the studio covered in viewer’s drawings. While most pictures are of Pinky Punky, one child’s sent in a really detailed rendering of an oil rig. We go to a break with a chant of “Wac-a-haggis, Wac-a-haggis,” as I start petitioning neighbours to add me to the 8pm clap for heroes, especially after the ad for a disturbing doll called Baby Alive, where a child examines its nappy and excitedly exclaims “ooh, she’s dirtied it too!

The thing everyone remembers is Mallett’s Mallet, a word association game where repetition or hesitation earns players a bash over the head with his foam mallet, and “the one with the most bruises loses!” Except, by 1992, TV bosses are worried impressionable viewers might batter each other for real, so infractions are now scored by Timmy swinging his tool at a contestant’s mascot on the desk; hats with googly eyes, representing someone from the contestant’s life. In this case, “my cousin Nestor, because he’s an absolute twit!” There is a dark, gritty remake to be made of Wacaday, with Timmy stoving in heads as a deranged hammer-wielding killer, and Pinky Punky a sexy Harley Quinn type in a crop top. I do feel we need to address how the constant references to Mallett’s mallet sound really phallic. Like Rod Hull’s Pink Windmill and Paul Daniels’ magic wand, I refuse to believe Timmy never used Mallett’s mallet as euphemism for his penis, if one can ever picture Timothy Mallett doing something as grown up as sex — “Cor lummy, there’s white stuff coming out of my Wac-a-willy!”

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Instead of filling time with real cartoons, Wacaday breaks for daily visits to a home-grown ‘cartoon’, consisting of felt-tip drawings of Timmy and Magic (weirdly depicted as a fat grey pigeon), slowly zoomed in and out of to give a sense of movement. We do get some VTs filmed in Scotland, cued by Timmy walking across the studio without realising his mic pack’s fallen out, dragging it clattering across the floor. He visits an earthquake measuring system in the highlands, and comically bashes the ground with a hammer, inducing a “10.9 on the Wac-tor scale!” before visiting the headquarters of The Beano in Dundee. This inspires a comedy skit, where Timmy the Terror picks on lisping softy, Olly the Wally (“gis yer lolly, you big fat wally!”), and gets chased by lollypop man, Jack McWhack. It ends with Timmy directing schoolkids across the road with his mallet — which sounds disgusting — with perhaps the worst punchline I have ever witnessed, “is this what you call Crocodile Dundee?!” (especially if you’re unfamiliar with ‘crocodile’ as a term for a long line of children)

Running a tight second is Pinky Punky’s “Mr. Mallett, Mr. Mallett, is a cartoon a song about a car? You know; car tune?!Wacaday finishes on phone-in game, Chat and Splat, where Wee James can’t read the autocue, so Timmy has to painstakingly stage-whisper every question for him to repeat. Notable here is the kid puts one hand in a small bowl of gunge, and even when scalded by Timmy “you don’t need that,” spends the next five minutes at the side of frame frantically wiping at unseen gunge with a towel; fingers, legs, face, stomach, back; clearly suffering a dirt phobia and no longer paying attention to the show. We play out with a montage of viewer-submitted photos of Wac-a-Waves; pictures of kids by funny street signs or buried up to their necks at the beach; which under the sombre drone of Mull of Kintyre, especially following all the preceding silliness, feels like a memorial for children who’ve died.

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Sadly, tomorrow’s show isn’t available online, where Timmy promises we’ll meet “Robert the Bruce Springsteen.” Of interest in the credits, Jack McWhack is credited as ‘wactor’ Andrew Wightman, who’s now a Scottish MP for the Green Party. But anyone homeschooling their kids could land the little fuckers an A* in GCSE Geography by sitting them down in front of Wacaday‘s impeccably researched week on South Africa. Timmy enters pretending to fly and bawling the Batman theme — “nana nana nana nana, Wacaday Man!” He’s in a cape, you see, as they’re going to Cape Town, and I’m sure, like me, you’re very excited at the prospect of Timmy Mallett tackling apartheid.

What about the kids; will they somehow be dressed South African? No, just capes, as well as two baseball caps each, one on top of the other. This “twin peaks” was one of Wacaday’s fashion trends, pushed on the audience each summer, along with rolling up a single trouser leg; which I definitely remember doing. Timmy himself is wearing two pairs of glasses; one on his eyes, the other on his hat(s). But today is a special day, as our sweet little bird boy is turning seven, and Magic gets a cake and a round of Happy Birthday from Timmy, children and crew. The latter are far louder than the Scotland shows, oohing and laughing in all the right places, and parroting the host’s chant-a-longs, where he could be wearing six pairs of glasses and still not hide the megamaniacal glint in his eye. “Completely bonkers!” yells Timmy. Everyone laughs.

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Disconcertingly, the loud sound of children’s cheering is occasionally piped in to sweeten a punchline or a correct answer, giving the impression there are hundreds of kids just off camera, and inviting questions of why they remain unseen. Squalid conditions? Frightening deformities? Are they all chained together like in Temple of Doom, begging Magic to pick the locks with his beak? I know it’s a thing now where we pick any pop culture headline — ‘Six9ine Calls Out N-Word Fortnite Streamer Who Catfished Jake Paul With Hot Faceapp Pic; President Trump Must Condemn!‘ — and say you couldn’t explain it to someone from 15 years ago, but honestly, stuff from 1992’s no better. I mean, there’s a game where the kids fish small items like sunglasses out of a bowl of very watery custard while blindfolded, which is called Wac-Columbus, because, I guess, they’re discovering the things, where the winner gets a load of Matey bubble bath.

But the meat of this is South Africa, and Timmy’s a schoolboy who’s giving a ten minute book report having only glanced at the cover. What have we learned about the country so far? Well, there’s capes, aren’t there? And there’s Cape Town, “with its table cloth on top of its table mountain.” Yes, I’d say my favourite chapter was when all the flies made that one fly the Lord. When we finally visit South Africa — sorry, WacAfrica — Timmy’s on the beach in a massive Dracula cape, running away from the tide. I should note the full ensemble; cloak, billowing white mumu covered in stars, glasses with lightning on the frame, fingerless neon green gloves, rainbow striped parachute pants, and two multicoloured baseball caps. This is our cultural envoy. If he meets an actual South African while dressed like that, I’ll simply die.

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No, come on, let’s give him a chance. He’s out there now in Cape Town, pointing out Table Mountain (which you can’t see behind clouds), “and the other thing it’s famous for is its capes!” Just to be clear, it definitely isn’t. The naming of Cape Town is completely unrelated to capes, but he fills airtime by wittering on, “in summer you wear a cape to keep the sun off, and in winter you wear a cape to keep the rain off, and it’s also brilliant for flying with” before yelling “Wac-Cape-Cadabra!” and spinning around on the sand. Well, that’s me applying for Mastermind with South Africa as my specialist subject. Fifteen hours of flight time to get him there for this, by the way.

Then it cuts to him in front of a Wac-a-windmill, or to use English, a windmill, before — I’m afraid to report — chatting to a local, stood in his fucking two hats and a cape. Hearing about all the different races and cultures, Timmy skips over the whole racial segregation stuff to declare “it’s a great, huge, massive melting pot!” before being handed an actual melting (cooking) pot. Now here’s the opportunity for a child-friendly analogy about apartheid. This might be tough with the subtlety of a host who plays up Cape Town’s variety by skipping past a row of black children and cheerily commenting “the people are multicoloured, even the houses are multicoloured…

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Soon Timmy’s strolling through a shanty town, the only white face — and the only one in a cape and rainbow Hammer pants — with his melting pot, containing items he’s collected from Cape Town, for a wonderful metaphor about the way seemingly-disparate elements can blend together for something magical and unique. Except all he’s got is one cupful of spice and a single block of cheese, mixed together with some water he’s scabbed off a passing and highly confused lady. “Not perfect by any means,” he says, swirling the gunk with his bare hands, “but it’s getting there, slowly,” and then he’s pushing this disgusting concoction into children’s faces on the end of his finger, while dressed like a vampire at a Pride march. The sight of everyone retching doesn’t make a particularly great analogy for the benefits of multiculturalism, but we cut back to the studio as he opines “yeah, it is getting there, isn’t it, Magic?” and like that, Timmy Mallett has fixed racism.

(As an addendum, between writing and posting this piece, I became aware of another clip from the South African series, where a much more sedate Timmy properly explains apartheid in a rather lovely, non-patronising way, and fully redeems himself)

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With that out of the way, there’s more hijinx, like the Mallett’s Pallette [sic] art section, where the kids help him sponge the letter W on a cloth with “really good African colours” under a backing track of chirping crickets, and a VT where he’s riding on the back of a Wac-ostrich, while pretending to be an old lady for some reason, barely avoiding getting kicked to death after being bucked off in a paddock while doing a Hinge and Bracket voice. But after everything we’ve seen, I’m gutted the next episode’s not online, which sounds like it may set new standards of problematic, as he’ll be meeting up with “the Zulus, who are terribly scary!” That definitely ends with him inside a giant cauldron, doesn’t it? We close with Pinky Punky chanting “Zulu! Zulu! Zulu! Can I go to Zu Loo (the loo) please?!” Bloody Eurotrash. I’d much rather see Timmy and the Zulus than a great big muff.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on September 4, 2020.

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