These phone calls only happened between 5 and 5.30pm, and when they did the excitement was unequalled.
Childhood friendships are hatched over countless connections, both pure and mischievous: footy, pinball, pinching cars, but for Trev and me, our lifelong pact came through 6 minutes and 41 seconds of televisual delight.
The Bugs Bunny Show aired on weeknights and for us its highlight was even better than Happy Days when Pinky Tuscadero was injured and out of the demolition derby thanks to the Mallachi Crunch, but Fonz still wanted to marry her; was even better than Blankety Blanks and Ugly Dave Gray’s jokes about Dick (Did Dick? Dick did.) and was even better than Lizzie Birdsworth’s daggy Wentworth antics on Prisoner.
We’d a simple code, the equivalent of “London Bridge is down,” and because of our urgency the conversations were spy-thriller brief:
(Rotary-dial phones simultaneously slam down, and two teenage boys, in country-town houses about a kilometre apart, rush at their boxy Pye TVs)
The first impressive aspect of Three Little Bops was that I’d hear the Bill Haley-like jauntiness of the intro before I’d see those distinctive title cards (Director: Friz Freleng), and then with electric anticipation I’d shriek out to Mum or my sister Jill or whoever was in earshot as I tucked into a plate of Saladas with their vegemite worms slithering out in their salty, alien blackness.
With a rollicking melody penned by the celebrated trumpeter Shorty Rogers who’d later offer musical direction on The Monkees, The Partridge Family and that supremely orchestrated buddy-cop series, Starsky & Hutch, it’s a song with rich resonance.
Released in 1957 within the broad context of Beat culture, the score is prototypical rock ‘n’ roll rather than jazz, and shares little with that year’s seminal album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Like so many memorable tunes its simplicity of purpose is genius while its execution is comic and engaging.
Beyond decades of personal bliss this cartoon once secured us (minor) fiscal reward. Late last millennium some mates launched a Schnitzel Club which met at a different pub every Wednesday, and among other vital mid-week pursuits, we ate schnitzel.
Once we descended upon the Arab Steed hotel in Adelaide’s east, and post-crumbed veal, lingered for the weekly quiz. Coincidently, this is my favourite question: Apart from AB who’s the only Australian Test cricketer to play in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Answer: Peter Sleep.
Our laddish dining collective was an eclectic ensemble, but scoring modestly until this Round 8 challenge: How many keys on a piano? Although we were music fans none had technical insight.
And then as we murmured and frowned about our table, suddenly emerging into my frontal lobe from a Coopers fog, these lyrics from Three Little Bops appeared as neuronic sign-writing
Well, the piano-playing pig was swinging like a gate
Doing Liberace on the eighty-eights.
Who says there’s no gain in an (occasionally) idle life of miscellany? With this ebony and ivory insight, we came second, by a schnitzel crumb. Sometimes the jetsam of youth washes up on your adult beach, and it’s grand.
Of course, I maintain a persistent, entirely ridiculous fantasy during which I take up the rooster-like position behind a charismatic pub bar as mine host. Among my first landlord chores is to rename my boozer the Dew Drop Inn, because there is no better label in all hostelry
The Dew Drop Inn did drop down!
The three little pigs crawled out of the rubble
This big bad wolf gives us nothing but trouble
So, we won’t be bothered by his windy tricks
The next place we play must be made of bricks
In this masterpiece what are my treasured moments? There’s so many! The galaxy of my youth was brightened by these comets
Be very quiet. I’m hunting wabbit.
I knew I should have made a left toin at Albukoykee”
But the following is unsurpassed in its goldenness, although I didn’t then connect it to Liberace. When you’re a kid, drenched in cartoonish fun, context is sometimes nothing.
I wish my brother George was here.
The script and the vocals were by cult comedian Stan Freberg who’s credited on this, the only Warner Brothers film to not feature Mel Blanc doing voice characterisations.
Sixty years on, his remains a magnetic vocal performance ringing with muscularity and irresistible confidence. In that post-war cultural repositioning, his phrasing and delivery heralds American brashness and Rat-Pack cool.
A transformed fable, its essential familiarity lends it much charm. With the power migrating from the recast outsider wolf to the pigs, our trio goes from victims to smug porcine hipsters. Universally, we’re barracking for the wolf as he’s turned from predator to loopily-grinning fanboy, and villain to tragic hero. This narrative inversion generates much of the comic energy, and as our aficionado blows his sleek horn while broiling in a Satanic pot the final lyrics provide a catharsis
The Big Bad Wolf, he learned the rule:
you gotta get hot to play real cool!
As a ubiquitous pebble, this cartoon rippled into so many of my childhood spaces: the arithmetically-unresponsive back row of Year 9 Maths; the cold Mid-North showers of under-age footy; the endless roasting sun of Kapunda swimming pool summers. Our affection for it has flowed down the decades, and I promise myself to again locate it on YouTube, and show our boys. I reckon it’ll grab them too.
And soon, on a languid afternoon just after 5pm, I’m going to ring Trev and shout, “It’s on!”