By the mid-sixties their television show was pulling in a regular audience of over 10 million viewers. In one year they had made more Las Vegas appearances than Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr combined, and having shared the stage at the Hollywood Bowl with The Beatles were now receiving more fan mail a week than the Fab Four themselves. They were: Pinky and Perky.
The two chirpy, high-pitched puppet pigs (created by a Czech husband and wife team Jan and Vlasta Dalibor) were part of an extremely lucrative merchandising campaign, proving popular – thanks to their early evening slot in the TV schedules – with both children and adults. The BBC had recognised their commercial worth and Pinky and Perky became the first film made by the corporation aimed exclusively for overseas sales
All this was put in jeopardy when Harold Wilson decided to try and extend his wafer-thin majority with an election in March 1966. At the time of the announcement Pinky and Perky were trotting their way through a series of programmes based on the theme of ‘You, too, can be a…’. The swines had their eyes set on the ‘top job’: they had decided they could be Prime Minister. The BBC were worried that this episode would upset their need for strict impartiality in the lead up to the vote.
The front page of The Daily Express on 1st March 1966 reported the unhappy news:
ON DAY POLL DATE IS GIVEN – Pinky and Perky banned – Their sketch: You, too, can be a Premier’
Last night ‘BBC chiefs decided to postpone it until after polling day. In case Pinky and Perky were accused of taking a party line.
Among those who had made the programme there was a sense of disbelief. The comedian, Jimmy Thompson, foil to the porcine pair said: ‘It was very harmless when we made it. In the programme we do poke fun at the politicians. I stand for election, and when I eventually get to Downing Street I find Pinky and Perky already installed. It is a harmless bit of nonsense.’
The producer of the series, Stan Parkinson, was quoted as saying: ‘We recorded this programme more than six weeks ago – it does not take a party line. It is just a bit of fun.’
This bit of election censorship produced a clamour of derision. Under the headline ‘Grimond lashes the TV rules’, Liberal leader Jo Grimond was quoted as noting a TV broadcast of Edward Heath talking in his constituency,
I always understood that this was not allowed. But if it is, I welcome it as a further hole in all the nonsense surrounding election broadcasting rules so that the news-worthiness of the item can be the criterion and allow all sorts of people to appear whether it is in their own constituency or not – and also allow Pinky and Perky to appear in any guise their creator decides.
Grimond wasn’t alone. Along with a stream of complaints from the viewing public the matter was raised in the House of Commons by Terrence Boston MP in a debate on Broadcasting Policy,
As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), asked at the weekend: where will it all end? Little did he know, when referring to the programme “Pinky and Perky”, the significance of his words: “If we are to have programmes censored before the election date is even announced then by the time the programme starts we are in real danger of having our viewing confined to Pinky and Perky.” Within almost a matter of hours, the B.B.C. cancelled that programme… I do not know whether it was Pinky’s colour that was in question, or whether it was the title of the programme, but perhaps in this electoral situation the title of the programme as a general proposition is wholly inaccurate.
The day after the Express had broken the news of the ban the paper carried a piece by Anne Batt entitled ‘Pinky and Perky: We’ll Have To Take Them Seriously’ who reported a BBC Spokesman saying that ‘[t]alks are still going on about the programme; a final decision has yet to be reached.’ A reprieve for the pigs might be on the cards.
The very next dayThe Times informed readers that the head of current affairs, Paul Fox and Michael Peacock, controller of BBC1 had ‘carefully inspected the musical puppet show…and rescinded the postponement of it.’ On Sunday 13th March, in its normal 5.55pm slot, the programme was broadcast though not, as is sometimes said – and supposedly trouncing – a Party Election Broadcast by Harold Wilson on ITV (that had gone out simultaneously across all three channels the night before). Whether the sight of Pinky and Perky in Number 10 made any difference to the eventual outcome of the election history has yet to record.
Matthew Bailey is a Research Fellow at the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham. He has published work on a variety of topics regarding British politics.
Image credit: The National Archives