The seventies were a kind of Bronze Ag
e when it came to kids' TV shows, the Golden
, or even Athenian, age having been in the fifties and sixties, ending with the cancellation of the Happy Holsum "Eat Your Goddamn Bread You Little Bastards" Hour; "Uncle Croc's Block", "The Banana Splits" and "Ciccolina's Happy Bum Fun Show" weren't exactly classics, but they did tend to burn themselves into the retinas, and then the brains, of the already media
-addled children who saw them.
The same could not be said for "Uncle Ivan and Nonsle".
In what, unfortunately, was not the last in a long line of dreadful Ventriloquist Dummy Shows, Uncle Ivan quickly took a back seat to the hateful and domineering persona expressed through Nonsle, your basic "Gerry Gee" model with some minor modifications, such as tears expressed through the agency of a concealed squeeze-bottle, motorised ears which could contra-rotate at a frightening speed and at the start of the second series, red bulbs inside the eye-sockets wired to a rheostat (when reminiscing about the seventies, a mention of those eyes slowly growing brighter is all that is required to bring this show to mind).
The format of the show was standard; six minutes of patter, nine minutes (severely edited to fit) of something badly animated from the lower end of the Hanna-Barbera stable, four minutes of back-and-forth between Ivan and Nonsle, six minutes of commercials scattered about, and five minutes of closing dialogue. After the third week of the show, these last five minutes were improvised; it was this, more than anything, that gave the show its unsubtle air of menace. It was performed with no musical backing, but the only songs that could ever possibly begin to match the sense of the dialogue would be Tom Waits' "Shore Leave", SPK's "Leichenschrei" and perhaps the Dead Kennedys' "Saturday Night Holocaust", none of which had been recorded yet. Those who remember the show find themselves unable to describe it adequately;
"I just wanted it to stop. I watched it but I wanted to turn away,"
"Like watching my younger sister torture a kitten to death with a broken bottle,"
"It hurt. I hated it. Like watching a slow-motion beheading"
Uncle Ivan was the mild-mannered straight man. He would lead into the "Five Minutes' Hate" (as it became known) with an innocent remark about his imaginary job as a radio announcer, and Nonsle would simply tear him to shreds. The doll didn't actually swear until the very end of the third and last series, but the sense of venom - pure vitriol - was evident, right from the second day of the show, in everything it said.
Or rather, everything that Uncle Ivan (played by long-time Vegan philanthropist and former anarchist poet and religious guru turned TV actor Douglas Schneider) had it say. He was almost fired for the unrelenting black bile that Nonsle showered him with, but whenever confronted by the studio execs and sponsors, Douglas had that puppet with him. And Nonsle could defend himself superbly. None of them seemed to realise that Nonsle was actually Schneider talking through his nose in a falsetto voice with his teeth clenched. The puppet could say things that normally would have led to fist- or knife-fights, and somehow get away with it.
Twice, Douglas was interviewed and asked point-blank about Nonsle's character. In the first interview, he laughed nervously and changed the subject. In the second, he swallowed nervously, averted his eyes and began to tremble. The interviewer - a practitioner of the "gaffed toady-frog" school of chat - said nothing, preferring to let him sweat; Douglas summoned the strength to stare back for almost thirty haunting seconds, then pointed silently at the cheap plywood box they kept the Nonsle puppet in, between shows. There was another long pause.
"It's not me," he muttered, finally. "It's, that K- I mean, he..." He broke out in a sweat, his face white. "IT'S THAT FUCKING THING. IT'S FUCKING POSSESSED."
The interview was over.
The torment lasted three seasons, each lasting six weeks, five days a week. Schneider's mental and physical state declined visibly over the period and by the last week he looked like a walking corpse. Nonsle seemed to sense this decline and crowed about it, predicting several times that Uncle Ivan would die at the end of the last show. No-one ever considered bringing the show back for a fourth season. It wouldn't have been right.
The last episode was taped, but not shown. It was performed without the usual audience of eight-year-old children who, since the tragic end of the first season, had crouched behind a screen of chicken wire. It has never been shown on television. None of the studio technicians ever spoke about it, but records show that Douglas Schneider was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital after having managed to chew off his left arm at the elbow.
The Nonsle puppet was never seen again.