This morning, I was saddened to hear that Alistair Cooke has passed away at the age of 95, just one month after he retired from the BBC. Saddened, but not really surprised. A man like Alistair does not just retire. For him, his work was his life, it gave him great joy, and Alistair did not let go until the very end.
I was also going to mention that Sir Peter Ustinov has also passed away. He was well known and respected for his theatrical and his humanitarian work. But as I was e-mailing around to get permission to use the graphic on my right, I encountered far more than I bargained for.
I remember Peter Ustinov as Nero, and I remember a fascinating six-part series on the future that he hosted with Patrick Watson. His love of life was legendary, but I will always remember him, most of all, as Dr. Snuggles
Doctor Snuggles was the creation of Jeffrey O’Kelly, who came up with the idea at the Regents Palace Hotel in London in 1966. Doctor Snuggles was an eccentric inventor, surrounded by his creations and an assortment of weird and wonderful characters, who faced adversary with a twinkle in his eye and “who wanted to help make the world a better place”. He was a jolly, odd looking fellow, “a period, little, round, kindly man sporting a bow tie, colorful waistcoat and pin-stripe trousers.” He was the epitome of the mad scientist turned on his head. He rebuilt faded rainbows, coaxed frightened rivers out of their caves, and shot off to other planets in his rocket, the Dreamy Boom Boom, at one point confronting the misguided aliens who were hauling Earth’s oceans away block by block. It was magical and amazing and it was on TV Ontario alongside :doctor who:, Fables of the Green Forest, Vision On and Read All About It.
Doctor Snuggles is still repeated around the globe, I’m told, and twenty-four years later I’m still encountering people around me who have fond memories of this cartoon from their childhood.
Doctor Snuggles was voiced by Peter Ustinov and I can’t think of the character without thinking of the voice, and vice versa. Mr. Ustinov’s rich, powerful and friendly tones were perfectly suited to Dr. Snuggles’ character — indeed, following Mr. Ustinov’s long career in humanitarian service, you can see that the two were very much alike. Mr. Ustinov may not have had a rocket named Dreamy Boom Boom, but he did all he could to make the world a better place.
Why I say I got more than I bargained for is, when I wrote my e-mail requesting permission to use the graphics in this post (which I’d expected to be much shorter), I got a personal reply from author Jeffrey O’Kelly himself, who was happy to share his own memories of Sir Peter Ustinov. In his words:
He was a wonderful and generous talent of many dimensions. He was kind, thoughtful and a very great human being. His talent to entertain was immense and he was a splendid Storyteller. He was so naturally spontaenous, he could make you laugh on every occasion and above all, he had the most tremendous sense of fun.
Meeting him was always a thrill and his observations on life and the world around him were always tinged with enthralling insight. He was a true original and a rare student of life and we were very very lucky to have him as the voice of the illustrious, incurable optimist and ingenius Doctor Snuggles. He was the charactor and brought him to life for several generations of children of all ages around the globe…
I would say that the dear man, Sir Peter Ustinov, played a very great part in the history of Doctor Snuggles. When I was creating the shows I had Sir Peter firmly in mind for the role of Snuggles and he fitted it to perfection. I had met him in Paris, when I was a young Actor/writer through the introduction of another Russian Producer, the late Alexander Salkind who later made Superman. I am therefore indebted to these august gentlemen of Russian extraction, Monsieur Salkind and Monsieur Ustinov who through the serendipity and generosity of their spirit, brought about a profound change in the course of my life.
Therefore I herald them with all my heart’s grace and I thank them both eternally for their timely contribution towards the early beginnings in the creation of the global ambassador for children everywhere, Doctor Snuggles.
I can offer no other eulogy except to say that I’ll miss him.
For images and episode guides from some of the other programs TV Ontario ran during the 1970s and 1980s, consult Rick Ambrozic’s TVO Kids Showcase.