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Barry Band: A bird in the hand – my close escape from emu

Rod and Emu inspect the poster for Emu In Pantoland at Blackpool's Grand Theatre in 1981
Rod and Emu inspect the poster for Emu In Pantoland at Blackpool's Grand Theatre in 1981

From time to time in TV compilations we see the dreaded Emu attacking the doyen of interviewers, Michael Parkinson.

Correction – we see the dreaded Rod Hull attacking Parky!

Rod Hull, with Emu, at the Winter Gardens Pavilion, in Blackpool, in 1972

Rod Hull, with Emu, at the Winter Gardens Pavilion, in Blackpool, in 1972

I was lucky to escape a similar duffing when Rod and the bird were at the summer season show Press Call at the Winter Gardens Pavilion, in June 1972.

The occasion is explained in this piece I wrote for the Gazette in my Show People column on Saturday, June 17, 1972. (A review of the show, a stage version of BBC-TV’s The Good Old Days, appeared on another page).

“Rod Hull looked hurt when I suggested that he was talking about Emu as if Emu was a person.

To Rod, Emu IS a person!

Emu sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim in Church Street, in 1981

Emu sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim in Church Street, in 1981

The 36-year-old entertainer, who emigrated Down Under as an electrical engineer and returned as a show business phenomenon, was saying Emu has written a song, Emu has made a record, Emu thinks this and Emu would like to do that.

Emu, of course, is the rogue goony bird that has become a big TV favourite over the past few weeks.

And the way Rod handles the bedraggled bird obviously gets an audience to briefly believe the bird is real.

At Wednesday’s Photo Call for the Winter Gardens Pavilion show, Rod and Emu (the bird still hasn’t been named) were the centre of attraction.

After taking a fancy to a lady reporter, Emu went out into Church Street and soon had a crowd of holidaymakers spellbound.

They were so mesmerised that they were willing fodder to Emu’s wicked lunges and handbag snatches.

The bird doesn’t make a sound.

The entire effect is gained by Rod’s clever movement of his right arm inside Emu’s neck.

I doubt if the act could be improved even if Rod was a ventriloquist. As long as Emu stays silent he is unique.

How come he’s made a record?

‘Well, Emu can’t speak but he can sing when he is very happy or very sad,’ replied Rod.

The voice on Emu’s record is provided by Rolf Harris.

When Rod emigrated to Australia in 1961 he became a lighting technician with a Sydney TV station.

‘Eventually show business got the better of me,’ said Rod.

He began to write children’s shows and was soon producing his own series.

He found Emu in the props room and used it in a new breakfast time show.

He branched out into cabaret and returned to Britain with Emu last September, appeared in Blackpool in Rolf Harris’s Christmas Show, and has built up a big following on TV.

It is not really a prediction to say he will be one of the highlights of the Blackpool summer season.”

Looking back on “the Emu years” I have this mental picture of Rod looking more and more like the bird.

A very strange man or a genius?

Perhaps both!

Rod died in 1999 in a fall from the roof of his house in Winchelsea, East Sussex, while fixing a TV aerial.