I’m Your Puppet! — Hi Diddle Day and Uncle Chichimus

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I’m Your Puppet! — Hi Diddle Day and Uncle Chichimus

Once upon a time I found out from the locals that the front of my home in Carleton Place was featured in the opening of the Hi Diddle Day show. Hi Diddle Day was a CBC Ottawa production designed to entertain and inform young viewers for years. The uniquely-produced series starred a number of puppet characters (created, manipulated and voiced by Noreen Young) who “lived” in an unusual household.

Noreen Young, producer Audrey Jordan and the rest of the Hi Diddle Day crew always felt that Gertrude Diddle and her menage were different. Moulded from latex, they were capable of much more than “lip-syncing” to the words put in their mouths by puppeteers Young, Johni Keyworth and Stephen Brathwaite. The puppets indulged in enough horseplay to keep the very young giggling while, through situation gags and punning jokes, and they also appealed to the more sophisticated youngsters and older teenagers like myself.

Anyone that knows me knows how much I worship the ground puppeteer Noreen Young walks on. I have been honoured to participate in the late great Puppets Up! parade in Almonte, Ontario and try to follow her every word like:

“Linda, your Elvis puppet is looking a little ragged. His hair is “off” and he needs an eye!” You know things like that.

The setting of Hi Diddle Day was a remodeled Victorian house in Crabgrass, in a typical small Canadian community (Carleton Place). In the house lived Mrs. Dibble, and a host of zany puppet characters. Other puppets were Basil the Beagle, Durwood the Dragon, Wolfgang Von Wolf, Granny, Chico The Crow, a French-Canadian moose called Ti, Lucy Goose and others.

Being an extreme puppet lover I was thrilled that my home on Lake Ave East was home to Hi Diddle Day. When my youngest son vacated the house for his own new home Mom converted his room into a Puppet Room. She took apart his gun case and fashioned it into a puppet theatre filled with vintage puppets– mostly from the Hub in Almonte. Her grandchildren still look at the room today full of strange puppets and do not want to go in there— and their poor grandmother wonders why. I believe the word creepy has been used.

This week Gord Cross, who has been sending me in some local stories, sent in one that had me screaming in the house. I have a hard time moving these days but I can still scream.

HAND PUPPETS, UNCLE CHICHIMUS AND HOLLYHOCK— Museum of History- Ottawa
Museum of History- Ottawa

When I was young and lived at 16 Rochester St. we knew your home as the Raeburn house. During the 50’s a picture of it was used in the CBC TV show “Uncle Chichimus” (this sounds right but I am not sure of the spelling). The show was in black and white, of course, but the Marching Saints Marching Band were invited to the show once and I, as the band leader, was invited to interview with the puppet Uncle Chichimus. I was amazed to see that he was red and green with lots of paint chips . The band was lined up on one side of the room and played a number. Hopefully, someone may have a picture for you because that would be an interesting sidelight about your home.You might have to poll retired members.

Gord Cross

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
27 Jun 1953, Sat  •  Page 31

What?

Granted I was 2 when the program began but I knew nothing about this and was really intrigued that another puppet had graced my home. Uncle Chichimus was an intellectual puppet down on his luck and scorned almanacs. Knowing a good thing he moved in with puppeteer John Conway and Hollyhock, the mop-haired secretary housekeeper. The program, which originated in Toronto was seen in Ottawa five times weekly. Weatherman Percy Salzman used to drop in to do the weather and they would all talk about what was on TV that night. The director of this show was none other than Norman Jewison. Yes, that Norman Jewison who went on to make Hollywood films like MoonstruckThe Hurricane and, Jesus Christ Superstar among many. Please note that Uncle Chichimus is not noted on his Wikipedia page.

Percy Salzman

To make this story way more interesting Uncle Chichimus and Hollyhock were kidnapped in 1954. In what became front-page news in Canada Toronto’s CBLT-TV studio switchboards were jammed with calls by worried friends and admirers of the popular puppet stars. John Conway, creator of Uncle Chichimus, publisher, and world traveller decided to act as a detective to find his two puppets. He offered a $300 reward for the return of the two missing 24 hours after the daring kidnapping on the downtown streets. The CBC coughed up an additional $25 reward the next day. About 200 children called the studios offering their dolls or puppets as replacements for the two “stars”. Who would guess people would steal puppets? Apparently, it is a common thing as in Was Wayne Rostad’s Puppet Ever Found?

Conway had insured the puppets for $150 each and said that it would take about four days to reproduce them. No ransom demands had been received by the puppeteer. Conway, whose studio was on downtown King Street West, left his station wagon parked in front of his offices. On the rear seat was a duffle bag with the pair enclosed. Conway, unfortunately, forgot to lock his car door, and when he made a search of the car the next morning, the bag and its contents were missing.

CBC-TV officials were concerned over the disappearance and featured the kidnapping on the News Roundup films. The kidnapping had occurred on the eve of Chichy’s, Hollyhock’s and Larry Mann’s departure via a recently-acquired sailing vessel from Lobster Landing, in the Maritimes. Departure had been delayed when corks, used in the hull to stop leakage, kept coming out.

Uncle Chichimus was actually the first personality seen on CBC TV when it began broadcasting. He was revived for a for a 26-episode The Adventures of Uncle Chichimus in 1957. Later he and Hollyhock jumped ship to CJOH in 1961 as nothing seemed to be the same after the abduction as part of a new show called Cartoonerville. CBC replaced their time slot with a show called AdLib– and trivia buffs should note that: no, it was not the game show AdLib. This is CBC we are talking about, and the AdLib we are talking about was set in a rural setting. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Since then, the surviving puppets have been put into mothballs at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, and the collection is reputedly complete. John Conway became a teacher in the Glebe. The original puppets were never found and it does not look like everything ended up happily ever after.

Mrs. Gertrude Diddle
Mayor Gertrude Diddle, the star of the 1970s CBC children’s show Hi Diddle Day, became an object of fascination for Ronnie Burkett, a devoted fan of the show. “She was the most outrageous, gayest, campiest puppet in history at the time.” Her creator Noreen Young would later meet Burkett, promising to leave Mrs. Diddle to him in her will. But Burkett was far too impatient to wait for Young’s demise and so one day the puppet arrived in the mail. “She’s my muse. She can’t be topped.” He says he’s always had a version of Mrs. Diddle in his shows.
A regular on the show was the mailman, Mr. Post, played by Bob Gardiner. Musician Wyn Canty appeared occasionally as music teacher. There were also guest appearances by experts in the fields of music, art, science, entertainment and sports. The show was originally seen only in Ottawa, Montreal and the Maritimes. By 1970, its popularity led CBC to turn it into a national children’s series.
Edmonton Journal
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
05 Mar 1971, Fri  •  Page 62
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
22 Aug 1970, Sat  •  Page 2
noreen young 2016 Puppets Up! Parade
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
11 Apr 1955, Mon  •  Page 11

Carole Ann BennettMy mother took me to see a live show I believe being broadcast from Ogilvy’s Department Store around 1952 or 53.I think that Chich was coloured green and Hollyhock was yellow!-Lost Ottawa

Skip LaytonI was on this show with my art class, and won a pencil sharpener,shaped like Timothy, the mouse who rode around in Dumbo’s hat. I still have it. Fun memories. I remember being startled that Chichimus was green. Guess it looked better on B&W TV.-Lost Ottawa

https://www.ebay.com/itm/1954-Tv-Article-UNCLE-CHICHIMUS-JOHN-CONWAY-NIECE-HOLLYHOCK-CBC-Kids-Show-/173845849371

Mikey Artelle has some great info on shows-– CLICK

Vicki Racey and I working the street.. Almonte’s Baker Bob with his fans in the back of us! 2016

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