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Billy Bean and his Funny MachineThe puppets Billy Bean and his friend Yoo-Hoo the cuckoo, operated a machine which was a wonder to behold, featuring such devices as a windmill, a Dorset-Faucet, a mixerator and a cartoonerator which drew magic pictures.

Operation of the machine was by means of the 'cartoonerator' which had a screen very much like a present-day personal computer.

If Billy wanted the machine to make something he would draw it on the screen. The machine then drew pictures to indicate what raw materials were required. When these were placed in the mixerator, levers pulled and buttons pressed the machine got to work with suitable mechanical sound effects. Needless to say there were 'bugs' and the possibility of misunderstanding the graphical communication gave rise to considerable amusement. Some of the things the machine made were very surprising.

The voice of Yoo-Hoo, the stupid cuckoo bird who laid an egg at intervals, never more than one per programme, which rolled down a series of zig-zag channels on the machine, was Ivan Owen, later to become Basil Brush's voice too. Billy's voice came from Peter Hawkins.

Paul Kidger writes:
Lester was the unseen 'Engine room' operator, unseen but often heard as a 'noise' via the speaky tube. I think that on one occasion, Lester was about to come up onto the 'Bridge' accompanied by an air of anticipation because no one had seen him up to that point. However at the last minute, something thwarted his coming into view. In fact when one thinks of it, the setting was very much of a ship, albeit land based. The cartoonerator was the forerunner of the computer printer, or at least a motorised Etch-a-Sketch and would draw the solution to the riddle posed by Billy (definitely some foresight of things to come). I think that the end of the programme was announced by the cuckoo operating the hooter.... maybe that was the ruse used to avoid seeing Lester.

The words to the Billy Bean song started:
"Billy Bean built a machine to see what it could do.
He made it out of sticks and stones, and nuts and bolts and glue.
The motor sang Chuffaty Bang, Rattata Rattatarator,
And all of a sudden a picture appeared on the funny old cartoonerator
Billy Bean built a machine to see what it would do,
It did the funniest things he'd seen,
So he called it his fun machine, machine,
Billy Bean and his fun machine.

Other voices were by Dick Vosburgh and Gaylord Cavallaro and drawings by Reginald Jeffryes.

John Wright made the puppets and equipment.
The series was written by Lisa Lincoln with puppetry by Jane Tyson and Elizabeth Donaldson and the show was produced by Vere Lorrimer.

It first aired in July 1953.

We were young trainee puppeteers working for South African born puppet-master John Wright, who later founded Islington's Little Angel Theatre. When the BBC decided to run a children's series based on Chuck Luchsinger's American children's show "Jolly Gene & His Fun Machine" in 1953, they called it "Billy Bean and his Funny Machine" and commissioned John Wright to build the characters. Jane helped to carve the puppets and I operated them for most of the shows.
I remember that the shows were rehearsed in the mornings, followed by lunch which 'was always a bit of a party' and then the shows were transmitted in the Children's TV slot at about 5pm. The sound effects men built a special pallet which was wheeled in to the studio containing all the sound equipment such as bells, hooters, and the 'egg rolling down the chute' effects which was a very important part of the show and this was all operated live.

Information from Elizabeth Shingler (nee Donaldson)

 

KEY TO THE MACHINE

1. YOOHOO'S CUCKOO HOUSE
It has a front door, a back door and a side door. Only Yoohoo knows which is which.
  2. EGG-CHUTES
These carry Yoohoo's eggs safely into the Egg-bucket (When it's there--see 3).
3. EGG-BUCKET
For collecting eggs--only somebody's collecting the bucket. Could it be Lester ? It could !
  4. STEAM KETTLE
Provides steam for driving machine. B.B, chose steam as driving power because it rhymes with machine. (Well, practically.)
5. TRAIN (BILLY BEAN RAILWAY)
Delivers machine-made collar studs, etc. If asked nicely, will take passengers--if can be persuaded to stop.
  6. SMOKE
This isn't coming from Yoohoo's sitting-room fire,but from the cakes he's left too long in the oven.
7. CONTROL PANEL
All the levers, switches, pushbuttons and gimeroos that work the Machine are found here.
  8. DORSET-FAWCET
Invented by B.B.'s friend Mr. Fawcet of Dorset, B.B. can't remember what it's for but, doesn't like to ask Mr. Fawcet.
9. ENGINE-ROOM DOOR
Assistant Engineer just going in.
  10. MAIN POPPERCATORY PISTON
Steam driven (see 4). So called because of its popping-in-and-out action and the catory-catory noise it makes.
11. WINDMILL
Works machine in emergency. Frequently used. B.B. says it can turn machine into aeroplane. Nobody believes him.
  12. PRESSURATOR INDICATOR
Shows amount of air in Cartoonerator. Must not go above 452 Airglobubobbles or Tasset valves start operating (see 17).
13. TALKOMETER
Two-way speaking and listening gadget wired to all parts of the Machine and Lester.
  14. PHASSABADASSA SWITCH
Practically the Main Switch.
Sometimes called the Ipswich, more often the Which switch ?
15. BASSET VALVES
Very dangerous. Not to be operated by anybody except Billy Bean.
  16. ALLERGATORY ENERGISING POWER DRIVE
A big cog-wheel. So called because --well, see for yourself, it is a big cog-wheel.
17. TASSET VALVES
Very dangerous. Not to be operated by anybody at all.
  18. TAIL-END TURBINE
Sometimes known as the Lesser
Allergatory Energising Power Drive (see 16),
19. BELLUSES
This machine explains itself, at least it would do if asked but don't interrupt it now, its busy being blown by Billy Bean.
  20. CARTOONERATOR
Draws pictures, designs things for the Machine to make, answers all questions. A mechanical marvel !
21. MIXERATOR
Mixes up ingredients put into the Machine. Delivers finished articles to the Ejector Flap. A scientific sensation!
  22. COLLAR STUDS
Machine is to make collar studs for twins.
Something has gone wrong -- it's making twin collar studs!
23. EJECTOR FLAP
Releases whatever the Machine makes into the Catch-as-Catch-can net.
  24. CARTOONERATOR INK GUAGE
Shows amount of ink in ink tanks.
Should not drop below 254 inkglobubobbles or the Engine-Room Door sticks.
Sacul metal model of Billy Bean A Billy Bean diecast metal figure of the 50's
Metal model toys of Billy Bean made by Sacul in the early '50s

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