Gus hops to new heights 

15 November 2021 tbs.pm/74039

 

Television & Radio 1988 cover

From ‘Television and Radio 1988’, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1987

There cannot be many nonspeaking personalities who have survived 26 continuous onscreen years, and gone from strength to strength with viewers. Augustus J. Honeybun – Gus to his fans – continues both to enthral children and maintain his cult status with adults.

And Gus is more than just a regional rabbit. After visiting the South-West of England, holidaymakers and servicemen have written to TSW asking for Gus postcards with the autographed paw-print and badges and stickers. With a fan club in Ulster and letters from Aberdeen, MSV Tharos in the North Sea, Hull, Stoke-on Trent, Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham and Port Stanley, it can truly be said that Gus’s fame spreads not just from Land’s End to John o’Groats, but to the South Atlantic as well.

It’s all a far cry from the time Gus was found wandering, lost and alone, on Dartmoor by a Westward Television crew on 29th April 1961. Adopted by the company’s staff, he volunteered to ‘earn his keep’ by celebrating the birthdays of children between the ages of 3 and 11. A card to Gus results in birthday greetings on his programme plus the granting of a request for bunny hops – three for a third birthday, and so on – winks and waggling oars.

An adaptable rabbit, Gus managed to change the colour of his fur from brown to grey to accommodate the introduction of colour television to the South West in 1972. And the advance of technology meant that TSW could introduce Gus Honeybun’s Magic Birthdays in 1962. In addition to Gus’s gymnastics, these days children can ask for a magic button to be pushed which will immediately transform the scene behind Gus and his announcer partner.

 

A child in a plastic grotto

A young fan meets Gus in his magic grotto at the Devon County Show where two-way video allows the superstar rabbit and a TSW personality to take special requests from visitors.

 

Gus in a jumper reading "THE BOSS"

Gus does more than hop, wink and wiggle his ears these days. At the press of a magic button the scene behind him will be transformed for his birthday viewers.

Although Gus is always in demand for the opening of charitable events, his public appearances took a drastically different turn at the start of the South West’s county show season in 1986. Tucked in the corner of the TSW mobile exhibition vehicle was Gus’s Magic Grotto, a grass-covered burrow where children could speak directly to Gus and a TSW personality.

Once they overcame their awe at the worms and spiders, toadstools and tree roots, the children shared their favourite jokes with the birthday bunny and made some more unusual requests. TSW presenter Judi Spiers even agreed to do a handstand – not easy in a dress.

Of greatest fascination for the youngsters was the slow realisation that Gus, who appeared on a television monitor in the burrow’s wall, could also see and hear the children. Hidden microphones and cameras transmitted the child’s image to the rabbit and his announcer friend in a studio behind the burrow wall, so that any child who decided to disgrace his parents got a sharp rebuke from Gus!

Seemingly indefatigable, Gus launched yet another phase of his career in the spring with the national release of a seven-inch single picture disk. On this Gus presents the ‘Gus Honeybun Song’ and ‘Happy Birthday from Gus Honeybun’, with a little assistance from TSW music consultant Ed Welch.

Such fame is surely an enviable achievement for a rabbit with modest beginnings on Dartmoor: his own television programme, a loyal following of fans, a mobile burrow in which to visit viewers and a hopping-good career in music.

 

Gus with a birthday cake

Gus celebrates 25 years of Independent Television in the South West of England with a giant birthday cake, appropriately decorated with carrots.

 

Courtesy of Neil Miles

 

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Liverpool, Tuesday 30 November 2021