The Banana Splits

The Banana Splits

1968 - United States

Imagine a fever dream where a rock band consisting of a dog, an elephant, a lion and a monkey ("I'm not a monkey, I'm a gorilla!") coexist in a psychedelic amusement park. Now add a dash of existential crisis, and voilà! You’ve got The Banana Splits. It’s like someone dropped acid and decided to create a children’s show.

Following the demise of The Monkees, NBC put four actors into oversize animal costumes, brought in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In dancer Byron Gillian as choreographer and threw in some Hannah-Barbera cartoons, and produced 125 madcap episodes of a series first aired in the US in 1968 as The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

The Splits were Snorky (a baby elephant - communicates through honks and trumpet sounds. Imagine Beethoven meets Dumbo, but with less grace and more confusion), Bingo (a gorilla - the know, the Ringo Starr of the group – overshadowed by everyone else and perpetually confused (love you, Ringo!)), Drooper (a lion - a wild untamed mess – like a dandelion caught in a windstorm) and Fleegle (a dog - the lead singer. His vocal range? Somewhere between off-key karaoke and cats in a blender). When not racing their psychedelic Buggie cars through the amusement park (think Mad Max meets the Teletubbies), playing 'wacky' games on a football pitch or singing to pre-recorded tracks, the gang could be seen cavorting around their Banana Pad indulging in nonsensical (some might say surreal) jokes. This is what set The Banana Splits apart from other children's shows of its time - its ability to appeal to viewers of all ages. While primarily aimed at children, the humorous and clever writing made it a hit with adults as well. The show's comedic sketches often had a satirical edge that resonated with parents and older audiences, ensuring there was something for everyone to enjoy.

The Banana Splits

There was a Dear Drooper spot where the wisecracking lion would answer viewer's questions before being set upon by rival pop band The Sour Grapes. In another memorable sequence Drooper would try and take the trash out only to find that the dustbin didn't want it and so it unceremoniously threw back at him. In between all this mayhem were cartoon adventures of The Three Musketeers, The Arabian Knights, The Hillbilly Bears and The Micro Adventures. There was also a live action serial entitled Danger Island, which can boast of having given future Superman and Lethal Weapon's Richard Donner a chance to cut his directorial teeth. Barry White also began his career as a singer/songwriter by penning numbers for the band.

The series had a theme song (One banana, two banana's, three banana's, four...) known as the Tra La La Song, written by Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan. Catchy, but after hearing it for the hundredth time, you start questioning your life choices.

The series aired in the UK from 1969-71 on Saturday morning BBC and was repeated years later as part of Channel 4's Big Breakfast, continuing to resonate with viewers as a testament to the creative spirit of 1960s television. Hold the Bus!

Published on November 28th, 2018. Written by Pam Sue Teppert for Television Heaven.

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