Memory Lane: Kermit and Co are back

Lights Switch-on 1979: The Muppets
Lights Switch-on 1979: The Muppets
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KERMIT and Co are back, ready to be enjoyed by a new generation in a big screen movie, The Muppets, opening in Fylde coast cinemas later this week.

In the new adventure, with the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theatre from a greedy oil tycoon.

The Muppets at the Blackpool Illuminations switch on 1979

The Muppets at the Blackpool Illuminations switch on 1979

But will the audience feel safe in their seats?

Memory Lane asks the question, because the last time these creatures were in these parts, The Gazette headline was “Muppets and Miss UK in monster mayhem”.

And that was no exaggeration, as the Talbot Square crowds rolled with laughter when things got terribly out of hand during the 1979 Illuminations switch-on. Long before the days when this night of nights had turned into a stadium-style extended radio concert, with grandstand seating for the great and the good, families could get up fairly close to the switch-on celebrities. But that night they were probably happier that a barrier or two separated them from the outsized monster Sweetums.

Portaits of the old codgers Waldorf and Statler looked down from the Town Hall, as Kermit the Frog, with Gonzo at his side, prepared to turn Blackpool into a blaze of light.

Then it happened. From out of nowhere bounded Sweetums, a giant bundle of playful energy, racing around the front of the crowd, before climbing on to the small platform of VIPs. In a move that had hardly been scripted, he (or it might even have been a she inside the shaggy costume) knocked the tiara off the head of Carolyn Seaward, newly-crowned Miss United Kingdom 30 minutes earlier. The tiara was thrown like a frisbee towards the crowd but, fortunately, caught and later returned by one of the journalists in the Press area. But worse was yet to come, as Sweetums sent chairs flying and Carolyn, who was also the reigning Miss England, ended upon her back.

Then it was the Mayor’s turn, and Coun Bobbie Dewhirst – who probably later felt like hitting Sweetums with the giant stick of green peppermint Blackpool rock instead of handing it over with a smile – found himself facing the crowd from floorboard level, after Sweetums gave him a friendly push while pulling away the chair.

“Only somebody with a mashed potato brain would attempt to switch on these Lights,” exclaimed Kermit, after Gonzo declared he had personally wired up the entire display himself. And that somebody was Sweetums, who blew up the control panel, before Kermit finally pushed the plunger on a box marked “Danger High Explosive”, officially launching the 1979 Illuminations.

But that manic night also offered up a rare glimpse of the Muppeteers in action, with a behind-the scenes photograph of Kermit and Gonzo being operated, like the glove puppets they are, by creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz. By tradition, switch-on celebrities receive a gift from the town, and it was Jim and Frank, rather than their wonderful creations, who requested “an art deco ashtray and a decent fountain pen” as a memento of their visit.