If Rod Hull had been performing in the days of vaudeville and the variety halls, he could have been a star ... but that's largely down to the fact that, in vaudeville, a performer could do the same turn for years at a stretch without ever developing any new material. Hull came up with a bizarre gimmick that -- on its novelty value, combined with his talent and his ingratiating manner -- was good for three minutes of slapstick fun. Unfortunately, if you've seen one Rod Hull routine, you've seen 'em all.
Rod Hull's gimmick was his 'partner' Emu, an immense bird-shaped hand puppet ... or perhaps an arm puppet, because Hull inserted himself into this thing right up to the elbow. His arm became Emu's long neck, and his hand became its head. Emu never spoke (this was not a 'vent' act), but was constantly moving and interrupting Hull with its actions. Hull consistently managed to make it seem as if Emu were an independent creature, not controlled by himself.
The props and the monologue changed, but the premise was always the same. Holding a few simple props in his free hand (the one that wasn't up Emu), Hull would explain to us that today he was going to teach Emu to perform some simple act ... such as painting a picture. Invariably, Emu would grab all the props in his beak (Hull's hand) and fling them about. Emu would then fall over, bringing Hull with him and knocking over the scenery. At the finish, Hull would tell us "Shan't bother doing (whatever the activity was) today." Hull's unpretentious working-class accent did much to ingratiate him to audiences.
Hull's act was perfectly suited for the kiddies ... but there's an insult concealed in that compliment. Hull's audiences outgrew him quickly when they realised, after seeing a few of his turns, that the basic format of his act would never change. One reason why Hull managed to have a successful career was because he often performed on the same bill as acts much worse than himself, becoming (by default) the best turn on the bill. His weekly guest spot on the 'Razzle Dazzle Show' of the wretched Hudson Brothers was easily the high point of their execrable variety programme.
"Rod'n'Emu" was a brief TV series which made Rod Hull and his puppet the star turn: a mistake, as it turned out, because there simply wasn't enough variation in Hull's routine to sustain an ongoing series.
Off the screen, Rod Hull and Emu were often the butt of some very nasty jokes which centred on the fact that, if Emu had been a real bird, Hull's arm would have been inserted into the bird's posterior. Sadly, Hull died from injuries after he fell off the roof of his house whilst trying to adjust his television aerial. Even more sadly, this inspired a whole new volley of nasty jokes about him ... among others, the claim that Rod Hull's farewell performance was on 'Do Not Adjust Your Set'. Rod Hull was hardly one of the great variety turns, but he was a showbiz trouper with some real talent. It's too bad he hadn't more versatility.
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